In the last episode of this season, the Pearson English Podcast panel speaks with teacher trainer and IELTS expert Anna Hasper about what testing and assessment really mean and why they are so important.
Why are testing and assessment so important?
Words like test and assessment strike fear into the hearts of many of us. Yet, they are a fundamental part of language learning. For Anna, it’s important that we make the distinction between the two terms.
Assessing refers to collecting information about our students’ levels, progress and performance. One way of doing this is by testing. This gives us a grade by evaluating how good their learning performance has been.
These are important for a number of reasons:
Act as an external benchmark
Testing shows us how well our students are doing in comparison with others. This can be useful when applying for jobs and university courses in another language. It displays proof that the person is qualified and able to do certain tasks in the particular language.
Determine strengths and weaknesses
By assessing students’ learning performance, we can get a clearer picture of their strengths and weaknesses. From here, we will know what areas the students are excelling in and what needs improvement. This can help inform our teaching so that students continue to learn.
Keep schools accountable
Assessments not only show how well students are doing, but also reflect how effectively we are teaching. This helps to hold not only ourselves, but also schools, accountable. So, if a group of students are not performing well, perhaps the school may need to rethink their approach to teaching.
What assessment options are available?
There are two types of assessments available. These are:
- Testing – types of formal exams or papers that focus on evaluating the students with a specific emphasis on the outcome and results.
- Formative assessment – types of informal activities that show information about where the learner is at and how to build on their skills.
Anna explains that in some cases testing can cause learners to feel nervous and this may impact their performance. Yet, formative assessment, such as activities in class, is there to aid learners throughout their journey and may help to build more confidence.
While formative assessment may be more effective in terms of helping students improve, Anna also recognizes the benefits of testing. For some students, getting a grade or certificate may motivate them more. They may put more effort into their education and spend more time studying.
Teaching ELT exam classes
So what is the best way to approach teaching exam classes? Anna recommends finding a balance between teaching and testing. Firstly, it’s crucial to explore your learners’ levels to find out where they’re at, and get an understanding of their expectations i.e. what do they want from the exam – a 6.5 grade, a pass, and so on.
If students are lower level, they typically need to build on their foundation. In this case, it’s a better idea to focus more on teaching students the fundamentals of grammar and vocabulary before testing them. It’ll help them improve as language learners and also build their confidence.
With more advanced learners, you could focus on getting them familiar with the test format. Here, you may want to do less formal teaching and introduce more practice tests.
Above all, it’s important to remind your learners that it’s ok to make mistakes. In fact, mistakes are extremely valuable to the learning process. Students can see specifically what they need to work on and teachers can also use this information to inform their lesson planning.
Trends in testing and assessment
Anna explains that over the last few years there have been some new trends in teaching and assessment. Let’s take a look at these in more detail.
More formative assessment types
Teachers and schools are recognizing the benefits of formative assessment as a way to help learners improve. Therefore, there is a growing body of resources offering activities and tools for use in class.
Digitalization of testing and assessment
Due to new innovations in technology, more testing and assessment types have been digitized. So we see a growing number of computer-based exams, remote invigilation and virtual and blended exam preparation.
Adaptive testing formats
A new type of testing format is adaptive testing. This means that test takers begin a test at one level, but the level through the test changes to fit the person’s capabilities. This can be empowering for students who find testing a difficult experience.
Moving forward we are likely to see new trends emerging in testing and assessment which will be important for how we teach our students. To learn more about teaching trends and tips, check out our other Pearson English Podcasts.