Diagnostic tests

Diagnosing for learning

The diagnostic test is a very significant tool for the English B teacher. To be able to diagnose accurately each student's strengths and weaknesses is important for any English teacher - but in the EFL world, at least, diagnosis simply and immediately leads to students being streamed according to language level. My experience suggests that in IB Diploma courses, streaming is a luxury that rarely occurs. Accordingly, English B classes are usually 'mixed ability' (to put it mildly), and so the English B teacher needs to try to keep track of each student's individual progress in acquiring the language. One way of doing that is to give periodic diagnostic tests of key language items.

The plan is to develop about half a dozen of these tests, to provide sufficient to allow for testing at intervals, as required, over the two-year programme.

The specification

The tests are intended to focus on the essential needs of Diploma English B students - in short, the language needed to express complex ideas through a range of sophisticated structures. The priority for students on a pre-university Diploma programme should be more to equip them to use the language effectively for study purposes, as opposed to social purposes (which they're probably picking up perfectly well outside class, anyway!)

Each test comes in four units :

  • Complete test - of three texts, of increasing level of difficulty, with 50 questions
  • Test #A - the simplest text, with 10 questions
  • Test #B - the next more complex text, with 20 questions
  • Test #C - the most challenging text, with 20 questions

Note that this allows you either to give the full set in one go, or to break up the test, using perhaps only the element ('simple' to 'challenging') most appropriate to your current students.

If you choose to use the complete test system, you could get the students to a different test at intervals throughout the course, which should give you some indication of the progress of their general level of linguistic command. However, note that the tests' comparative level of difficulty is not guaranteed - I have not been able to pre-trial them, and anyway the main point was to diagnose problems that students may have rather than to produce some form of objective evaluation.

A full answer sheet, with comments on what each question is intended to test, and what it may reveal, is provided in the header page introducing each test (e.g. 'Test 1').

Each test is presented in two formats :

  • Low-tech: as a handout ... for you to print, and give out to the students
  • High-tech: as an online quiz ... so that you can give the students access to the page on this site, and then review their marks

Using the tests

The two formats obviously require two different methods :-

Handout method ... just print out the test, photocopy, and give out. This is the best approach if either your students don't all have convenient access to laptops / the internet, whether in class or at home ... or if you want to see, on paper, how they have performed, by collecting in the handouts and marking them yourself.

Online method ... I recommend you use the following procedure :-

  1. make available to your students the page(s) containing whichever unit of the test you wish them to do through the site's Student Access facility
  2. tell them to do the test - either there and then in class, or at home, in their own time (the former will produce more reliable results, of course!)
  3. when each student has completed the test, each should click on TOTAL SCORE: Check ... and then consider any mistakes - this provides 'self-diagnosis' in that the test will reflect to each student where there are language problems or weaknesses
  4. if the aim is 'teacher diagnosis', ask the students to each print out what they have done (using the 'print' button, top right), and to give the printout to you. This leaves you with the opportunity to analyse and assess each individual's performance - and you may wish to keep the printouts in order to compare them with performance in other diagnostic tests later on...

Finally, you can use these tests for whole-class grammar exercises. This is not truly 'diagnostic' in that you will not be able to detect individual weaknesses or difficulties, but it may be a good way of revising and refreshing knowledge of grammar. The procedure would be :-

  1. project the test, using the 'Presentation Mode' button
  2. work through the test, asking for responses to each of the questions, then using the 'check' button to confirm the right answer
  3. ask the students who offered correct responses to explain to those who offered incorrect ones ...

...

( I have not finally decided on the format for the online versions. Our software allows for an 'Explanation' giving the reasons why one answer is correct and the others aren't. This seems like a sensible online learning tool, and yet ... perhaps it is best for the students to puzzle about the reasons on their own, and then possibly ask the teacher for help directly.

Apart from anything else, mistakes are very often caused by L1 interference, and no concise 'Explanation' could cope with all the variations involved. I am still inclined to encourage students to analyse their own mistakes, caused by their own idiosyncratic reasons.

Does anyone have any comments about this? )

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