HOW TO WRITE A GOOD EFL TEST

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If you think teaching English as a foreign language is all about teaching lessons, then you’ve got another thing coming. Though of course being in the classroom and teaching lessons is a large part of the job, a large part of your work will take place before and after your lessons, in the form of planning and assessment.

Assessment is something that needs to take place regularly, not only for the teacher to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their students but also for students to keep track of their progress. Some schools will give you standardised tests which you must use for your classes, but other schools will ask that you create your own tests.

What is a good test?

A good test is a test which accurately and reliably measures our students’ skills. At the same time, it should not have a negative effect on the learners or on the learning environment, nor should it alter the teaching plan in any way. Finally, the results of the test should make sense.

Validity and reliability

Two very important factors to consider when writing a test are the validity and the reliability of the test.

Validity refers to the extent a test measures what it is supposed to measure. In other words, if it is a listening test, to what extent does it measure listening and not vocabulary or grammar? A valid test will test exactly what it claims to test.

Reliability is a measure of the consistency of the test. Test results should be similar if the test is given at different times to different students of the same level provided the test conditions are the same. For example, a speaking test may be unreliable if the assessor is in a bad mood with one candidate and a good mood with another, or a writing test may be unreliable if it is marked differently by different assessors.

The test effect

A test can affect the learners, the teacher and the classroom. Tests can cause anxiety for our students in their preparation and distress during the test if they are unfamiliar with the nature of the test. The teacher may feel pressured to teach the content that is in the test to ensure the students perform well. The classroom and the learning environment may be strained and uncomfortable as a result of these anxieties.

The test results

Funnily enough, the results of a test should help you gauge whether a test is good or not. A good test is set at the appropriate level and so is not too easy or too difficult. If everyone aces the test or, conversely, fails the test, then you can be sure the test was not set at the appropriate level.

How to write a good test

When it comes to writing a good test, you need to keep all these things in mind. Here are a few helpful steps to guide you in writing a good EFL test:

  • Specify the aims of the test
  • Decide on the length and format of the test
  • Confirm the content of the test
  • Write the questions, finding appropriate texts if necessary
  • Write the instructions
  • Decide on a mark scheme
  • Write a marking key with the answers and marking guidelines if needed
  • Ask a peer to review the test for errors, inconsistencies and interest.
  • Pilot the test with a class.
  • Review the results of the test and rewrite any items if necessary

Writing tests is a skill but if you find it difficult in the beginning, don’t worry – it will get easier with time and practice.

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