Test types and task types in efl teaching

Test is a short time, technically easy set of tasks, which can be scored and is an indicator of learners’ habits, skills and level of knowledge [1, p. 32]. According to the definition, we may enumerate the following characteristics of a test:

  • it is a short-time assessment;
  • it gives an opportunity to assess habits and skills in a language of any number of pupils at a definite period of time;
  • it must be easily administered;
  • the results of a test are objective, as tests must be valid and reliable.

Being short-timed, tests allow the teacher to administer them as often as it is necessary for diagnosis and stimulating pupils’ learning. The forms of tasks in tests should be quite specific. Tests are compiled in such a way that they involve a stimulus on the part of the teacher and the response on the part of the pupil tested. One of the distinguishing peculiarities of teaching foreign languages is the usage of a great variety of check exercises.

We can cite the idea of Hughes who emphasizes that we can check the progress, general or specific knowledge of students [3, 5]. This claim will directly lead us to the statement that for each of the purposes there is a special type of testing. According to some scholars (Thompson, 2001; Hughes, 1989;

Alderson, 1996; Heaton, 1990; Underhill, 1991), there are five traditional categories or types of tests according to the aim and time of conducting: proficiency tests, achievement tests, diagnostic tests, prognostic tests, and placement tests. Before writing a test it is vital to think about what it is, you want to test and what its purpose is:

  • a proficiency test is one that measures a candidates’ overall ability in a language, it isn't related to a specific course;
  • the most widespread are achievement tests, which are held after learning some material at a certain period of time. An achievement test tests the students' knowledge of the material that has been taught;
  • a diagnostic test highlights the strong and weak points that a learner may have in a particular area;
  • a prognostic test attempts to predict how a student will perform on a course;
  • a placement test is a test that places the students at an appropriate level in a curriculum or a course.

There are of course many other types of tests. It is important to choose elicitation techniques carefully when you prepare one of the aforementioned tests.

Diagnostic tests

It is wise to start with that type of testing, for it is typically the first step each teacher, even non-language teacher, takes at the beginning of a new school year.

Referring to Longman Dictionary of LTAL (106) diagnostic tests is a test that is meant to display what the student knows and what s/he does not know. The dictionary gives an example of testing the learners’ pronunciation of English sounds. Moreover, the test can check the students’ knowledge before starting a particular course. Hughes adds that diagnostic tests are supposed to spot the students’ weak and strong points [3, p.6]. Heaton compares such type of tests with a diagnosis of a patient, and the teacher with a doctor who states the diagnosis [2, p.13]. Underhill adds that a diagnostic test provides the student with a variety of language elements, which will help the teacher to determine what the student knows or does not know [5, p.14].

The diagnostic test displays the teacher a situation of the students’ current knowledge.

This is very essential especially when the students return from their summer holidays (that produces a rather substantial gap in their knowledge) or if the students start a new course and the teacher is completely unfamiliar with the level of the group. Hence, the teacher has to consider carefully about the items s/he is interested in to teach. This consideration reflects Heaton’s proposal, which stipulates that the teacher should be systematic to design the tasks that are supposed to illustrate the students’ abilities, and they should know what exactly they are testing.

To conclude, we can conceive that interpreting the results of diagnostic tests the teacher apart from predicting why the student has done the exercises the way s/he has, but not the other, will receive a significant information about his/her group s/he is going to work with and later use the information as a basis for the forming syllabus.

Placement tests

Another type of test we are intended to discuss is a placement test. Concerning Longman Dictionary of LTAL again (279-280) we can see that a placement test is a test that places the students at an appropriate level in a program or course. This term does not refer to the system and construction of the test, but to its usage purpose. According to Hughes (1989:7), this type of test is also used to decide which group or class the learner could be joined to. This statement is entirely supported by another scholar, Alderson (1996:216), who declares that this type of test is meant for showing the teacher the students’ level of the language ability. It will assist to put the student exactly in that group that responds his/her true abilities.

Heaton adheres that the following type of testing should be general and should purely focus on a vast range of topics of the language not on just specific one. Therefore, the placement test could typically be represented in the form of dictations, interviews, grammar tests, etc. [2, p.14]

Moreover, according to Heaton, the placement test should deal exactly with the language skills relevant to those that will be taught during a particular course. Thus, Heaton presumes that it is fairly important to analyze and study the syllabus beforehand, for the placement test is completely attributed to

the future course program [2, p.15]. Likewise, the matter of scoring is particularly significant in the case of placement tests, for the scores gathered serve as a basis for putting the students into different groups appropriate to their level.

Progress test

Having discussed two types of tests that are usually used at the beginning, we can approach the test typically employed during the study year to check the students’ development. We will speak about a progress test. According to Alderson, progress test will show the teacher whether the students have learnt the recently taught material successfully [5, p.117]. Basically, the teacher intends to check certain items, not general topics covered during the school or study year. Commonly, it is not very long and is determined to check the recent material. Therefore, the teacher might expect his/her learners to get rather high scores. The following type is supposed to be used after the students have learnt either a set of units on a theme or have covered a definite topic of the language. It will display the teacher whether the material has been successfully acquired or the students need additional practice instead of starting a new material.

A progress test will basically display the activities based on the material the teacher is determined to check. To evaluate it the teacher can work out a certain system of points that later will compose a mark. Typically, such tests do not influence the students’ final mark at the end of the year.

Further, we can come to Alderson who presumes that such type of testing could function as a motivating fact for the learners, for success will develop the students’ confidence in their own knowledge and motivate them study further more vigorously [5, p.120]. In case, there will be two or three students whose scores are rather low, the teacher should encourage them by providing support in future and imply the idea that studying hard will allow them to catch up with the rest of the students sooner or later.

However, if the majority of the class scores a rather low grade, the teacher should be cautious. This could be a signal that there is either something wrong with the teaching or the students are low motivated or lazy.

Achievement tests

Apart from a progress test the teachers employ another type – achievement test. According to Longman Dictionary of LTAL , an achievement test is a test, which measures a language someone has learned during a specific course, study or program [4, p.134]. Here the progress is significant and, therefore, is the main point tested.

Alderson posits that achievement tests are “more formal” [4, p.129], whereas Hughes assumes that this type of tests will fully involve teachers, for they will be responsible for the preparation of such tests and giving them to the learners [3, p.167]. He repeats the dictionary defining the notion of achievement tests, adding just that success of the students, groups of students, or the courses.

Furthermore, Alderson conceives that achievement tests are mainly given at definite times of the school year. Moreover, they could be extremely crucial for the students, for they are intended either to make the students pass or fail the test [5, p. 130].

Quoting Hughes we can differentiate between two kinds of achievement tests: final and progress tests [3, p.168]. Final tests are the tests that are usually given at the end of the course in order to check the students’ achieved results and whether the objectives set at the beginning have been successfully reached. Further Hughes highlights that ministries of education, official examining boards, school administration and even the teachers themselves design these tests. The tests are based on the curriculum and the course that has been studied. We assume, that it is a wellknown fact that teachers usually are responsible for composing such tests, and it requires a careful work.

Further, Alderson and Heaton stipulate that designing an achievement test is rather time-consuming, for the achievement test is basically devised to cover a broad topic of the material covered during the course. In addition, one and the same achievement test could be given to more than one class at school to check both the students’ progress and the teachers’ work. At that point it is very essential to consider the material covered by different classes or groups. You cannot ask the students what they have not been taught [3, p.19]. To conclude we shall state again that achievement tests are meant to check the mastery of the material covered by the learners. They will be great helpers for the teacher’s future work and will contribute a lot to the students’ progress.

Proficiency tests

The last type of test to be discussed is a proficiency test. Regarding Longman Dictionary of LTAL proficiency test is a test, which measures how much of a language a person knows or has learnt. It is not bound to any curriculum or syllabus, but is intended to check the learners’ language competence [4, p.92]. Although, some preparation and administration was done before taking the test, the test’s results are what being focused on. The examples of such tests could be the American Testing of English as Foreign Language test (TOEFL) that is used to measure the learners’ general knowledge of English in order to allow them to enter any high educational estabeach on appropriately [2, p.16].

Multiple choice

The main part of so called objective tests is made up in technique of multiple choice. Multiple-choice type is considered to be the most effective of the objective types.

  1. He likes to lie in bed.
  2. He often says things that are not true.
  3. He is a sly man.
  4. He often lays things in wrong places.

Multiple choice can be used to test most things such as grammar, vocabulary, reading, listening etc. but you must remember that it is still possible for students to just 'guess' without knowing the correct answer.


Complete the second sentence so that it has the same meaning as the first.

'Do you know what the time is, John?' asked Dave.

lishments or to take up a job in the USA.

Dave asked John


Hughes gives the similar definition of it was.

proficiency tests stressing that training is not the thing that is emphasized, but the language. He adds that ‘proficient’ in the case of proficiency tests means possessing a certain ability of using the language according to an appropriate purpose [3, p.10]. It denotes that the learner’s language ability could be tested in various fields or subjects (art, science, medicine, etc.) in order to check whether the learner could suit the demands of a specific field or not.

Moreover, Hughes believes that the proficiency tests affect learners’ more in negative way, than in positive one [3, p.12].

To summarize we can claim that there are different types of tests that serve for different purposes. Moreover, they all are necessary for the teacher’s work, for them, apart from a proficiency test, could contribute to successful material acquisition by learners.

There are many elicitation techniques that can be used when writing a test. Using the right kind of question at the right time can be enormously important in giving us a clear understanding of students' abilities, but we must also be aware of the limitations of each of these task or question types so that we use

Transformations are particularly effective for testing grammar and understanding of form. This wouldn't be an appropriate question type if you wanted to test skills such as reading or listening.


Complete the sentence

Check the exchange to see how much your money is worth.

Gap-fills can be used to test a variety of areas such as vocabulary, grammar and are very effective at testing listening for specific words.


Test can be made up also on matching. So, for example, pupils can be suggested to match adjectives from the left column to the nouns in the right one. Of course technique of matching is applicable to a limited number of tests.

Match the word on the left to the word with the opposite meaning.

Fat old

Young tall

Dangerous thin

Short safe

Matching exercises are most often used to test vocabulary.


Complete the text by adding a word to each gap.

This is the kind test where a word omitted from a passage every so often. The candidate must the gaps, usually the first two lines are without gaps.

Cloze tests can be very effective for testing grammar, vocabulary and intensive reading.

True / False

In true-false type of tests pupils determine whether answers are correct or wrong. On the special sheets of paper they write “W” (wrong), “R” (right) opposite the number of appropriate task. The priority of this type of test is in easiness of checking, but while conducting the test do not exclude the possibility for casual guessing what essentially decreases the objectivity

Decide if the statement is true or false. England won the world cup in 1966 T/F This question type is mostly used to test

listening and reading comprehension.

Open questions

Answer the questions.

Why did John steal the money?

Error correction

Find the mistakes in the sentence and correct them.

Ipswich Town was the better team on the night.

Errors must be found and corrected in a sentence or passage. It could be an extra word, mistakes with verb forms, words missed, etc. One problem with this question type is that some errors can be corrected in more than one way [2, p.30].

Error correction is useful for testing grammar and vocabulary as well as readings and listening.

There are of course many other elicitation techniques such as translation, essays, dictations, ordering words/phrases into a sequence and sentence construction (He/ go/ school/ yesterday).

It is important to ask yourself what exactly you are trying to test, which techniques suit this purpose best and to bear in mind the drawbacks of each technique.



  1. Bynom, A. Testing terms. / Bynom, A. English Teaching professional Forum July. 2001. Issue Twenty – p. 95-99.
  2. Heaton J. B Classroom Testing / Heaton J. B. Longman London1990 – p.10-20.
  3. Hughes A. Testing for Language Teachers/ Hughes A. Cambridge University Press 1989. p. 45.
  4. Richards J. Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics/ Richards J. Longman Dictionary. Longman1992. – 134 p.
  5. Underhill N. Testing Spoken Language/ Underhill N. Cambridge University Press 1987. p. 198.
Year: 2012
City: Oskemen
Category: Philology