Making sure that a new exam is a thorough and fair test is a complicated and multi-faceted process, requiring careful research, checking and trial. Some of the world’s leading experts in language assessment contribute to the work of Cambridge English Language Assessment, and the quality of our exams is built on their combined expertise.
New exams have to go through a rigorous series of processes including:
- commissioning the exam – where the scope and time frame for the new exam is decided
- pre-editing – checking that the material written by the exam question writers broadly fits the brief
- editing – ensuring the quality and accuracy of the test paper
- pretesting/trialling – trying out the test paper to ensure that it tests candidates in the way expected
- pretest/trial review – checking the results of the pretesting and trials to see if further editing is needed
- test construction – the new exam is checked to ensure the level and focus of the test are correct and that there are no overlaps with other existing tests
- overview – a final critical review of the whole process before the question paper production process begins.
Our quality management system is certificated to the ISO 9001:2008 standard.
We only release the exam when we are completely satisfied that the test has passed all of these stages. In many cases it takes two years from the first stages of planning to students sitting the first session of the new test.
Pretesting is a vital element in the Cambridge English examination development process. Trialling exam materials helps ensure our exams are accurate and fair, and that the content is appropriate. Find out more
For a test to be fair and accurate, everyone who takes it has to have the same opportunity to succeed.
To guarantee our tests are fair, we have a number of important security measures in place to ensure that exam papers are safely distributed from our headquarters in Cambridge to the thousands of exam centres around the world where our tests take place.
Exam papers are delivered to test centres by a number of secure methods – some receive them by secure post, and in some countries they are sent to a courier for delivery only on the day of the test.
Exam papers frequently need to be stored for brief periods of time before the exam, as do the completed exam scripts before they are returned to Cambridge English Language Assessment for marking. All exam centres are required to have secure storage facilities and are inspected regularly to ensure they meet our strict criteria for security.
Many of our certificates can now be earned through taking a computer-based version of the test. In these cases, the exam is sent electronically to the exam centre ahead of the test, but can only be opened when an encryption key is sent on the day of the test itself.
Our reputation for quality is not limited to our examinations alone. Quality is a process which begins with the research and design of tests and ends with an accurate assessment of each candidate’s entry.
The assessment of a candidate’s work has to be as consistent and reliable as every other aspect of the examination process. For this reason all of our exams (except BULATS and IELTS) are returned to Cambridge for marking.
When we receive the completed written papers they are randomly allocated for marking – this ensures that, regardless of where they have come from, all papers are marked fairly.
The examiners who mark the tests are themselves subject to strict monitoring of their performance to ensure that their marking is accurate and consistent.
Speaking tests (with the exception of IELTS and BULATS Online) use two assessors to ensure accuracy. We record and sample Speaking tests for subsequent monitoring.
Some of our computer-based tests (such as BULATS) are able to give an instant assessment, which is of great value to those who are testing large numbers of people for educational or recruitment purposes.
Cambridge English exams have a long-established and well-deserved reputation for excellence. It is essential to the quality of our exams, and the continued reputation of Cambridge English Language Assessment, that each candidate experiences a test that consistently meets the high standards we set.
To achieve this, we have the largest dedicated research team of any English language assessment organisation. The work they do in validating our exams – ensuring their quality, fairness and relevance – is vital to our continued high reputation.
We work closely with leading specialists in the following disciplines:
- testing and assessment
- statistical analysis and item-banking
- applied linguistics
- corpus linguistics
- language learning/pedagogy.
Together they carry out a variety of research projects for all of our exams.
Because we are a not-for-profit organisation, we are perhaps unique in sharing the findings of much of our research with other academics and specialists in the language testing community.
We regularly give presentations to conferences, submit papers to leading academic journals, and also publish research findings in our own publications: