Language Testing Terminology

1.                Validity: The test accurately reflects the content of the syllabus on which it is based, and in suitable proportion. It tests nothing else!

2.                Reliability: a reliable test should be  a consistent measure of performance. Hypothetically, the score obtained by a student should be very similar to what would have been attained on a different occasion.

3.                OPI; This stands for Oral Proficiency Interview, the speaking test component of STANAG proficiency tests.

4.                Level Check: In an OPI test, this is when a tester checks to see if the student is at the level they expect them to be. It confirms the assumed ability of the student.

5.                Probe: In an OPI test, a probe is when a tester pushes a student to do a task at a higher level of language than the one being tested. A probe is useful for seeing what the student can do and what the student cannot do. In an OPI, Level Checks happen first, then Probes, then they are intertwined.

6.                Sustain: In an OPI, this is when a student can consistently, successfully complete tasks at a given level. It is often used in the negative: Susan could occasionally attain Level 2 in Speaking, but could not sustain this level.

7.                Backwash/Wash back: The effects of a test on learning & teaching. Does it have a positive or negative influence on or before the test? Is the teacher “teaching to the test” or preparing the student for real-life application of the knowledge?

8.                Distractors: The incorrect options on a multiple-choice question.

9.                Aptitude Tests: Measure students’ Probable future performance. Aptitude tests measure key cognitive abilities in language learning. Commonly used is the MLAT (Modern Languages Aptitude Test). Content has to be unknown to the candidate.

10.           Placement Tests: Sort new students into teaching groups so that they are approximately the same level as others when they start. Measures general ability rather than specific points of learning. The stress is on their future learning.

11.           Progress Tests or Quizzes: Most classroom tests take this form. They assess students’ progress in a small part of the content taught in the classroom. Often given to motivate students. They also identify areas of weakness & difficulty. Progress tests can also be diagnostic to some degree. Usually constructed by the classroom teacher.

12.           Achievement Tests: Usually longer, more formal tests, designed to show mastery of a large amount of content taught in a particular syllabus(e.g. end-of-year tests, school-leaving exams, public tests). Though similar in principal to progress tests, they are rarely constructed by a classroom teacher.

13.           Diagnostic Tests: Can include Progress and Achievement tests, enabling teachers to identify specific weaknesses/difficulties so that appropriate remedial action can be planned. (Proficiency Tests may also be diagnostic tests if the course of study continues after the test.) Diagnostic Tests are primarily designed to assess students’ knowledge & skills in particular areas before a new stage of study begins.

14.           Proficiency Tests: Measure students’ abilities in relation to specific tasks they are later required to perform. The stress is on present and future performance rather than past achievement. They are not connected to any particular syllabus. Often included in the definition of operational needs. They stress practical situations and focus on a common standard. E.g. a  driving test: it tests skills and knowledge regardless of previous learning.

15.           Direct Testing: The student performs precisely the skills we wish to measure. Tasks should be a s authentic as possible. The OPI is a direct test.

16.           Indirect Testing: Measures the abilities that underlie the skills we want to measure. The TOEFL is an indirect test.

17.           Norm-referenced Testing: States a student’s performance relative to the other students. Often expressed as a percentile or the “top 10%” or the class”

18.           Criterion-referenced Testing: Measures how well a student performs against an objective or criterion rather than other students.

19.           BILC – Bureau for International Language Coordination. Organized in 1976, BILC functions as the consultative and advisory body for language training matters in NATO. In 2001, BILC was designated as custodian of the STANAG 6001 Language Proficiency Levels.

20.           Stem: The first part of a test item. For example, ‘The action word in a sentence is called the …….”


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