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Testing EFL and ESL Students

Paul has spent many years teaching English as a foreign and second language. He has taught EFL in Taiwan and Thailand, and ESL in the U.S.

These tips will help teachers craft better tests for ESL and EFL students.

These tips will help teachers craft better tests for ESL and EFL students.

Better Tests for EFL and ESL Learners

Constructing better tests for EFL and ESL learners is essential for teachers in enabling students to develop their language skills.

Many tests today are not created very well to measure a student's formative and summative progress in acquiring English.

This article will suggest different things a teacher can do to make tests that will better assess and evaluate EFL and ESL learners' language skills.

The Need for Testing

Deep down inside, most students and teachers dislike tests or exams. Students hate the pressure and worry of studying for and taking tests, especially if they don't know the test material very well. Teachers dislike the time and effort expended in making up a test and then grading it.

Just the same, testing is a necessary part of the educational process because it affords an objective tool for measuring the progress and mastery of students in acquiring a skill or subject of learning.

Tests, in general, are either formative or summative. A formative test will assess the student's progress while he is learning a corpus of material or skill. A summative test, on the other hand, is given after a student has completed the study. It evaluates how well a learner has mastered a subject or a skill.

What Is a Good Test?

All good tests must be valid and reliable. To be valid, a test must cover and address the topics which the teacher has already taught his students. If a test does not do this, it is invalid. For example, if I have not introduced and given my students practice in using sentences with the present perfect tense, any questions on my test about the usage of the present perfect would make my test invalid.

Reliability is when a test is repeatable and yields consistent results. This can be done by having students first test and then retest within not too long of a period. It can also be done by having students take alternative forms (A and B) of a test. If the correlation in scores is close to 1, we have a reliable test.

Six Tips for Testing EFL and ESL Students

The following six points must be addressed in improving testing for EFL and ESL learners:

1. Make Sure Test Directions Are Clear and Understandable

In the past, I have been guilty of not making my test directions clear and understandable. I discovered this while grading papers and noticed that several students made mistakes because they did not follow directions. In many cases, the students got the questions wrong because they did not understand the meaning of such words as to match, fill in the blank, and circle the errors in the sentences. To overcome this difficulty and prevent its reoccurrence in test situations, the teacher must make sure all students understand the meaning of words like to match and circle the errors. The teacher must also provide the students with practice exercises using these words before testing.

2. Select Questions Which Test the Material Already Covered in Class

I always tell my students that if they do and understand all of their homework exercises, they will do well on tests. That is because many of my test questions are taken directly from homework assignments, or they are similar to homework exercises. On a few occasions, I have devised questions on topics that the students did not practice very much in class or do as homework. Needless to say, many students did very poorly on these types of questions.

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3. Select a Variety of Question Types to Test Material

Some teachers only use true and false or multiple-choice questions on their exams. Although this type of test question is indeed easy for the teacher to grade and students love it, it doesn't do the student any justice. There is too much guessing, and for the true and false questions, you have a 50 percent chance of getting the right answer if you don't know the questions. True and false and/or multiple-choice questions can be used judiciously on a test; however, they should also be used in conjunction with fill-in-the-blank, enumeration, cloze exercises, essays, and other types of creative questions.

4. Test Questions Should Evaluate the Complete Hierarchy of Thinking Skills

A good test will evaluate all of a student's thinking skills. Questions will not only evaluate how well a student can memorize facts, but also measure how well the student can make inferences, apply concepts to problem-solving, and make value judgments. This is especially important for EFL students using English as a medium to study math and science in English immersion programs.

5. Make Sure a Test Can Be Completed by Most Students During an Allotted Time

A good test should not be too easy or not too hard. It should not be so long that most students struggle to finish it. It also should not be so short that most people finish an hour test in 10-15 minutes.

6. All Test Questions Should Be Clear, Unambiguous, and Proofread by a Second Teacher

In the haste of test creation, many teachers sometimes make mistakes in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. The reading of some questions might also be confusing and unclear to students. For this reason, the proofreading of tests must be completed before they are given to students.

Better tests for EFL and ESL learners can be created by following the above six suggestions. I'm sure that there are other tips that wise teachers have for improving tests for EFL and ESL learners. These will go a long way in helping students improve their language skills.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Paul Richard Kuehn


Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on May 02, 2012:


Thank you very much for reading, sharing, and the favorable comments.I'm still trying to improve my test-making skills.

Sharilee Swaity from Canada on May 02, 2012:

Paul, this is a very thorough and well-written article about test-making that applies to any test-making. One of my favourite classes in university was on assessment and we learned these principles. It's so important to make sure that when we test, we do so comprehensively and fairly. Voted up and more, and sharing. Nice work!

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