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The speaking test from a Institutional point of view

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The speaking test from a Institutional point of view

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Note: This article has been written by Nick Charge. He is the subject manager for IELTS at Ucles. It therefore presents IELTS speaking test from an "institutional" point of view.

Procedural changes
In the old speaking test it was difficult to control examiner input. Studies have shown that variability of examiner language could have a significant effect on candidate performance. The new test has a tight examiner frame in Parts One and Two, designed to standardize input by providing a script for the examiner's role in the conversation. The relaxation of the frame in Part Three is recognition of the unique properties of the Ielts test whereby a single examiner is required to deliver a test across a wide range of ability . The use of a frame provides support for lower level candidates while still allowing those at higher levels to demonstrate their proficiency.

Assessment Changes
The band scale developed in 1989 was holistic and so it could not be expected to cover all aspects of proficiency at every band level. Pronunciation, for example, was in the descriptor for band four but did not then re-appear until band eight. To make the assessment more analytical, the new scale assesses spoken language under four performance criteria: fluency and coherence; lexical resource; grammatical range and accuracy; and pronunciation. Descriptors for each of these criteria are provided across nine bands; examiners award a subscore on each criterion and the four subscores are averaged to provide a final score for speaking. A significant amount of work has gone into the validation of these scales against actual candidate performance. This has been a thorough and carefully managed review process. As the partner responsible for test development, Ucles has been managing the revision in close consultation with the other partners, guided by its own test development methodology. Started in May 1998, the project has included a review of literature and other tests, consultation with experts, trialling of test formats, work on assessment criteria and rating scales, extensive validation studies and comprehensive programme of examiner retraining. It will be written up and published as part of the Studies in Language Testing series, produced jointly by Ucles and CUP. We are confident that the revised test is fairer and more rigorous, and can be shown to satisfy three important aspects of successful speaking tests: theoretical relevance, discriminating power and assessability.
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