An Essay on Washback

How Tests Influence Attitudes Toward Testing

Seminar Paper, 2013

10 Pages, Grade: 1,3 (13 Punkte)


1. Introduction

This essay was written as part of the seminar “Fostering formative assessment in the EFL classroom” held by Dr. Loumbourdi, summer semester 2013.

In modern society tests have been implemented at almost every social level. This essay covers three topics. First a discussion about washback (2.1) and its classification is conducted (2.2). Followed by a reflection of the presentation held on 2nd July 2013 that focuses on the preparation of the topic (3.1), the actual presentation (3.2) and a reflection on the presentation (3.3). The last sequence focuses on a critique of a testing ideology that can be seen as washback in regard to attitude and perception of tests and testing (4). In this part, it is shown how the individual perceives a test as a tool in a competitive society in order to be compared with other individuals. This leads to an economical attitude towards knowledge; namely that knowledge is only of value in as much it gives the individual an advantage in competing for higher education and in the job market.

2. Washback Theory

2.1 Definition

Washback as a term in educational research has been discussed since the 1980s. Hughes said “the effect of testing on teaching and learning is known as backwash [or washback]”(Hughes, 1989:1). This definition focuses on the micro-level of washback, with its implications for teachers and students. Another early definition of washback is given by Buck:

There is a natural tendency for both teachers and students to tailor their classroom activities to the demands of the test, especially when the test is very important to the future of the students, and pass rates are used as a measure for teacher success. This influence of the test on the classroom (referred to aswashbackby language testers) is, of course, very important; this washback effect can either be beneficial or harmful. (Buck; 1988:17)

Since then, other researchers have tried to define washback. Bachman and Palmer said that washback was merely a part of the impact a test has (1996). They claimed that a test has impact on a micro and on a macro level. In contrast, Shohamy argued for an interchangeable use of both terms (1996). Messick gives a definition of washback by saying: ”Washback is the extent to which a test influences language teachers and learners to do things they would not necessarily otherwise do that promote or inhibit language learning“ (Messick; 1996:241). It is commonly accepted that Alderson and Wall enriched the discussion about washback by introducing fifteen thesis connected to washback:

1. A test will influence teaching.
2. A test will influence learning.
3. A test will influence what teachers teach; and
4. A test will influence how teachers teach, and therefore by extension from (2) above:
5. A test will influence what learners learn; and
6. A test will influence how learners learn.
7. A test will influence the rate and the sequence of teaching; and
8. A test will influence the rate and the sequence of learning.
9. A test will influence the degree and depth of teaching; and
10. A test will influence the degree and depth of learning.
11. A test will influence attitudes to the content, method, etc. of teaching and learning.
12.Tests that have important consequences will have washback; and conversely
13. Tests that do not have important consequences will have no washback.
14. Test will have washback on all learners and teachers.
15. Tests will have washback effects for some learners and some teachers, but not for others.

(Alderson & Wall 1993: 120-21)

Our presentation had a high focus in these theses.


Excerpt out of 10 pages


An Essay on Washback
How Tests Influence Attitudes Toward Testing
University of Frankfurt (Main)  (Fachdidaktik Anglistik)
Proseminar: Fostering formative assessment in the EFL classroom
1,3 (13 Punkte)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
486 KB
I always like how you see into the other dimension of a topic, apart from their aobvious educational one: political, philosophical, social etc. Pleaese, keep doing that in your teaching and keep reading. I enjoyed reading your final part. Dr. Lamprini Loumbourdi
essay, washback, tests, influence, attitudes, toward, testing
Quote paper
Malte Gerhardt (Author), 2013, An Essay on Washback, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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