Pauline Cullen
The Inconvenient Truth about Test Writing

The writing of tests typically falls to the teachers most willing to get involved or to those most interested in materials writing in general and assessment in particular. Yet, while the broad aims of assessment may be touched on in teacher training courses, teachers rarely, if ever, receive training in how to write a test. In fact, the skills, time, and effort required are rarely discussed. As a result, the painstaking, often frustrating process is not generally understood: it is assumed that anyone can do it as long as they are willing and have a few hours to spare.

This talk will help to shine a light on the challenges faced by the test writer, and the impact these challenges have on everyone concerned with the test. I will focus on the way that these challenges are changing, and have already changed, thanks to the double-edged sword of technology, and I will touch on some issues that need to be addressed to ensure that high-stakes test materials produce a fair, valid, and reliable testing system.

I spent 12 years as a language teacher (largely focused on exam preparation classes), DOS, then Principal at a large English language centre in Brisbane. I began freelance test writing in 1995 and my experience in assessment includes: over 10 years as an oral examiner and team leader for Cambridge main suite exams; over 25 years producing reading and listening materials for tests including IELTS, CAE, and CPE; training and coordinating several teams of writers. I have published 5 IELTS preparation books with CUP and have self-published two apps. I am currently working on self-publishing an IELTS writing workbook.