Published 19th January 2016

ASSESSMENT IN THE EFL CLASSROOM – WHAT WORKS?

If we told you we were going to test you on your TEFL knowledge, right now, how would you feel? Nervous? Embarrassed? In any situation, the threat of a test can induce anxiety and mild panic and this is especially true in the classroom. Unfortunately it’s a necessary evil. When learning a subject it is necessary to be able to assess your progress to be aware of whether or not you are on track for your goals or if you need to focus more on a specific area. As a learner it is often difficult to assess yourself, so tests become a way for both the teacher and the student to recognise learner strengths and highlight learner weaknesses.

This is also true for the English classroom. If you want to learn English you want to know if you have a grasp of a particular language structure or if you remember a certain set of vocabulary items. On a more general level, you would like to know if you are progressing to a higher level of English, both for practical reasons – should I be in a different class? – and for motivational reasons – are these lessons worth my while?

There are two different kinds of assessment that can be done in the classroom – formative and summative. Formative assessment is testing at any time to gauge the learners’ progress and provide information to the teacher as to what needs to be focussed on. Summative assessment is a test at the end of a course which tests learners’ knowledge on the content of the course. The results of such a test could mean that a learner is placed in a more advanced class.

In the TEFL world, you probably won’t have too much say on the testing situation. Some schools use a summative test based on the EFL coursebook, others use a standardised test which assesses general English ability. What you will have control over is the form and frequency of formative assessments. In a TEFL classroom you will need to assess your learners’ overall English ability, but this can be broken down into tests of vocabulary, grammar, listening and reading comprehension, writing and speaking.

What is up to you is how you decide to assess your learners. Do you give them a timed written test in class? Do you have a fun revision game? Do you give them homework which will then be assessed? Do you test them every day? Once a week? As a surprise?

There are numerous options for how and when you test your EFL students but however you do it make sure it’s appropriate. Assessment – whatever the outcome – should be encouraging, not demotivating.