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SCU-UQ International Student English Language Testing Pilot Project: Improving pathways through online placement testing. Technical Report, Southern Cross University.
  • Thomas Roche
  • Michael Harrington
English language programs provide established pathways for international students seeking university admission in countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom.  English pathway providers require effective and efficient language assessment tools to refer these international applicants to appropriate levels and durations of language tuition prior to enrolment in an award study program (e.g a Bachelor or Masters degree). This paper evaluates the effectiveness of an online vocabulary knowledge screening test in assessing university pathway program applicants’ (N = 177) English proficiency. Timed Yes/No (TYN) test results on two test versions (Test A including test items from the 1-5K bands of the British National Corpus (BNC); and, Test B including less frequent items from 2-10K band) were correlated with performance on a comprehensive placement test including speaking, writing, reading and listening components. The predictive validity of word recognition accuracy (a proxy for size) and response time for placement test outcomes were examined independently and in combination. Zero order correlations between vocabulary measures and tests ranged between r = .3 - .6;  with the Test B correlations significant for all sub-skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) >.50 at the p<.001 level; and, r = .60 at the p<.001 level for the overall placement test result. Hierarchical regression analysis showed that vocabulary size and speed measures contributed unique amounts of variance in predicting both placement test sub-skill and overall outcomes, with Test B mean accuracy scores accounting for approximately 47% of variance in SCU Overall Placement Test scores. Of particular interest was how well the vocabulary scores predicted placement test performance of learners whose scores indicated they met the necessary proficiency requirements for direct entry English for Academic Purposes (EAP) programs. Readiness for EAP entry was assessed using a cut-score analysis in which the sensitivity of the TYN screening test scores in predicting minimum language performance requirements with an identification accuracy rate of 76-86% for five critical band scores. The potential use of the screening test for measuring L2 students’ English language proficiency is discussed in terms of reliability, validity, usability and cost-effectiveness. Finally, this longitudinal study assesses how well screening test scores predict achievement on high-stakes end-of-semester English exit tests which serve a gate keeping function to award study (e.g. Bachelor, Masters or Doctoral programs).
  • EAP,
  • Testing,
  • Language Assessment,
  • English for Academic Purposes,
  • International Students,
  • Vocabulary knowledge,
  • L2 vocabulary,
  • Language proficiency,
  • Higher Education,
  • English-medium instruction,
  • Vocabulary Testing,
  • TYN Test
Publication Date
Citation Information
Thomas Roche and Michael Harrington. "SCU-UQ International Student English Language Testing Pilot Project: Improving pathways through online placement testing. Technical Report, Southern Cross University." (2015)
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