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Oxford English Testing, OUP.

reviewed by Dominic Harris, IH Bristol

Despite being part of the ‘computer generation’ and clinging, by my fingernails, to my twenties I have remained throughout my adult life a mild technophobe. Thus it was with a degree of trepidation that I risked my first baby steps across the carpet of O.U.P. Online Testing. Indeed, I’m relatively new to the concept of online placement/practice tests so my initial question regarding the O.U.P. Online Test was, with the paper testing method seemingly ‘unbroken’, why ‘fix it’ with a cyber alternative? In short, what can the online test offer that the paper test can’t?

Well the online OUP tests themselves are fairly comprehensive with what they offer. In terms of the Practice Exams, they provide current and up-to-date exam practice papers from KET to CPE with options to practice whole tests or just part. Furthermore, exam tips and techniques are offered, electronically, throughout.

And thus we come to the first major advantage, which is accessibility of the tests. Be it practice or placement, with the test being online, all testing and marking can be done over the net. Subsequently, O.U.P. have provided an opportunity for a ‘tutor’ to be present with the student at the time. Furthermore, via a series of complicated algorithms, the option for a student to receive their mark automatically exists. Similarly, all results can be sent to a predetermined email address e.g. that of a group leader of junior students arriving for a summer programme. With I.H. Bristol (my I.H. mother ship) providing an extensive summer programme with a turnover of hundreds of students, the opportunity to level test all the students prior to arrival would be fantastic. Indeed, the first day ‘faff’ of preparing, distributing, collecting and marking the paper level tests could be almost eliminated using the online option, freeing up teacher-power for other necessities such as testing speaking levels. But herein lies a problem. One thing that an online test can’t provide is the human (personal) face of a speaking test, nor (for the time being) the capacity to allow for online written assessment. These are elements that remain in the hands of the flesh-and-blood staff of any institution.

However, a rather juicy feature that the O.U.P. online placement tests offer is, on completion of the paper, an overall C.E.F. level as well as a specific breakdown in the areas of reading and grammar, allowing an even more accurate indication of the strengths/weaknesses of individual students. If, perhaps, you were level testing a student who wanted one to one lessons for instance, this could be particularly advantageous as the teacher could potentially design a scheme of work catered to the student’s specific pedagogical needs and subsequently administer it from Day 1. But, what impressed me most about the O.U.P. online test was that it’s an adaptive programme. This means (for the benefit of any techno-laymen such as myself) that the questions in the test are dependent on whether the student got the previous question correct or not. For instance, if an answer given by a ‘testee’ is correct the following question at a slightly higher level and vice versa. This once again allows the O.U.P. online placement tests to place students with ever increasing accuracy as it goes some way towards eliminating the opportunity for ‘lucky guesses’. 

So, are the O.U.P online options worth it? As you might expect from Oxford University Press, their online tests are, as with their tangible written materials, easy to use, clearly mindful of the needs of both student and teacher and have  plenty of lovely features that transcend the limitations of the paper test e.g. the adaptive questioning system. Furthermore, they have a huge pool of questions to fish from so exact replication of tests from one to another is easily avoidable. However, whilst paper tests aren’t yet the beta-max of placement systems, then the extra cost and setting up of an online testing system may not yet be the order of the day. With that said, and in conclusion, if such as system were to be considered by an institution, then they could certainly do a lot worse than the user-friendly and progressive O.U.P. online placement and practice tests.

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