Assessment Part 2 – How I Conduct My Speaking Test


Yesterday I reflected on how I think assessment is very often failing our students. Given such a bold claim I guess it’s only right that I put my money (or reputation at least) where my mouth is! I’m currently conducting speaking tests that seem to have been, so far, quite successful. I’ll be posting my full reflections once all my students have completed the tests and got their results. This is more a template as to how I went about introducing the speaking tests this semester that anyone is welcome to copy, compliment, criticize, offer suggestions for improvement or anything else!

First of all, some context, I had two weeks to administer around 450 speaking tests. That gave me two hours with each class of 30-40 students (1 hour per week). That basically left me with 3 minutes per student. My objectives were:

–          That I should test the students’ ability to produce English spontaneously.

–          The students should feel challenged.

–          The students should feel a real sense of achievement on completing the test.

–          Students of different level should be able to answer the questions, while still being able to show off their high level skills.

–          Students should receive feedback on areas they need to improve.

–          It should be a useful experience for the students.

–          It should allow me to identify common problems.

After a lot of deliberation on how to do this, the ever awesome Michael Griffin (@michaelgriffin) suggested I copy the speaking element of the NEAT test. This is a test being introduced by the Korean government that students will take before entering university (more about this in my next blog). The government is also aiming for it to replace the many different forms of English testing currently used in Korea. The format of the test, which I am going to briefly explain below, seemed to tick the boxes and would certainly be a useful experience for the students. I’m now going to outline the process I decided upon.

Stage 1 -> Preparing the Students

For me, this is by far the most important stage, and one I definitely didn’t do adequately last year. The first thing I had to do was explain the new test format to the students (as they haven’t done anything like it before, for their responses please see my previous post) and adequately prepare them for the test. To do this I set aside two lessons to explain the types of questions they would get and give them practice questions. Please see the PowerPoint below for a quick guide to the test format.

The test has four sections:

1. Advice Giving. The students were read a short problem. Although in the actual NEAT they would only hear a recording, I also allowed them to read the problem, They had10 seconds to think, 1 minute to answer.

2. Conversation. The students were asked 4 commonly themed questions. They had 20 seconds for each answer.

3. Story Telling. The students were shown six pictures in order and they had to make a story. They were given 10 seconds to think and 1 minute to answer.

4. Graph Description. The students were shown a graph. They had 10 seconds to describe and compare the data in the graph.

I decided advice giving was much harder than the others, and there was only time for students to answer two categories, so every student would get one question from advice giving and one from another category. They wouldn’t know in advance so they would have to practice for all of them.

After explaining the new format, including explaining the scoring chart so they knew exactly how they could gain/lose points, we spent 25 minutes practicing each category. The guide I gave to the students including tips etc. is in the PowerPoint below. The example questions used are in the scribd document below (feel free to use them). To practice I used the following pattern:

–          We analyze an example as a class.

–          I give them tips as to what is expected from them and where I think they can get easy or lose easy marks.

–          Student works with a partner to write what they think would be the perfect answer.

–          The students do one more practice question spontaneously.

–          I give feedback to the class including tips for the real thing.

Stage 2 -> Conducting the Tests

For obvious reasons, the tests had to be done one at a time and as efficiently as possible. While the majority of the students were in the classroom, one student at a time came into my office. To save time they didn’t pick a question, instead I had a big pile of questions that I went through one at a time. They were given 10 seconds thinking time for both quesitons, and then 1 minute to answer (apart from conversation, which they were given 20 seconds X 4 questions). Straight after they finished I filled in their scoring chart (please see scribd document below) and the next student came in.

Stage 3 -> Feedback

The students will be given their scoring chart (which is out of 45). They won’t, however, be given their score out of ten until a week later. I hope that by doing this the students will look at the chart at areas they did well and areas they need to improve. Although I would like to give more personalized feedback, with 450 students this would just take too long. I have also made notes on mistakes I heard in their speaking tests (during the test) that I will give them. Once all the test are finished we will have a class where I can give feedback on the most common mistakes made and do some practice activities to improve for next time. Although I would like to do more, time is a real problem.

Please feel free to use any formats of this speaking test that you like. Tomorrow I’m going to be blogging about how I think introducing NEAT, or any other speaking exam, into our assessment could have a real positive impact on the way our roles as NETs are seen in the Korean education system.


04/09/2012 05:53

Yet another quality and useful post Alex!

I must say I am a bit intimidated by your thoroughness and thoughtfulness. I would like to say that I would do the same if I were provided enough time to successfully accomplish all the tasks you set out to do.

That being said, while my speaking tests are under even more of a time crunch, without the time to prepare students or give feedback, there are quite a few points that I can take from you and mold to my own uses.

I test my whole school (approx 1000 students) and have one 45 min class (35-45 students per class) so efficiency is a must. I usually despair at the uselessness of it all. I like how you have broken the questions into categories and allot specific time to each student for thinking and for answering. I think I can take that idea and hopefully give my students a more even appraisal.

Thanks again for all the great work you do (and most importantly sharing!!!!). It is a fantastic legacy for the many who will follow you.

05/09/2012 20:23

Hey mate,

This is a great post, and I’d imagine would be thoroughly useful to a lot of people. Did you pimp this post out on Waygook at all – I really think that you should.

How did you find doing the improvement grading? It seems like a hell of a lot of categories to get through, though I understand that you want to help students in specific areas. I wonder though, whether it wouldn’t be easier to focus on a narrower range of things, and just note problem areas for the student. Did you feel you got enough data in 3 minutes to make all of those judgements?

25/09/2012 20:01

Hey buddy,

I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂 TBH it was quite difficult getting through all the categories, the reason I chose them is that they are the categories they use for the real NEAT exam, so I though it would be good practice, but yes, I think I might streamline that next time.

Thanks as always dude,



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