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Cambridge Assessment English
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Exams and tests
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Evelina D. Galaczi, Head of Research Strategy, Research and Thought Leadership Group, Cambridge Assessment English
Cambridge English Qualifications – such as A2 Key, B2 First and C2 Proficiency – target specific levels of ability to give an in-depth assessment of candidates’ skills across all four language skills – listening, speaking, reading and writing. In this, they differ from multi-level tests which cover the full range of language abilities in one test.
The level-based approach brings several benefits, both for teaching and learning, and in selecting the best applicants for higher education, employment, etc.
Because all of the items in the test focus on specific levels, they provide more in-depth and precise evidence of candidates’ skills in listening, speaking, reading and writing. This in turn provides a more detailed picture of their ability to understand and use the language effectively.
Level-based exams make it easier to structure the language learning curriculum, and give clear objectives for the learner, whether in K-12 education or for adult learners, since the different exam levels can function as milestones which a learner reaches along their language journey. The value of these milestones is enhanced when they are linked to an international standard. In the case of the Cambridge English Qualifications, tats international standard is the Common European Framework of Reference. Level-based exams provide a clear specification of the skills to be mastered at each level and enable to candidate to practice more intensively while at the same time developing language skills which are relevant in the real-world.
From the perspective of a teacher, it is easier to teach towards a level-based exam, because the curriculum aims are more defined and differences in learner ability within a class are potentially smaller.
Clearly specified objectives for each level enable learners to approach tests with greater confidence and to prepare more effectively. Students tend to perform better if they’ve previously taken the exam at the level below because test results from the test at the level below could inform teachers and learners about their strengths and weaknesses. Learners become more aware of their profile as learners and begin to ask teachers what they can do to progress in English, improving self-regulated learning (which is essential for successful learning). Familiarity with task types may also be an advantage for those who have taken the exam at the level below.
Our impact research in K-12 contexts suggests that candidates feel less anxious and more confident if they have taken the exam at the previous level. Young learners, in particular, are less anxious about assessment when they have taken Cambridge English Qualifications specifically designed for young learners – pre-A1 Starters, A1 Movers and A2 Flyers. The data suggest that the experience of taking a test which is not high-stakes at a young age, is motivating for them and they want to move up the language learning ladder one step at a time (e.g., Ashton, Salamoura and Diaz 2012, Chambers, Elliott and Jianguo 2012, Khalifa and Docherty 2016).
The Cambridge English approach to level-based assessment is explained in detail in these volumes in the Studies in Language Testing series:
These articles focus on the impact of Cambridge English exams in a range of educational contexts, and provide (indirect) evidence for using exams which are level-based:
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