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English Language Testing: A New Perspective

Free language test as a tool for learning English

When Christopher Pappas launched the eLearning Industry platform in May 2012, he chose the name to emphasize the meaning “electronic”. Nowadays, eLearning means providing education and training through digital resources. Since digital resources are ubiquitous, so is eLearning. In other words, all known learning is eLearning, as demonstrated during the COVID pandemic. Currently, the eLearning platform has 110 articles and 137 business listings for learning English and only one article and six business listings for English testing. This inequality is due to the fact that testing has become an all-consuming end in itself for most students. Students study hard, but the results are dire.

In this article, I describe the past, present, and future of English tests and explain why it is so stressful for students to take standardized tests. I will show how a new type of flow speech test could be incorporated into English learning as a tool. The new way of testing develops automatic speaking and relieves stress in students when they take an English test.

The punches for the English placement test

English proficiency was valued at $ 1.44 billion in 2018. Last year has been a terrible year for the UK standards testing industry as colleges switched to optional exam guidelines and many tests were canceled.

Another blow to the English testing industry was caused by a 43% decline in enrollment of new international students at U.S. colleges and universities in 2020. The next hit came from Duolingo, whose English tests quickly became popular due to its price tag of just $ 49, while most other certification tests cost over $ 200.

Mental gymnastics of testing

Founded in 1947, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) develops, manages, and evaluates more than 50 million tests each year. Each test is graded by a highly skilled human evaluator, not a machine. These tests are time consuming and not scalable. They are subjective and prone to erroneous assessments as there is no direct correlation between test scores and actual language skills. Let’s consider the IELTS reading test. The learners have to answer 40 questions in 60 minutes. I checked out the excellent video below by Jay Merlo entitled How to Pass IELTS in 2021 – New Tips and read some of the comments. For example, one said, “The IELTS exam is so frustrating. I can’t believe I failed again after studying so much.” Jay calls this exam “mental gymnastics”.

It requires excellent memory, visualization, and cause and effect analytical skills. Your knowledge of English and the ability to understand written passages will have little impact on the assessment if you have a poor memory, cannot visualize and remember the written passage for a few minutes, or cannot see how close different statements are in the Meaning are.

Is a high score a guarantee of high language skills?

I always suspected that a high test result was no guarantee that someone would be able to communicate fluently and understandably in English. I recently received an email from a young ESL teacher in China:

Most Chinese who study English are only interested in passing tests. For example, my wife tested English all over the province. Because of this, she went to a university in China, mastered teaching Chinese, and became an English teacher. She has been learning English for almost twenty years. Although she has tested all over the province, her English level is pretty poor, but it doesn’t matter as she has already passed the test.

From testing by human evaluators to adaptive AI-driven testing

The number of conventional standardized tests that are prone to significant bias and subjectivity will steadily decrease in the coming years due to automated and adaptive AI-driven tests. Let’s discuss two well-known examples of the new type of English test from Emmersion and Pearson Versant:

1. Immersion test

Emmersion launched a fully automated, AI-controlled and adaptive language assessment engine in 2018. Emmersion’s patented TrueNorth language test can assess speaking ability quickly, accurately and objectively. It delivers instant and accurate results with a 15 minute test, even though it predicts language skills rather than measuring them. Emmersion performed massive data mining to develop the correlation functions between the TrueNorth test results and other test methods. TrueNorth tests use forced imitation, a fancy way of saying “listen and repeat”. While emmersion states that it is a research-proven method of predicting oral language proficiency efficiently, I think forced imitation is also the Achilles’ heel of this method.

According to SpeakEasy, the emotional reason hearing is more complicated than just listening could be explained by the fact that hearing is selective and influenced by minor mental traces. It is relatively easy to use selective listening and block out noises around us when we are thinking of something else. But even when we try to listen to someone, our thoughts often wander, despite our good intentions, so that we can easily overlook much of what has been said.

Psychological noise consists of distractions of the speaker’s messages caused by the recipient’s internal thoughts. For example, when you are preoccupied with personal problems, it is not easy to understand the meaning of a message with full attention. The test-induced stress acts like a psychosocial noise that distracts the tester’s attention from the mimicry being evoked. There is also a physiological reason why our minds wander even when we try to focus our attention on listening.

The human brain can process words much faster than humans can speak. So while sentences to hear and repeat slowly enter our brain, we continue to think at high speed. At the same time as the unstoppable brain chat, an extremely complicated process takes place of assigning words to sounds, then visualizing the words and transferring them to long-term memory in order to repeat the entire sentence later. In my opinion, the psychological and physiological noise makes the TrueNorth test subjective and less accurate than the Pearson-Versant test. However, TrueNorth is the fastest (approx. 15 min) and cheapest test on the market.

2. Pearson-Versant tests

25 years ago, two Stanford professors discovered a more innovative way to conduct English tests. Versant uses patented AI technology to help Fortune 500 companies recruit, train, and develop the right people for jobs that require high levels of English proficiency.

In addition to a complete test solution (speaking, listening, reading and writing), Versant offers a new intelligibility index. Versant is the first and only test that determines intelligibility through pronunciation, fluency, clarity of expression, and speed of speech. Just like other skills, it can be automatically assessed using Versant’s AI-powered testing system.

“This (intelligibility) score is the first of its kind. It goes beyond the technical ability of the test takers to examine the core of their soft communication skills and determine how easy it is for speakers of that language to understand what is being said,” said Freya Thomas Monk, Pearson Senior Vice President.

A common feature of all Versant tests is that they are fully automated and can be made available online or offline worldwide at any time. The results are then available immediately after the test is completed, so you no longer have to wait for results!

The Versant English Test is a 17-minute test designed solely to assess speaking skills. By assessing student command of sentences, fluency, pronunciation and vocabulary, this test can ensure that staff meet the standard required to communicate effectively in a second language.

Test results act as gatekeepers because they determine the fate of the students, at which university they can apply and be admitted. Of course, this exam causes a lot of stress and sometimes leads the student down the wrong path; Instead of learning English, they spend too much time and effort preparing for the exam. In addition, high test scores are not a guarantee of high language proficiency, as conventional tests also depend on the students’ memory, visualization, and analytical skills.

Flow language test

In conclusion, I would like to suggest that test companies incorporate river language tests, which are independent of the students’ memory, visualization and analytical skills, into their test systems.

This is how the language flow test works: The learners see a randomly selected word on the display from a given database, such as the list of the most frequently used words in English conversations. They should start speaking and improvising about their experience, which is ignited by the word displayed. You should say two or three sentences that demonstrate your understanding of the word and proficiency in English. Learners continue to test for at least thirty words. If the learner doesn’t know the word shown, say “Next”. The word is counted as a failure. This language flow test is recorded and can automatically measure language flow, pronunciation, grammar accuracy and intelligibility. Flow language tests are the first of their kind as they determine whether learners are thinking in English or their mother tongue when communicating in English.

The simplicity of the language flow test allows it to be incorporated into an English learning app and drilled with each lesson. This exercise provides gamification elements that learners are used to from the games they play on their devices. This exercise will help learners develop the habit of speaking and thinking automatically in English. Passing one exam after the other increases the confidence of the students in the chosen method of learning English and gives them a sense of achievement. Flow speech tests provide a more accurate representation of English proficiency. It will also eliminate the stress associated with standardized tests as it is also part of a regularly used English learning app.

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