Published 23rd March 2016

English can be divided into four skills. The productive skills are writing and speaking; the receptive skills are listening and reading. In the TEFL classroom we are concerned with teaching our learners how to make use of these skills to understand the language, but it is also necessary to assess our learners’ abilities in these skills.

Marking a reading or a listening test is generally quite easy because there should be a clear answer – right or wrong – but marking writing and speaking is more subjective and so more difficult. So how do you mark a learner’s speaking?

Firstly, you need to make the time. Doing speaking activities in which you are able to assess all your learners individually takes time, and it may be necessary to allocate work for the other students to complete while you are assessing individual students.

Then you need to decide exactly what task you want your students to do. Speaking covers a range of activities and you must choose one which your students are familiar with and which can be used appropriately for assessment. Examples of speaking tasks are: role-play, discussion and interview.

To be fair to your students, just as you cannot expect your students to carry out an unfamiliar task, so you cannot assess them if the activity involves speaking on an unfamiliar topic. You need to make sure the test tasks are an accurate reflection of their level.

In terms of the nitty-gritty of marking, to put it simply, there are 5 aspects to speaking that you need to be aware of when assessing speaking:

  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar
  • Fluency
  • Pronunciation
  • Task completion

Vocabulary and grammar need to be considered with regard to range as well as accuracy, while fluency and pronunciation should be judged on how comprehensible the student is and how difficult or easy it is to understand them. Task completion is whether or not the student has accomplished the aim of the task.

If you consider these aspects and rate them on a scale of 1 to 5, you will be able to calculate a mark for each learner which should be an accurate reflection of their speaking skills.

Then, another important consideration is how you give feedback to your students. It is necessary to spend some time with each individual student to chat with them about their speaking. You will want to let them know their marks (because they always want to know) but elaborate more on their strengths and weaknesses. In this way the assessment becomes a diagnostic tool as well as an assessment tool.