Five things students can learn from an English test
English tests are not an aim in and of themselves, although they’re sometimes treated as if they were. In fact, there’s a lot that English testing shows learners.
1. Their level of English on a standard scale
Any standardized English test will give students a score on some scale, often a scale internal to the test. However, because knowing their score alone isn’t very instructive, students will need an external measure to compare it against. Luckily, those exist for all the major standardized English tests. The CEFR is the standard external scale and the EF SET and the Cambridge English exams give a score on that scale. Other standardized English tests use different scales, but there are equivalency tables online. It’s useful for students to understand that their score on an English test will also be broken down by skills, for example reading and listening.
2. What they don’t know yet
On a slightly deeper level, after testing their English, a student can identify what they don’t know yet. Broadly, pinpointing this helps learners plan their studies. More specifically, it can help them choose effective study techniques to address the areas of English that are their weakest. Are they fed up with having a limited vocabulary? Flash cards are their friends. Do they have difficulty understanding spoken English when it comes flying at them too fast? They could try watching TV series with subtitles set to English.
3. How they compare
While learning English isn’t a competitive sport, students who have an idea of how they compare can better set their own learning goals and judge their qualifications on the job market. However, it’s not necessarily easy for students to get this data. To help, the EF English Proficiency Index gives some benchmarking data that students can compare themselves against by taking the EF SET. Students and teachers can also find annual statistics published by IELTS and TOEFL about the English test scores per country, per native language, and for a few other parameters.
4. How effective their learning has been
Students who test their English while enrolled in English classes get a sense of how much they’re learning. (It’s more common than you’d think that students are not aware of their progress or lack thereof; either by having the impression they’re not improving when in fact they are, or thinking they’re learning while actually not retaining much.) A good technique is to test your class’s English at the start of the semester and then again at the end (using the same test both times of course). Students who’ve made progress will notice right away, while those who haven’t will see where they’re lacking.
5. The effort necessary to reach their goals
While the road to learning a language is a little complicated, students who make fluency their priority can achieve this goal. By identifying their current challenges through testing, learners will be able to better decide how to continue their studies. New paths might be to change levels, study abroad, hire a tutor, or complete a summer program. Help foster your students’ sense of autonomy by being honest about how much progress they can expect to make in a certain time period, and by helping them use that as a benchmark to plan out their studies.