Writing English language tests - The role of testing in the teaching and leaning process

Term Paper, 2004

16 Pages, Grade: 2 (B)



1. Preface

2. Writing Skills
2.1 Definition of Essential Terms
2.2 Conditions for Writing in English
2.3 The Development of Compositional Writing

3. Writing of Tests
3.1 The Purpose of Testing
3.2 Validity
3.3 Reliability
3.4 Practicality
3.5 Scoring of Tests

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1 Preface

Writing English language tests is a topic very many students and of course also their teachers have to deal with. Often testing does not have a very good reputation, especially when regarding the students. Most of them are probably happy when a test is over and enjoy the time without them. But testing has much more functions than a superficial look at it will provide. Chapter 3.1 of this paper deals with the numerous purposes and is also supposed to show the important role that testing plays in the teaching process.

This paper will concentrate on the writing skill and the evaluation of it. The other three skills reading, listening and speaking are not the centre of research. But it is not possible to exclude them because they are all interrelated to the writing skill as this paper wants to show.

What is it that makes especially the writing skill and also the testing of it so sophisticating and complex? Writing at an advanced level is usually compositional writing or essay writing. Chapter 2.3 concentrates on that kind of writing and points out its often difficult prerequisites, even for writers in the native language.

What are the necessary features of tests in general? It is supposed to become clear that certain conditions such as validity, reliability and practicality are extremely important for written assessment and for every other assessment too.

Many people, even if they never actively scored a test, are able to imagine the difficulties of a fair and objective judgement. Especially when dealing with compositional writing, that assumption is true. But nevertheless there are ways to improve the objectivity of evaluation even if a rest of subjectivity can not be avoided. Chapter 3.5 focuses on ways to judge tests adequately.

Writing English language tests is a wide topic. It is not possible to cover all the separate areas that exist. Especially the description of compositional writing could have gone more into detail. But at some points a concentration on main areas was necessary in order not to exceed the frame of the paper.

2 Writing Skills

2.1 Definition of Essential Terms

Before being able to work with topic related words as “English” and “test” it is necessary to briefly define them.[1]

There are many ways to approach the meaning of the word English. For the purpose of this paper the focus will be on two. Based on historical reasons nowadays English is the international language. The British trade and also the colonial expansion of the commonwealth spread the former local language around the world. In present days it is the economic and cultural power of the United States of America that keeps English in a position of a global language. If for instance a scientist from China has a conversation with one from Africa they will with a high probability talk in English even if that is not their native language. But “an international language belongs to its users, not to the countries whose national languages have become internationalised.”[2] Participating in global communication requires the ability of speaking English.

Another approach to the term English is by regarding it as an instrument of communication. Communication can take place either oral or written. Every language, though also English, can be seen from a linguistic angle which emphasizes on the system that belongs to it. “It (language) is a complex system of communication with various levels of complexity involving intricate selection and ordering of meanings, sounds, and larger units and arrangements.[3] A scientific examination of the properties of the English language can be studied in specialized literature. Going more into detail would not be helpful at this point.

Testing can be done in many different areas. Psychologists have the IQ-Test, Universities test sports ability for instance, the optician tests people’s sight - just to name a few. Testing always provides information about the tested person but still has many other functions.[4] This paper will specifically deal with testing in educational institutions like schools or universities.

2.2 Conditions for Writing in English

Being able to write English successfully demands certain conditions a writer must have. “Of the four language skills, writing may truly be considered the most sophisticated.”[5] Listening and reading are receptive skills. There might be difficulties in understanding words or even whole sentences but listeners and readers do not actively produce language. In contrast to that, writing and also speaking are active skills. But nevertheless there are differences between them.

Speaking usually takes place in a conversation. So at least two people participate. The speaker can interact with the listener. He can explain his statements and get a feedback. Writing on the other hand is not that spontaneous. “The act of writing differs from that of talking in that it is less spontaneous and more permanent, …”[6] Even if most writing is made for an audience or a single receiver it is still less flexible than speaking. There is not the possibility to explain ambiguous statements immediately and no instant respond. Therefore writing has to be very precise in order to avoid misunderstandings and a great measure of proficiency is required.

In order to achieve the high level of unambiguous and precise expressions students need to learn five different categories of abilities.[7]

1) They have to master mechanical skills which means that the conventions characteristic for the written language have to be considered. Writers have to know about the right spelling of words and the punctuation rules.
2) They have to be able to write correct sentences. In order to do so it is important to know about vocabulary and the grammatical system of English.
3) When writing texts the content needs to be treated in the right way. Students have to think creatively and focus on important information they want to convey. Therefore they have to be able to determine unimportant parts and to exclude them.
4) Writing is also a stylistic process. Sentences can be manipulated for special purposes. Propagandistic texts for instance pay great attention on style.
5) Different situations demand different manners of writing. The writer needs to be able to decide what kind of language is appropriate for a certain audience. Depending on who is the reader he might choose slang, business English, colloquialism or whatever he thinks is proper.

Considering these five categories, the complexity of writing English becomes apparent. Rebecca M. Valette points out that there are even many English native speakers that have problems with “the art of writing English.”[8] So for learners of English as a foreign language at first a long teaching process has to build basic skills and then go on with developing the advanced capabilities.


[1] An explanation of the term “writing” is given in the next chapter “Conditions for Writing in English”

[2] Edge, Julian, Essentials of English Language Teaching, 3rd Edition, Edinburgh Gate 1996, P. 26

[3] Lado, Robert, Language Testing, 7th Edition, London 1972, P. 2

[4] Chapter 3.1 “The purpose of testing” will go more into detail

[5] Valette, Rebecca M., Modern Language Testing, 2nd Edition, Boston 1967, P. 217

[6] Broughton, G., Brumfit, C., Flavell, R., Hill, P., Pincas, A., Teaching English as a Foreign Language, 2nd Edition, London 1980, P. 116

[7] Cf. Heaton, J. B., Writing English Language Tests, 4th Edition, New York 1988, P. 135

[8] Cf. Valette, Rebecca M., Modern Language Testing, 2nd Edition, Boston 1967, P. 217

Excerpt out of 16 pages


Writing English language tests - The role of testing in the teaching and leaning process
Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg
2 (B)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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527 KB
Writing, English
Quote paper
Joachim von Meien (Author), 2004, Writing English language tests - The role of testing in the teaching and leaning process, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/33649


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