Testing 1-2--Tips on How to Create Effective Tests
Mastering the art of assembling your own language skills testing will be a valuable asset throughout your teaching career.
There are lots of resources out there to help you and depending on where you are working, you can choose to do less formal testing and veer more toward assessment and evaluation of broad skills or hone in on more targeted areas. Test yourself out with these tips to creating effective tests, and with a little trial and error your design skills and question-writing abilities will ace the test.
How to Create Effective Tests
Reading and Writing
The challenging thing about providing good solid tests for language learners is that you have several skill areas that you are assessing as well as topical knowledge and fluency within those areas. The two areas that you can assess with a written test are reading and writing skills. A written test can be an effective tool for assessing vocabulary usage, reading comprehension, writing skills, and also comprehension of tense and grammatical structures. There is a lot to consider when putting a written test together; you want it to be a cohesive review of what they have been practicing; you want it to be useful for discussion afterwards; and you want it to be as useful as it can possibly be without being too intimidating.
If you are expected to generate a formalized midterm and final exam test, or other testing to move students through levels, the focus should be on giving students a sense of accomplishment through test-taking. Test-taking is really important in a lot of institutions and countries, so take the fair approach and prepare students anytime you are doing any kind of formalized testing. Doing review sessions, giving them worksheets, and even providing very similar exercises as to what will be presented on the test are all useful ways to make sure students are ready for the test.
You’ll want to become well-versed in the various types of questions to include on tests and be sure (for your own sake!) that you make the tests easy to grade. Including variety on any test is a beneficial for you and for the students. If you have to cover several chapters of material, divide the test into manageable chunks. A good starting point is to refresh yourself by going through the book and your lesson plans for ideas. Then pick out what you would like the main points of the test to be. You might have something like five to eight different sections on the test, depending on what you need to cover. Create sections that focus on vocabulary, reading comprehension, grammar, writing, and anything topical that needs to be tested. Once you have determined your sections, you can then decide what combination of question types you want in each section. You have a lot of choices here. Don’t stick to only one or two. Challenge the students and provide ways in which they can express their knowledge. Typical tests can include any combination of the following:
- The ever-popular multiple choice questions
- Fill-in-the-blank (good for grammar)
- Matching exercise (good for vocabulary)
- True and false
- Written sections like answering questions or writing short essays
- Reading Comprehension
Once you have determined the sections and the question types it is time to sit down and write your test questions (and answers). You can take questions from homework assignments, in-class work, or get some help from online sites. You could also develop totally new and fresh questions on your own. Choose topic areas that interest the students, are timely, and even provide some humor. One way to reach students is to use your students’ names in a few of the questions or have a running joke throughout the test. Students enjoy locating these and you could even provide extra points if they catch on. The last factor to establish is the difficulty of your test questions. It is a delicate dance to get just the right combination of difficulty without being too simple, too difficult, or too confusing. You don’t want to purposely trick the students as many tests like to do with multiple choice questions. You want them to have to think things through and pay close attention to details. Always read through your tests several times and proofread them carefully. Make sure you don’t have duplicate questions within the test, grammatical mistakes (embarrassing!) or any other error that might baffle students. Check your answer key and make sure you haven’t created any obvious patterns, and last but not least, write a test that students will succeed at taking and will feel good for having experienced.
Listening and Speaking
Since there is no way to test speaking and listening portions on a written exam it will be necessary to do some kind of individualized assessment which can combine the two skills. Often a good option is to do an oral interview of sorts with different topics and questions that review what students have been practicing. Another way to test for these two skills is to test them separately. Doing a listening test that either the book provides or putting one together from online sources will give you an idea of where students are with listening skills. Other ways to test listening could be giving them a dictation, or asking oral questions that they have to answer in written or spoken form. For the speaking portion of a test, you could have students answer questions or give brief impromptu speeches. Students could be given a topic for which they have to speak about for 1 to 2 minutes and then you assess them on very clear guidelines. It is necessary to provide the students with the worksheet of what you will be assessing. If you are focusing on pronunciation and past tense verbs, they should be informed of the perimeters before the test.
Testing is an important component for student success and assessing students’ performance is very valuable for teachers.
Teachers should not shy away from providing brilliant, level-appropriate assessments that serve students in a larger capacity than just getting a high score on a test.
I am an ex-ESL teacher who has transitioned from that industry into the field of adult education. I have a long history of teaching ESL in numerous countries and varied classroom settings. I’ve also taught a variety of learners, but found I loved teaching teens and adults the best. I spent three years certifying and training want-to-be teachers in China and the Czech Republic. I am also a writer and editor interested in anything to do with education, travel, and lifelong learning.
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Tests are an important assessment tool both for students and teachers as they help review the things the students have learnt but they also allow the teacher to plan and vary the curriculum giving more attention to the aspects that need more practice. The tests I create focus both on grammar and vocabulary. The tasks are mostly the same as listed in the article but I also use tasks based on synonymic or antonymous periphrasis. I also ask my students to translate some sentences from Russian into English ( I teach English to Russian students). As for the tips given in the article it has never occured to me to run a joke throughout a test and that's the thing I will definitely try as I am interested in the reaction of my students. And if they respond to the humour in kind, they will definitely deserve an extra score.
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