Dear members, colleagues and friends,

In my capacity as a freelance ELT consultant, I was recently asked to create a speaking test for a large and successful summer school operation. Speaking tests are notoriously difficult for a variety of reasons, not least due to the fact that standardisation is very tricky to achieve if you have 20 testers working simultaneously! But what aspects of speaking should be tested? Obviously, there’s more to a speaking assessment than grammar, so I decided to examine six areas:

  • Comprehension: understanding of normal speed delivery;
  • Accuracy: grammatical and lexical appositeness;
  • Fluency: speed, smoothness and ease of connected speech;
  • Pronunciation: intelligibility;
  • Complexity: construction of multi-clause sentences or part sentences;
  • Strategic Competence: verbal and non-verbal tactics used when a language item is unknown.

Then I created 21 ‘stimuli’, including questions as well as points at which learners might be expected to respond or ask a question themselves to check whether they are sophisticated enough linguistically to turn-take. These stimuli are graded or weighted so that the tester can ask more complex questions once an initial assessment has been made. The testers must use 6 of the stimuli in total with the obligatory first question followed by any 5 of the other stimuli. The scoring sheet is simple to operate with tick boxes representing scores; these are later fed into an Excel sheet which calculates a score and delivers the CEFR result. The formula to produce these letters is hundreds of characters long and I have forgotten the password I used when I created it so it’s good that it doesn’t need to be changed!

Anyway, once created, it had to be tested and so it was; feedback from testers was very useful and I made some adjustments to make scoring easier and now we are on the 3rd iteration. So far, it seems as if fewer students have needed to be re-classed than in previous years so we could say that the new test has been a success – the proof of the pudding is always in the eating, isn’t it?

I hope you are all having a great summer (if you’re in the northern hemisphere) whether you are working or relaxing.

Teachers? Relaxing? Does that happen? If so, tell me where!

Happy teaching and learning!

Steve Hirschhorn

Chair of Gallery Teachers Membership Committee.