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Assessment types and tasks

Module One | Background to language teaching

Assessments: what are they?


Match the instructions (questions 1-5) with the terms given in the box below (listed A-F). There is an extra one which does not need to be used.


A.     Labelling

B.     Gap-fill

C.     Jumbled sentences

D.     Matching

E.      Discussion

F.      Picture composition




  1. Look at these and write the story that they tell.
  2. Talk with your classmates and exchange each other’s ideas on a certain topic.
  3. Draw a straight line between the words given on the left and the meanings of the words on the right side.
  4. Find what the names of these things are and write them beside each picture.
  5. Complete the blanks with one word only after reading the sentences carefully.


An assessment means to judge the students’ performance by gathering information about it. Students are assessed for various reasons. Teachers use dissimilar types of tests to assess students. They also use assessment tasks to assess their students. A students’assessment can be done informally or formally. When done informally, it is called an informal assessment which is when the teacher observes the students to see how well or otherwise they do something. Then the teacher gives them feedback on their performance. When done formally, it is called a formal assessment which is when the students are assessed by using tests or exams and then their work is given a mark or a grade.

Assessments: why we need them?

Assessment types and tasks 3

There are a number of reasons why teachers would want to assess their students. Some are given below:

  1. The teacher might give the student a test at the start of the course in order to discover how good the student’s knowledge is. The teacher will find out what the student knows and what he/she does not know and needs to improve on. A test used like this is called a diagnostic test. The teacher can decide what he/she needs to teach the student and in which areas of language the students need help with by using the information from the assessment.
  2. Sometimes when a student has been attending language school or evening classes, the school might want to know their progress and at what level they are. Therefore, the student is given a test called a placement test. The information from this test is used to decide what level of class the students ought to go into.
  3. After the teacher has finished teaching a part of a course, he/she may want to know how well or otherwise the student has learned the material. This is known as formative assessment. If a test is used to do this, it is known as a progress test. The information gathered from formative assessment is used to decide whether or not the teacher should continue to teach this area and it is also used to give students feedback on their strengths and weaknesses in learning in this area.
  4. When the term or course is nearing its end, the teachers can assess the students to see how well or otherwise they have learnt the course material. This type of assessment is called achievement or summative testing. When this type of testing is done, students usually obtain a score, grade or mark and also get feedback on their performance from the teacher.

At certain times, students have to take tests (called a proficiency test)nto see how good or improved they are at a language. The contents of a proficiency test are not based on the course or the syllabus that the student has been following.

Students can also do self-assessments to assess themselves or each other using peer-assessments. This is usually done in an informal way and the students use checklists as guides. Using both these types of assessment aids the students to gain good knowledge and understanding of their use of the language and performance. Therefore, they can become more autonomous.

There are a great deal of dissimilar assessment tasks. For example, multiple-choice questions, true/false questions, ordering, gap-fill, correcting mistakes, taking part in interviews, conversations or role-plays, writing compositions or letters, dictation. In between these assessment tasks, there are a few important dissimilarities:


Nerd baby says ...​

Some of the tasks are much like tasks we use to communicate when we are outside of the classroom. For example, a conversation, an interview, a letter, reading a brochure for prices etc… These tasks are used to test communication skills.

Some tasks like gap-fill are used to test the accuracy of language use. They are not used to communicate. Communication skills are not tested by these tasks.

Tasks such as gap-fill or selecting between pairs of sounds are used to test only one particular thing. For example, students’ knowledge of the tenses or the student’s ability to distinguish between sounds.

Certain tasks such as a composition or a conversation are used to test multiple things simultaneously. Let us take a composition as an example. Compositions are used to test spelling, handwriting, punctuation, grammar, vocabulary, organisation of ideas and writing fluency. A conversation can be used to test pronunciation as well as appropriacy, accuracy, fluency and interaction.

It is quite easy to make the answers to certain types of assessment tasks because they are only either right or wrong. For example, in a multiple-choice, rue/false, gap-fill and dictation tasks. Tests of these kinds are called objective tests.

To mark some types of tasks (compositions, role-plays, stories, interviews) the teacher has to judge many things at the same time. As an example to mark a writing task the teacher has to judge: spelling, handwriting, punctuation, grammar, vocabulary, writing fluency and how the ideas are organised. The student may do well in some of these areas and not so well in others. The mark given to the students’ answers depends on the teacher’s judgement. Tasks such as these are called subjective tests.

A portfolio is another type of assessment method. A portfolio is a collection of the student’s work gathered and created by the student him/herself. It can also be done with the teacher during a course. Usually has comments on the student’s work written by the student him/herself or other classmates. Portfolios can be used as a formal as well as informal method of assessment.

Here are some informal assessment methods:
a. Observing students’spoken or written work and answers to comprehension tasks
b. Keeping notes on the students’performance
c. Requesting the students to complete self-assessment or peer-assessment sheets

Usually, informal assessment methods are used to assess areas like attitude and effort especially in young students and teens. After the informal assessment is done, the students are given feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of their performance. They are also given suggestions by the teacher on how they can improve further.

Assessments can have an effect on what is taught, how it is taught and the students’motivation for learning. It is crucial that tests have a good influence on teaching and learning.

Some assessment tasks are easy to write and mark whereas others are proved to be more difficult. However the question is whether they reflect what the teacher is teaching and what students need to use the language for. A specific testing method should not be used only because it makes using and marking easy.

In order to reflect the student’s learning level, the content and methods of the teaching should be reflected in the content and methods of progress and achievement tests.

Giving students feedback is crucial. They need to be given feedback on what they have done right, what they have done wrong, their strengths and weaknesses and also what they can do to further improve themselves. With feedback, assessment aids in learning.

Usually, informal assessment is a method that suits more than formal assessment when it comes to assessing young students. The reason is that young students ways of thinking and learning are based on experience and communicating.

Test Your Knowledge

Given below are ten assessment tasks. See if you can name them and guess what they aim to test?

  1. The student takes a look at a very easy picture story and then narrates the story to the teacher in his own words.
  2. The teacher keeps her own notes on the students’difficulties in learning certain areas that are being taught. Then the teacher talks about them with the students.
  3. The students fill in sheets about their own progress.
  4. The students do a lot of research and then write about a certain topic.
  5. The students repeat the words that the teacher says.
  6. The students select the right words for certain pictures and then write the words under the pictures.
  7. The students fill in blank spaces with the correct form of the verb to have.
  8. The students orally answer a few easy questions about themselves.
  9. Students participate in a speaking activity. In this activity, they act parts.
  10. The students listen to an audio recording of a description of a girl’s looks. Then, they are given a part of a picture of the girl and they have to draw the rest of it according to the description.

How did the teachers assess your English at your school? Did the assessments they used aid you to learn the language?

In your opinion, is informal assessment more helpful than formal assessment to teaching and learning?

From tests that concentrate on communication and tests that concentrate on accuracy, which are better to assess a student’s English?

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