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HomeApril 2023Issue 484Testing by numbers

Testing by numbers

The numbers from the assessment bodies, as exam boards are now usually known, shows the trendline going upwards, no matter which metric you use.

When it comes to candidate numbers, Cambridge University Press and Assessment has announced take-up for Linguaskill, described on their website as ‘a quick and easy on-line test’, have now topped the one million mark.

At Pearson, it is the financial numbers which have hit the headlines with £456 million in unaudited profits announced in early March. English language learning was the best performing area with a 90 per cent increase in the number of Pearson Tests of English, and total candidate numbers for the year hitting 827,000.

On the test centre front, the PSI English Skills team has played a blinder with 300 test centres in 128 countries, more than any other government approved Secure English Language Test (SELT) for immigration purposes. Their English Skills exam is the only SELT available in eight countries – small wonder test taker numbers have increased fivefold.

The demand for language tests is still growing. In February this year, Canadian Immigration authorities approved a new Pearson exam. A new Australian list of government-approved tests for immigrants is also expected soon.

Unfortunately, less welcome numbers are also high in another with reports that cheating is soaring following the switch to at home on-line tests during the pandemic. Last year ETS reported a 200 per cent year on year increase in the number of test scores cancelled in 2021 because of suspect test results.

In the UK, new entrant Duolingo, whose on-line English language test was adopted by many universities during lockdown, hit back at reports in the i newspaper that an increase in plagiarism has been noted at UK universities, particularly among students who were admitted on their results. While the company cited its AI proctoring and identification protocols as its protection against cheating, the answer may be more simple.

The UK universities complaint is focussed on the students’ writing. Yet the writing section of the Duolingo test, is afforded a maximum of 3 minutes of test time, with samples videoed and shared with the university but left ungraded by Duolingo. Two short writing samples may simply not be enough to judge the level of written English.

Given the exam format, it is perfectly possible that successful candidates have an adequate level of language knowledge and good receptive skills, precisely the areas Duolingo grades. When it comes to writing, however, the key skill in UK Higher Ed, their performance may be much lower. After all, if we look at the statistics on IELTS we see that the writing test grades are often half a band score more lower than those for the other three skills.

Image courtesy of CREDIT HARIADHI
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