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Cambridge English Examinations: Speaking Test

As another example, I would like to mention the speaking part of the Cambridge tests. In part 3 of the First Certificate of English (FCE), the two students are asked to talk together for three minutes given some specific questions and picture prompts.

Students are graded by two oral examiners, one is an interlocuter and the other one is not interacting, but is concentrating only on grading. What I think is good about this format of the test is that for the grading, there is a rubric based on the elements of grammar and vocabulary, discourse management, pronunciation, and interactive communication. I searched a good deal on the internet, but was unfortunately unable to find the exact scoring rubric. However, Cambridge does provide a description of the assessment criteria of the four aforementioned areas.

I have served as a Cambridge oral examiner for one day so far here in Honolulu, which was an interesting experience, but unfortunately I do not have room to explain about it here. There is a mention of Cambridge’s policy on Varieties of English in the Introduction to their introduction to FCE handbook, which states:

Candidates’ responses to tasks in the Cambridge ESOL examinations are acceptable in varieties of English, which would enable candidates to function in the widest range of international contexts. Candidates are expected to use a particular variety with some consistency in areas such as spelling, and not for example switch from using a British spelling of a word to an American spelling of the same word in the same written response to a given task.

An examination of this policy and the Cambridge test could easily be enough to discuss in a thesis, but I just wanted to point out their stated policy to accept varieties of English. In a way, I think this portion of the test is good because it tests students’ communicative ability in some ways as they speak together about pictures to answer questions and reach a decision. But this situation is stilted because these candidates have practiced for this test, there are two examiners there, and the results of this test are possibly very important for their futures. Students are probably trying to conform to the English that they think is acceptable to Cambridge in attempt to score the best they can. In this way, they are still suffering from linguistic imperialism, but the communicative aspect of the test seems like a good idea to me. Hopefully in the future Euro-English teaching material and assessment can be better than this, but something that is very complex and will undoubtedly take years to develop and implement.

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Are students prepared for an exam such as Cambridge, TOEFL, or TOEIC? For example, from what I understood, one of my students from Korea said attaining a certain score on the TOEIC is important in her country to get a promotion. Are they preparing for a university entrance exam?

Are they applying to a job which requires competence in English? Once admitted, to the university or job, in what capacity will they need to use English? Is the attainment of a good score their goal? How will their performance on this test affect their future? i.e. will they be admitted to a university of hired for a job where English competence is required? What skills will they be using? With whom will they be communicating? A slew of questions, but they are important to consider.

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