A Case Study: One Speaking Test Format

I recently mentioned that I thought a “speaking test” would not be a bad supplement to a book test which is overly focused on grammar, especially when the class is more focused on communication. Here is an example of a speaking test, designed to have three parts, which I have seen used for good (as opposed to evil):

In the first stage, the teacher choses from a list of questions and simply asks each student a couple individually. Next, student A gets a picture, looks for a minute or two, and then explains what he sees to student B, including information about what he thinks is going on and how the people are related (you need good pictures for this). Then – to maintain some sense of being communicative – B looks at that picture and says if A missed anything or if she disagrees. B does the same thing with another picture. I suppose to really make sure the second one is listening, you could ask the speaker to give one false piece of information, and see if B catches it…this seems a little mean though, doesn’t it?

The final stage involves both A and B looking at one picture. Together they describe it and again make some guess about what is going on and why. They need to agree and disagree, explain their opinions and maybe ask each other questions. Again, if you chose the pictures wisely, they’ll have enough to speak about, and use vocabulary and/or structures they’ve worked on in the class.

It would not be that far off either to replace one of these parts with some kind of roleplay, and have the pair carry out a conversation, based on some functional language you covered in class. But a good conversation depends on both students doing their part, so you run the risk of one person’s grade being affected by the other’s performance.

In my experience it it works out easier as well to have four or five categories on which you mark the students – pronunciation, vocabulary, fluency, grammar accuracy, overall confidence – rather than giving a single grade.

I should point out that this is not a speaking test that I came up with, but rather that of a Bulgarian co-worker and sometime-supervisor, so hat tip to Pavel!