How the right kind of testing helps English learners

Sitting exams is something we’ve all had to do in the past. Exams and progress tests aren’t just for schoolchildren, though. Regular and accurate testing is an important tool for learners’ self-study and can be used on a wider scale to check the usefulness of a development program in relation to business goals. This, however, relies on using the right type of test. For the purpose of this explanation, let’s break these tests down into three types.

Quick progress checks are useful as a motivational tool and for checking course concepts and topics. They are useful for workshops and topic-based learning or as part of a gradebook or gamification system. To really engage learners and give them a more detailed breakdown, though, a more in-depth test is needed.

Detailed exams are useful at the beginning of a course or where learners have to meet a very specific set of requirements. For example when starting a degree course or applying for a visa in an English-speaking country. Depending on exactly what the learner’s goals are, popular choices for this kind of testing are IELTS and TOEFL exams. These can take a long time though, and are generally expensive so taking them on a regular-enough basis to track learner progress is not realistic.

It’s only recently that a combination of the right technology and learning design methods has helped create a middle ground with tests such as the EF SET Certificate™, which is free but has the academic rigor behind it needed to give a reliable account of the learner’s ability. The EF SET (which stands for EF Standard English Test) relies on adaptive technology to deliver a fast, accurate test of a learner’s English level. Because it’s fully online, learners can test themselves at a time and location that suits them. It’s also free, which means that rather than taking it as a one-off, learners can use it as an analytical and motivational tool.

A test like this opens up a lot of possibilities to curriculum designers or learning and development managers. By employing a test-teach-test model, a language program can be made more efficient and learners can motivate themselves with more regular and detailed feedback on their learning.

Feedback from an accurate testing system is also particularly valuable to independent learners who prefer self-study to working with an individual teacher. For these learners, accurate feedback is what informs their decisions on topics to study and the effectiveness of their current study methods. It’s also vital for goal-setting. Learners need to know they can trust the outcome of a test if they are going to make getting a particular result in that test one of their goals.

Although not all of us have fond memories of tests and exams from our early academic careers, they are a necessary and constructive part of language learning. Without testing, the learner is in a vacuum where the most likely outcome is stagnation. Using the right kind of testing, as outlined above, we can make language learning a more productive and engaging experience for all our learners.

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