Types of Language Tests


All language tests are not of the same kind.

They differ mainly in terms of design (method) and purpose.

In terms of method, a broad distinction can be made between pen-and-paper language tests and performance tests

Paper-and-pen tests are typically used for the assessment of

  • separate components of language (grammar, vocabulary …)

  • receptive understanding (listening & reading comprehension)

Test items in such tests (especially if they are professionally made, standardized tests) are often in fixed response format (e.g. MCQ)

In performance tests language skills are assessed in an act of communication.

e.g. tests of speaking and writing where:

  • extended samples of speech/writing is elicited
  • judged by trained markers
  • common rating procedure used

Main distinction in terms of test purpose:

Achievement tests

Proficiency tests

Achievement Tests are associated with the process of instruction and should support the teaching to which they relate by measuring what students (would) have learned as a result of teaching.


  • end of course tests
  • portfolio assessments
  • observation procedures for recording & assessing classroom work/participation

Achievement tests may be self-enclosed i.e. may not bear any direct relationship to language use in the real world

E.g. focus on knowledge of particular areas of grammar/vocabulary

However, if the curriculum is designed to reflect language use in the real world, achievement tests will automatically reflect normal language use and can be designed in innovative ways to reflect progressive aspects of the curriculum.

That is why achievement tests are associated with the most interesting development in language assessment – alternative assessment.

Alternative assessment stresses the need for assessment to be integrated with goals of curriculum and promotes a constructive relationship with the teaching/learning process.

Proficiency Tests look to the future situation of language use without necessarily any reference to the process of teaching.

In these tests, performance is measured in relation to a targeted level known as the criterion.

Main purpose of performance tests is to make inferences, however they are not valued in themselves but as indicators of how the test-taker will perform similar (or related) tasks in the real world setting of interest.

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By azu