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Can informal testing methods be as beneficial as formal ones?

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To celebrate the launch of Project Fourth edition, English teacher, Marina Kopilovic, from Serbia writes about how to make testing fun and your students enthusiastic.

Informal methods of testing and assessment are as useful as standardized tests. They are typically based on every day classroom activities to measure the progress of students toward the goals and objectives where students are not aware of being monitored and assessed. These activities are monitored and recorded by the teacher as an observer. They allow teachers to keep track of the progress of their students regularly. Portfolios are great ways of monitoring and assessing the students throughout the entire school year.

Can tests be fun? In order to avoid staleness it would be good to allow your students to do group tests from time to time. They will have to help one another and work together for a group grade. Besides the common benefits tests usually provide, this kind of testing will help your students develop collaboration skills.

Have you ever thought of how to make students projects more than just a decoration on the classroom walls? Have you ever tried a group quiz based on questions extracted from your students’ projects? I will describe something I usually do when I ask them to do a group project outside the classroom. The aim is to test reading and speaking skills and monitor and assess some social skills.

The first step is to be done by the teacher – to display students’ posters all around the classroom and prepare questions in advance. Students are divided into groups of five. Each group is given 15 questions (three per each member on a separate piece of paper). Their first task is to move around the classroom (from one poster to another) to read (scan the text) and find the answers to their questions in 10 minutes. Once they have finished this, they go back to their groups to put their answers together and write them in the order of the questions (1 – 15) that are given on a new piece of paper. Then groups switch papers with their answers for checking, marking and correction – group 2 gets the answers from group 1, group 3 from group 2, and so on until group 1 gets the answers from the last group. Now the quiz can start. Teacher reads the questions and answers aloud, students check, mark and correct. Each correct answer earns one point for the group. It is advisable to use PowerPoint or another kind of visual support at this stage of the class. All the groups are rewarded according to the results they have scored. Teacher will decide how – by marking, giving written certificates, flags indicating their achievements etc. – depending on the age group s/he is teaching and on the level of the task students have to complete.

This sort of testing has several benefits:

  • the use of the materials created by students boosts their motivation and willingness to do it again,
  • contribution and (self)responsibility for their group success,
  • working together, collaborating and helping each other to complete their part of the job,
  • all learning styles are involved – visual students can see and read, auditory can hear, read aloud and discuss later, and the kinesthetic ones (most neglected by teachers) are not forced to sit down all the time,
  • ovides the opportunity to monitor and assess the progress individual students have made in collaborating with one another.

When I first wanted to try this, I was pretty afraid that I would miss the point, but I still decided to have a go. And to my surprise, my students were amazingly eager to participate and find their answers as quickly as possible. They were mingling all the time, reading, taking notes, asking one another for help. We really enjoyed every single minute of the class. We did a round-up discussion at the end of the class and of course, the first sentence I heard was ‘When are we going to this again?’

We all like to say students’ involvement is essential for various reasons. Why not then involve them in creating test questions too? Student generated materials are highly desirable and appreciated by most teachers and learners. They encourage inquisitive minds and motivate students.

Do you apply any of these testing methods in your teaching? What is your experience? Do you think they contribute to students’ language development as much as standardized tests? How? What other informal testing techniques would you suggest?

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Author: Oxford University Press ELT

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7 thoughts on “Can informal testing methods be as beneficial as formal ones?

  1. Informal test idea with teens. I split the class into 2 teams. Each team gives themselves a team name and a team buzzer sound. They have to make that sound first in order to answer a question so the first team member to buzz in and answer correctly wins the point for the team. Although I have tended to use this as a fun way to revise items, not everyone thinks quickly or has the confidence to buzz in and so I have also set team collaborative tasks such as anagrams to decipher or an English rhyme to practice. A team member can buzz in as soon as the team has arrived at the correct response. Lots of fun.

  2. If tests do not follow the things students did in the class such as some activities and presentations but textbooks, students would be confused why they should be doing them. The tests should provide feedback.
    Making tests with the materials created by students is fantastic. Definitely we can see their feedback and the tests would be really memorable and increase the students motivation.
    Group work would also work well. They can share their questions and without being intimidated.
    We could also test students not only using a test sheet but also by role plays and presentations.

  3. In my class, we have to cover extensive reading material and students get quizzes every week based on their homereadings. My solution was to create a variety of interesting quizzes for them in different formats (some of them students would not expect, for example, a crossword puzzle on chapter about Writing, True or False, gap fill, paraphrasing, multiple choice, mindmapping, etc.). As we do it on a weekly basis, I often allow students to work in pairs or with the book open. My students are excited to find out what their next test is like.The most important is that I see tests as one more opportunity to learn and develop some skills not just to evaluate. I tell this to my students everytime before they start working on a new test.

  4. I find that student participation in constructing and correcting informal tests makes the dreaded occasion enjoyable for many students. That’s a pedagogical trick to access pupils who may likely learn for a different reason than me. When I was a learner in a class, I did not take highly to my peers giving feedback on my creative written work. I expect the teacher, supposedly an expert in the matter, to give me feedback. I can accept it if the correction is based on something straightforward, but not on a sales letter. That’s because I took the course from a seasoned ad exec and expect to be “mentored” exclusively by him. This is so I can use this newly learned skill to work. If my peers, some of whom are my junior with lesser qualifications, comment on my exercise, I am put a difficult position of pretending to take their criticism seriously. So I wonder how this collaborative assessment will be taken by adult learners who actually pay to learn as opposed to youngsters and teens, whose parents paid for them to learn.

  5. Great way of generating a meaningful practice with sts own production. All ways of getting students’ involvement should be tried !

  6. I DEFINETELY LOVE YOUR NEW TECHNIQUE OF READING IN GROUP…IT´S FUN , KEEP STUDENTS INTERESTED, FULL OF ENERGY,MAKE STUDENTS AUTONOMY LEARNERS, IT´S AN INTERACTION ACTIVITY, I THINK IT COULD BE REALIZED WITH ADULTS (PART OF IT DEPENDS OF TEACHERS´S ENTHUSIASM). I FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT´S A MEANINGFUL TASK..

    CHRISTIE

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