A Basic Problem of the English Reading and Listening Tests


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Normally an English test contains reading and listening sections in order to assess the candidates’ two basic lingual skills. Numerous researchers have been taking effort to improve the test materials to make the assessment more accurate. Despite the improvements, English tests are widely considered not reflecting the examinee’s actual ability, much less trustable than those of other disciplines, such as mathematics, electronics.

One reason is, unlike other disciplines, in which the answers normally can not be found in the material, English listening and reading test materials contain all the answers. Candidates are required to find out the answers in English listening and reading tests but to think out the answers in other disciplines’. To find out requires less ability than to think out.

Often, to find out the answers doesn’t need comprehension of the passage. First, in reading section, the question and answer choices (QACs) are accompanied with the passages, such that the candidates tend to search something in the passages for solution. As long as solution is found, reading is stopped. In many cases, comprehension never really occurs despite this section is often called reading comprehension. It is not strange that having passed IELTS test, many students found difficult to comprehend English materials in their study, since they didn’t comprehend the IELTS materials either.

Many candidates often focus on QACs, rather than the passage. In many cases, some words or sentences in the passages will provide clues, hence a common way is to search the words and sentences and derive solutions from that. This process can be called information searching and processing (ISP). Although possessing under-desired comprehension ability, candidates can still obtain desired score by employing ISP. Because ISP can effectively help candidates obtain more scores, a lot of techniques have been devised to facilitate search and process the information. Candidates throughout the world are spending much time preparing for test by practicing ISP and score high in the test by applying ISP. Many even don’t know what comprehension is, how to practice comprehension and/or consider comprehension is unimportant whatsoever. However, practicing ISP contributes little to improve reading ability.

As mentioned above, reading test can not truly assess comprehension ability. Assessed in this way for years since childhood, students gradually lost the true concept of comprehension. Learning English not basing on comprehension, they have to spend large amount of time each year preparing for exams but are still confused.

As ISP hinders immensely the candidates’ ability development and causes the assessment inaccurate, it should be banded. But it can not be found out whether a candidate has used ISP techniques. Reasonably, if the QACs are handed out to candidates after passages, ISP techniques can not be carried out. In this way, candidates have to comprehend the passages in order to answer the unseen questions. This strategy can be called QAP (questions after passages).

There can be different way to implement QAP. For examples, several passages can be handed out followed by handing-out of their QACs, or one passage be handed out followed by handing-out of its QACs then the next passage then its QACs and so on, the former seems harder. Tests utilizing QAP strategy will become harder for the same test materials so it may need to use easier materials. Regardless of the quality of the materials, this strategy will make the test more like reading comprehension.

In listening test, ISP is similarly carried out with the difference that the information is sound instead of text and the information searching is sequential and normally only can be done once. Comprehension doesn’t really occur. Handing out QACs after recordings have been played can make the test more like listening comprehension.


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