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The new kids on the block

A look at the newest players in the test industry by Kat Bautista

Recently emerging as alternatives to well-known tests such as the IELTS are a new crop of fluency tests, ranging from exams conducted at testing

centres to flexible tests you can do at home. EFL teachers who tutor candidates should add these new arrivals to their services. To help them, we’ve taken snapshots of a few to highlight what students will be encountering and what resources teachers can make use of.

Exams similar to IELTS Academic

Pearson Test of Academic English

Taken in a testing centre in one sitting, Pearson’s exam comes in three parts: Speaking and Writing, Reading, and Listening. In the first sub-test, examinees introduce themselves and move on to the actual test, where they orally read and repeat texts, describe a picture, relate the main points of a lecture, respond to a question prompt, recap a text and write a short essay on an assigned topic. The reading test consists of two fill- in-the-blank exercises, two multiple-choice questions about the tone and substance of given texts, and a paragraph organisation task. In the listening portion, candidates summarise an audio, complete transcripts with missing words, are tested on gist and tone, choose appropriate summaries of given texts, pick out wrong words in a transcript while listening to an audio and write down a sentence after listening to a recording.

The good news: Pearson’s website offers teachers comprehensive resources, from tips and detailed guides to practice tests and an app for students that features practice questions and guides. Pearson also has a community teachers can turn to for more resources.

TOEFL Essentials

TOEFL Essentials covers general and academic English, which allows it to give examinees’ prospective universities or companies a picture of their classroom- and workplace-relevant skills. It also tailors its questions to candidates’ fluency “to help [them] show [their] English-language strengths”. The listening section contains comprehension questions for audios such as announcements, dialogues and lectures, while students encounter scholarly and general texts in the reading test. In the writing exam, candidates assemble sentences from a group of words and write prompt-based texts and, in the speaking portion, read aloud and repeat audios and have an interview with a pre-taped examiner. After the exam, candidates tape a “personal video statement” about themselves and express their opinions on a subject provided by the website.

While not as extensive as Pearson, ETS, the company that designed the TOEFL, still provides an EdX course that guides teachers and students on the exam, and its website contains free practice tests. In addition, teachers can utilise several YouTube channels, such as TOEFL Test with Teacher Luke, which offers tips and sample tests.

Duolingo English Test

Just one hour long, Duolingo’s exam mostly comprises what they call the ‘adaptive test’, which consists of a battery of various question types. In the exam, candidates identify real words from invented ones, describe pictures orally and in writing, transcribe a sentence from a recording, complete fill-in-the-blank items, read sentences aloud, encounter texts with missing sentences and comprehension questions that test their understanding of details and key points, relate situations and their opinions, record a sentence and talk about given topics. Another portion, the ‘ writing and speaking sample’, offers employers or universities samples of the test taker’s writing and speech. Here, candidates are given two question prompts and are required to write a response for one and record a spoken answer for the other.

Unfortunately, Duolingo’s website only contains a guide and a practice test. Teachers, however, can take advantage of The Language Gallery’s guide and YouTube, which abounds in channels offering guides and tips.

Exams similar to IELTS General

Trinity London College ISE

Trinity’s test has five levels (Foundation to Level IV), each slightly different from the rest, that correspond to CEFR levels starting from A2, with the exception of Level IV (C2), which differs dramatically from the lower levels. For example, B2 candidates’ reading and writing tests cover comprehension questions that ask for details, main ideas and implications, and two prompt-based writing tasks that require examinees to write texts such as essays and articles. The Level IV exam, however, calls for test takers to submit a portfolio made up of three written texts, and has candidates write an analytical essay and write about texts they read during the test. The speaking and listening tests for B2 students involve a talk about a topic of the candidate’s choosing, a discussion based on a prompt, a dialogue based on a chosen topic and listening to an audio, after which the candidate reports information they heard. In contrast, Level IV speaking and listening exams include a lecture, discussions about the lecture and the portfolio, a conversation based on a prompt, and comprehension questions about texts read aloud that test for holistic meaning and ask the candidate to supply endings.

Luckily, Trinity’s website provides thorough guides for each level – for both teachers and students – practice activities, video samples of the exam and links to textbooks teachers can consult.

Language CERT International ESOL

Like Trinity, Language CERT’s exam has six versions, each corresponding to CEFR levels.

Candidates can find out which exam they should take through a quiz on the website, so the questions they will come across differ depending on their fluency. For instance, the listening portion of C2 exams tests students on their understanding of details and requires them to choose the appropriate response to an audio, while the reading test includes tasks that check for details (true-or-false items), organisation (a sentence fill-in-the-blank exercise) and gist. The writing section has students penning an article and a story; in the speaking test, candidates state their opinions, give a presentation about an assigned topic and role play a situation.

Resources for teachers are relatively few, but Language CERT still offers practice tests, webinars and links to books teachers can use.

PSI Skills for English

The PSI Skills for English test has different levels and, like Language CERT, PSI’s SkillsforEnglish.com website provides a diagnostic quiz for you to assess your current level. Skills for English has two skill tests (speaking and listening) at levels A1 and A2, and a two-skills version of B1, as well as four skill tests (speaking, listening, reading and writing) at levels B1 to C2.

For B2 examinees, the speaking section calls for candidates to answer questions about themselves, respond to questions about different topics and talk using scenario prompts. In the listening test, examinees listen to recordings and answer multiple- choice detail and holistic-meaning questions, which are also the types of questions they will encounter in the reading test.

The writing portion, meanwhile, consists of two prompt-based tasks, one requiring the candidate to write a casual text and the other an essay.

And yes, PSI is generous with resources – its website offers thorough guides to each level and sub-test, practice tests and links to resources for improving students’ skills.

The arrival of these new fluency tests promises more options for aspiring candidates worldwide. And teachers should take note of them, not only to help examinees pick the test that best suits their needs, but also to extend their services to reflect the latest goings-on in the testing market, all in the service of helping students thrive.

Kat Bautista is a freelance writer and TEFL-certified ESL teacher who handles mostly Japanese students. She lives in the Philippines.

Images courtesy of PHOTO BY MIMI THIAN ON UNSPLASH and Library
Kat Bautista
Kat Bautista
Kat Bautista is a freelance writer and TEFL-certified ESL teacher who handles mostly Japanese students. She lives in the Philippines.
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