Grammar Assessment strategies for language teachers

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Needless to say, your teaching will change according to the level of the group or individual, particularly in terms of grammar. Presenting grammar in the EFL classroom is no different from teaching other skills, in that you need to take into account a range of factors, e.g. age, level of competence, previous grammar experiences in the native language, and the like. Notwithstanding this consideration, there are general and overarching ways to assess language learners’ grammatical competence.

General types of grammar test

Before writing a test, it is vital to think about what it is that you want to test and what the purpose is. We must make a distinction between proficiency tests, achievement
tests, diagnostic tests, and prognostic tests.

A proficiency test is one that measures a candidate’s overall ability in a language; it isn’t related to a specific course.

An achievement test on the other hand tests the students’ knowledge of the material that has been taught in a course.

A diagnostic test highlights the strong and weak points that a learner may have in a particular area.

A prognostic test attempts to predict how a student will perform on a course.

Specific types of grammar test

Multiple choice

In this question type, there is a stem and various options to choose from. The advantages of this question type are that it is easy to mark and minimizes guesswork by having multiple distractors. The disadvantage is that it can be very time-consuming to create, effective multiple-choice items are surprisingly difficult to write. Also, it takes time for the candidate to process the information which leads to problems with the validity of the exam. If a low-level candidate has to read through lots of complicated information before they can answer the question, you may find you are testing their reading skills more than their lexical knowledge. Multiple choice can be used to test most things such as grammar, vocabulary, reading, listening, etc. Still, you must remember that it is still possible for students to just ‘guess’ without knowing the correct answer.

Example:

Choose the correct word to complete the sentence. 

If I ____ you, I would turn in my papers already.

(a) is

(b) am

(c) was

(d) were

Transformation

In this question type, the test candidate has to rewrite a sentence based on an instruction or a keyword given. This type of task is fairly easy to mark, but the problem is that it doesn’t test understanding. A candidate may simply be able to rewrite sentences to a formula. The fact that a candidate has to paraphrase the whole meaning of the sentence in the example above however minimizes this drawback.

Transformations are particularly effective for testing grammar and understanding of form. This wouldn’t be an appropriate question type if you wanted to test skills such as reading or listening.

Example:

Complete the second sentence so that it has the same meaning as the first. 

‘Do you know what the time is, Lord?’ asked Vince. Vince asked Lord __________ (what) _______________ it was.

Answer: Vince asked Lord about what time it was.

Gap-filling

The candidate fills the gap to complete the sentence. A hint may sometimes be included such as a root verb that needs to be changed, the first letter of the word, etc. This usually tests grammar or vocabulary. Again this type of task is easy to mark and relatively easy to write. The teacher must bear in mind though that in some cases there may be many possible correct answers. Gap-fills can be used to test a variety of areas such as vocabulary, and grammar and are very effective at testing listening for specific words.

Example:

Complete the sentence. 

How much _____ do you need to purchase this stuff?

True/false test

Here, the test candidate must decide if a statement is true or false. This type is easy to mark but guessing can result in many correct answers. The best way to counteract this effect is to have a lot of items.

Open questions

In this question type, the candidate must answer simple questions after a reading or listening task or as part of an oral interview. It can be used to test anything. If the answer is open-ended it will be more difficult and time-consuming to mark and there may also be an element of subjectivity involved in judging how ‘complete’ the answer is, but it may also be a more accurate test.

Error correction

Errors must be found and corrected in a sentence or passage. It could be an extra word, mistakes with verb forms, words missed, etc. One problem with this question type is that some errors can be corrected in more than one way.

Other techniques

There are of course many other elicitation techniques such as translation, essays, dictations, ordering words/phrases into a sequence, and sentence construction. It is important to ask yourself what exactly you are trying to test, which techniques suit this purpose best, and to bear in mind the drawbacks of each technique. Awareness of this will help you to minimize the problems and produce a more effective test.

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