“Teaching English: How to Teach English as a Second Language (ESL)” is written by award-winning writer Mark Beales. It’s available on Amazon, iTunes and Barnes & Noble (Google ‘Mark Beales Teaching English’). Or you could try Mark’s other ebook: ‘The Ultimate Guide to Pattaya’.
Types of Tests
Checking that students actually understand what you’re teaching them is an important part of the job. There are all kinds of ways to do this (speaking tests, project work), but the overwhelming favourite is by written exam.
Schools like such exams as they’re simple to mark and easy to grade. Tests rarely give you a completely accurate guide of what a student can do, but they’re not a bad benchmark. Remember that just because a student scores high or low, they aren’t necessarily good or bad at English. Some students prefer the tension of an exam (and knowing you’re facing one does tend to lead to more revision), while others may be able to communicate well but freeze when faced with an academic test. Either way, sooner or later (probably sooner) you’ll be asked to write such a test.
There are several ‘musts’ when it comes to creating an exam. Firstly, only test students on what they are expected to know. A school once gave students an English test showing Big Ben, the White House, the Statue of Liberty and the Pyramids. The question asked which one of these was in Egypt. Now that would be great for a general knowledge test, but it doesn’t actually test the students’ English ability.
Secondly, think about what kind of questions you want. Some formats are easy to produce but don’t fully test students, while others are tricky to make but simple to mark.
Thirdly, bear in mind how long the test will last. If you create the perfect 200-question exam but only give students 30 minutes to complete it, you’re not going to get a true picture of what your class can do. Similarly, if your test includes a large text that needs to be read, that’s going to eat up a considerable amount of time too. For exams, it’s better to have several easy-to-digest chunks of comprehension texts rather than one long one.
Lastly, consider how you’re going to mark the test. If there are open questions, then you’ll need to come up with some marking scheme. Or if some questions are far easier or less complex than others, you may need to weight the marks.
These are the main ways of testing students (if you want to impress your boss, refer to them as elicitation techniques).
Multiple choice questions
These are popular as they are easy to mark, something worth considering if you have 500 or so students to test. Multiple-choice tests sound simple enough, but you need to be sure there is only one possible answer. It’s also worth checking that you haven’t made the question too complex for the students’ level, as then you’ll largely be testing their reading skills, which isn’t what you’d planned on. They aren’t perfect; you are effectively giving the answer rather than seeing if students can come up with it but they are popular.
Similar to multiple-choice but without any options, the only real obstacle is being aware of more than one possible answer. Students shouldn’t miss out on a point just because they’ve come up with an answer you hadn’t anticipated. This is a good way to check tenses as, if you’re feeling generous, you can give the base form of the verb in brackets as a clue (1). If there’s only one possible answer, try to leave it out (2).
Example 1: Yesterday, James ___________ a new car (buy)
Example 2: He _________ gone to Bangkok.
Students are given two groups of words or sentences and have to put them together. This could be a simple vocabulary test (apple/banana, cow/pig) or it could be used for far more complex patterns.
a) She is interested 1) of spiders
b) Gary is frightened 2) in the supernatural
You give students a sentence and they then have to change it based on given instructions.
Example 1: Is the giraffe on the left or right _________ (tall, comparative)?
Example 2: If it’s sunny at the weekend I _______ the park (First Conditional)
After a reading passage or listening exercise, students are asked questions to check understanding. Think about whether you want closed questions that are simple to mark or ones that invite a more open answer.