Megan Yucel, UQ-ICTE
Putting the horse before the cart

Putting the horse before the cart: Writing test specifications for General English tests

With the internationalisation of higher education in Australia and rising numbers of international students seeking to attend Australian universities, university English language centres are faced with the challenge of ensuring that the assessment instruments used in their courses are valid, reliable, and fair. In recent years, the ICTE-UQ assessment team has successfully developed in-house tests of receptive skills for the Bridging English program and is now working on a project to design tests for General English programs that are linked to the CEFR levels of A2, B1, and B2.

Once the need to produce a receptive skills test has been identified, the task of developing a test of this nature in-house can be daunting. A mistake that is often made is to launch into producing assessment tasks and items before adequate planning has been done – putting the cart before the horse, in other words. A best-practice approach to planning should include discussions around test purpose, test constructs and inferences to be drawn from test scores. After these decisions are made, test specifications have to be created, formalising and documenting these decisions and ensuring that there is a shared understanding of the above. During the test production stage, the test specifications serve as a blueprint for test writers, allowing multiple versions of tests for each level to be created and ensuring continuity and consistency between these versions.

The presenter will discuss the process of writing test specifications. Practical advice will also be given on text selection and task design for receptive skills tests.

Megan Yucel works at the Institute of Continuing and TESOL Education of The University of Queensland (ICTE-UQ), where she holds the position of Senior Teacher: ELICOS Curriculum. Megan has worked as a teacher, lecturer, examiner, trainer, and test writer in Turkey, the UK, and Australia. She has the Cambridge DELTA and a Masters in Applied Linguistics (TESOL). She is currently completing a PhD at The University of Queensland in the area of English language assessment.