The new exam
A new breed of digitally-delivered English exams don’t stop at testing verbs, they also want
to democratise education and see themselves leading the way. But as the testing industry
embraces technology, these changes may go as far as to challenge our idea of a test itself, with
some preaching continual testing over a one-hit ability assessment. Claudia Civinini reports.
ISSUE #19 | THE PIE REVIEW | 17
ON A HOT summer’s day in Australia, about
nine years ago, I was standing in a long queue
to register at an IELTS test centre. We were
all nervous, overdressed, and around AUS$300 lighter. If
someone had told me then that I could have taken the test
in my pyjamas from the comfort of my bedroom, and still
gained admission to university, I would have thought them
delirious and called an ambulance, fearing heatstroke.
But times have changed. While digital delivery is striding
towards universal access at a lower cost, AI marking allows
for instantaneous results and feedback, and algorithms
build adaptive tests, which make the gruelling experience
Some platforms are aiming to “knock down the test centre
barriers”, such as the Duolingo English Test or the recently
launched English3, which students can take online anywhere
in the world to apply to an increasing number of US-based
colleges and universities.
Others instead offer cheaper and faster testing solutions
for individuals, companies, and governments.
Language learning app Babbel developed its two-skill
auto-marked exam with Cambridge for the benefits of its
users, but workplaces are also “loving the test,” reports chief
product officer Geoff Stead.
The similarly auto-marked and two-skill online EF Stan-dard
English Test, developed by the testing arm of language
teaching giant EF, was used last year to conduct large-scale
assessment in Italian state schools.
Traditional exam boards are not shying away from
digital delivery either – Cambridge Assessment English for
example offers Linguaskill, a fully online four-skill English
test for companies. Computer-based tests such as Pearson
PTE Academic, are now not an exception.
But while the market is certainly asking for cheaper and
faster tests, can technology deliver on its promise to demo-cratise
access to education?
And what is technology’s relationship with the testing
industry: is it really just a mere enabler, or can technology
influence and mould the examination environment in ways
that at times may not be entirely positive?