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The impact of exams

August 10, 2007

Hello again,

Most schools run exam classes; students looking to enter universities or proving their competence to employers are keen to pass ...

...the Cambridge exams, IELTS, or one of the big multiple choice exams from the USA.

This is perfectly understandable but the impact, technically known as “washback,” on learners and teachers is sometimes quite negative. Teachers feel pressure to train learners in the best ways of passing the exam and this may be quite a different skill from the language skills needed for effective communication. The experience of the candidates may also be negative in that they experience stress and anxiety.

Is there any way of mitigating the negative washback of exams? With the current system, probably not. The exams exert their influence on syllabus design and teaching techniques. If teachers deviate in any way the students have les chance of being successful in the tests. And let us make no mistake, these exams are very big business.

However, perhaps there are signs of changes afoot. In Eire, for example, The Test of Interactive English (TIE) has been designed with the needs and concerns of learners being the main focus: The test is task-based, requiring each candidate to carry out a number of pre-specified tasks prior to taking the test. Assessment if given according to the Council of Europe's Common Framework Scale of Language Proficiency.

The test is offered in two formats:
• The Junior TIE: for English language learners of 12- 18 years old
• The TIE: for English language learners of 18+ (post secondary).

The exam has been designed by EL professionals working in the Dept. of Education
in Ireland to value each candidate individually and to recognise the importance of
what each individual can bring to the learning and testing process.
By taking a new, learner-centred approach to testing, this exam should have a much
more positive washback on both learners and teachers.
And there is already evidence that this test can be international.

In using the Council of Europe's Common Framework for Language Proficiency as the scale for assessment the feedback from the test is instantly recognisable and represents an external and widely used standard. For further information, go to this URL: http://www.acels.ie/acelstie.htm/.

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