What Makes an English Proficiency Test?
English proficiency testing is crucial for educational institutions looking to admit qualified international students, and for companies that employ speakers of English as a second language. There are all sorts of English assessment tests out there, so what distinguishes a great English assessment test from a weak one? Here are a few things to look for when deciding on a test for your school or organization:
To get an overall picture of someone’s English language abilities, it’s important to test all of the language skills relevant to the test-taker’s study or work. For many industries, a simple overview of a prospect’s grammar skills is not enough. iTEP offers comprehensive exams that measure test-taker’s command of the English language both formally and informally, through verbal and written communication that occurs naturally in the workplace and in the classroom.
The proliferation of smartphones and the internet has given rise to a number of quick online-tests that purport to give a baseline level of a person’s English abilities. However, these tests typically don’t evaluate these skills in depth, and if they do, they fail to measure the speaking and writing abilities; both crucial skills to include when deciding on job prospects or potential students. Ensuring that you testing for both the speaking and writing abilities helps to showcase a test-taker’s command of voice and tone, the hardest thing to master in written language.
The flagship iTEP exams, iTEP Academic, iTEP SLATE, and iTEP Business all have five sections that asses speaking, writing, listening, reading and grammar. The score reports are intricately detailed, allowing for data gathering that tracks even the smallest improvements in a test-taker’s English proficiency. These reports are also very useful in helping identify areas that need more work.
An English test graded by people
Some English language tests seek to evaluate all language skills using artificial intelligence or non-native English speakers to grade the tests. Of course, there’s no reason multiple-choice sections of an English test shouldn’t be graded automatically and instantly. The difficulty arises in grading the active skills of speaking and writing, in which the test-taker generates organic content. Of course, it would be very fast and inexpensive to grade these sections automatically using artificial intelligence, but our research has found there to be no substitute for ESL-trained native English speakers.
Grading is an extremely complex task. Proponents of automatic grading argue that it’s more objective than human graders. To eliminate subjectivity, iTEP graders go through “norming” exercises which function as a type of calibration where all the graders are tasked with scoring the same test, allowing them to compare and adjust their standards based on a community-consensus, grading history, and expected performance per question. This ensures that results are consistent whenever the test is administered. Someday, AI technology may advance to the point of being able to provide accurate scores, but presently, only trained humans can reliably judge the intricacies and quirks that distinguish one level of English speaker from the next.
The nature of an English assessment test demands that the structure be sufficiently intuitive to the test taker so the questions can be understood without any extra explanation in the local language. All iTEP exams have a similar structure, a convenient administration procedure, and a standardized scoring rubric. Each type of question is formatted to be easily understood at first glance, even to a beginner English speaker.
Keeping the test secure
Online English proficiency assessments are convenient, affordable, and accessible, but how do we know they are secure?
Naturally, the most secure environment to administer an English assessment test is a staffed test center. However, even in this setting, the top English tests on market have seen imposters taking the test on behalf of others. iTEP’s answer to this is a feature called FotoSure, a software which makes cheating by impersonation virtually impossible. FotoSure snaps and stores digital photographs of the test-taker throughout the exam period. Institutions can match the photos with the student arriving on campus.
In addition, iTEP utilizes a live, rotating item-bank that serves test questions randomly.
Each individual test is assembled from hundreds of random questions, decreasing the chances of ever seeing the same question twice. iTEP graders also conduct plagiarism scans, check testing history, and analyzing speaking samples for security breaches.
Not all settings require a maximally secure test. For placement purposes, for instance, intensive English programs often find it acceptable for test-takers to take iTEP on their home computer.
Reports show that anxiety among test takers, especially students, is on the rise. Taking a long, taxing English test can be exhausting for any non-native speaker. This type of stress can skew results and have negative impacts on test takers. In an effort to help combat fatigue, iTEP conducted years of research, and found that a 90-minute test was the perfect length. At 90-minutes, an English test can be comprehensive but not unnecessarily long, while collecting enough data to provide reliable, detailed scores.
Evaluating from beginner to mastery
Perhaps the most crucial aspect of an effective English assessment test is that it can accurately evaluate the skills of a wide-range of people within the Common European Framework of Reference. iTEP’s exams are laid out so that even someone with a very minimal grasp of English can answer at least a few questions. The writing section is open-ended, giving fluent or near-fluent students the chance to flex their muscle and really show how much they know. The graders will recognize the use complex structures, difficult verb tenses and other language nuances.
The International Test of English Proficiency (iTEP) was introduced in 2008 to modernize English language assessment with on-demand scheduling, 24 hour grading, and accurate test data. iTEP provides a convenient and cost-effective testing option delivered in a highly secure environment.
iTEP offers a variety of assessment tools for university and secondary school admissions and ESL placement, hiring and employee assessment (including tests for specific industries), and iTEP Conversation, which assesses conversation skills in 30 minutes. All iTEP exams are graded by certified and trained native English speakers.
More than 800 colleges, universities, middle/high schools, and boarding schools in the USA and Canada accept iTEP results for admissions. Applicants can take iTEP at more than 500 test centers in 61 countries. iTEP International is headquartered in Los Angeles, California.