Exam Time and the teaching is…

This isn't the first time ELT NEWS has delved into language exams, and it certainly won't be the last. Our educational system heavily relies on test scores to distinguish between strong and weak learners. Furthermore, the approximately five thousand FL schools across the country operate as integral components of an extensive exam machine, ensuring its continuous maintenance and existence.

Recruitment in the state sector also provides a competitive advantage to candidates holding language certificates of any kind and value. A certificate adds points to the list –one or two more points may determine a place in the state sector. The time of certificate acquisition or whether the language has been practiced and used in post-school years becomes inconsequential. What truly matters is the certificate, serving as proof of skills and competencies acquired long ago but, unfortunately, often lost over time.

Tests and examinations play a pivotal role in social policy and control, with their gate-keeping function often justifying their existence. It is widely acknowledged that tests influence teaching – altering the test can lead to a change in teaching methods. Ideally, testing should be closely aligned with language education, serving not only as a means to generate data for illuminating issues in language education but also as an external control of curriculum achievement and a motivator for students.

Assessing language goes beyond the technical skills and knowledge needed to construct and analyze a test, delving into the psychometric and statistical aspects of language testing. It requires an understanding of what language is, what it means to 'know' a language, and the intricacies involved in learning a language as a mother tongue or as a second or subsequent language.

Continuous research on washback and test consequences from testing institutions is essential. Questions surrounding why teachers and students behave the way they do, the design and exploitation of tests, and instances of abuse and misuse necessitate exploration. How many testing institutions engage in research on these issues, communicate their findings to stakeholders, and provide comprehensive information on their websites? What motivates them? Is it purely to generate income by issuing certificates to participants, regardless of their skills and abilities?

Questions to be answered

  • Exams discriminate among strong and weak candidates. Especially considering the claim of a 100% success rate by all FLS is it safe to assume there are no weak candidates in Greece?
  • Are teachers of English in Greece concerned about how a test is constructed, trialed, pretested, etc., or is the 'easiness' of a test the primary factor for them?
  • Authenticity has been affecting the choice of texts for both teaching and testing since the late 1970s. Are exam texts authentic, or are they purpose-written by test developers and item writers?
  • Can it be argued that a text designed solely for testing a particular aspect of language may bear little resemblance to language as used by native speakers unconcerned with language testing?
  • Despite claims of alignment with the CEFR, there are instances where B2, C1, or C2 certificate holders lack basic skills. How can this contradiction be explained?
  • Is it possible to transition away from exam-oriented teaching?
  • Speaking and pronunciation appear to be challenges for Greeks. Is this because speaking is neglected in the language classroom?
  • Are examinations a fair tool for testing knowledge?
  • After D Class, the curriculum shifts entirely from learning to exam preparation. Could this shift be the reason Greek students may pass a B2 exam while still making fundamental grammatical errors?
  • Is the C2 level an illusion, or can native speaker proficiency be achieved?
  • Are employers relying on English language exams to certify employees' fluency?


Anastasia Spyropoulou

Anastasia Spyropoulou

Editor in Chief at ELT NEWS