Questioning the Test

    Fernando Fleurquin examines the features universities care about in an English language proficiency exam

    University admissions officers and faculty strive to recruit and admit students who, either at the time of admittance or after additional English language preparation, possess a level of English language ability that will enable active participation in academic and social settings, from the lecture hall to group projects, social interactions, and office hours with faculty.

    English proficiency tests are one of the elements that university admissions staff consider as part of the application process for international students. English tests provide an objective indicator to help the institution decide whether the applicant’s proficiency in English meets the minimum standard for success—either for direct admission to a degree-granting program or to determine the need for additional English language instruction prior to admission.

    Colleges and universities set their own English proficiency requirements for international students to perform successfully at undergraduate or graduate studies and decide which exams they accept to certify English proficiency. English language requirements for postsecondary studies, generally between intermediate and advanced levels (or B1 to C1 levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages [CEFR]), are usually listed on the admissions webpage for international students. Colleges and universities list the exams that they accept and the minimum scores that meet their requirements for each exam. As a general standard, most universities accept test scores that were administered up to two years before the application for admission. Test scores often need to be sent directly and securely by the examination board to the university.

    The following are important questions that admissions teams ask when evaluating whether they will recognize and accept a new English proficiency exam:

    • What language skills does the exam evaluate? While some exams evaluate only one or two skills, exams used for university admission purposes often need to assess all four language skills— listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

    • Is the exam valid? A valid exam is one whose results reflect the actual knowledge and skills that need to be measured for a particular setting and purpose. Valid tests include content and tasks that are as close to the target language situation as possible.

    • Is the exam reliable? Reliable tests are those that produce consistent results over time, such as when different forms of the same test or different raters are involved. If students take two equivalent forms of the same test within a short period of time, the results from both tests are expected to reflect a similar range of scores.

    • Is the test fair? All test takers should have equal opportunities and access to the test to certify their proficiency in English.

    • How do test results compare to levels or standards of English proficiency? Standard-setting studies are often conducted with a panel of experts to objectively determine the level of performance of test takers in relation to standards of English proficiency, such as the CEFR.

    • Are guidelines provided to interpret and use test scores and to set minimum scores for each institution? Examination boards have the responsibility of providing information and guidance to help higher education institutions understand how to use the scores of their test.

    • Are the exams administered under secure conditions? Secure administrations eliminate the potential for cheating. Enhancing test security is even more important for exams administered remotely.

    • Can higher education institutions receive the results directly and securely? Test takers indicate which institutions they want to share their results with, and the examination board can send the results directly and securely to those institutions. Another option is for institutions to verify scores that the test taker has submitted.

    Michigan Language Assessment, a not-for-profit collaboration between Cambridge English Assessment and the University of Michigan, has developed the Michigan English Test (MET), a secure, valid, and reliable exam that will be available digitally this fall with a new platform that makes sharing results with accepting organizations easier than ever. MET is a secure, multilevel exam aligned with A2 to C1 levels on the CEFR and accepted for admissions evaluation and professional licensing verification.

    MET Digital will be available any day of the year and almost anywhere in the world. Thanks to Michigan Language Assessment’s partnership with Prometric, a leading provider of technology-enabled testing and assessment solutions, MET Digital also features enhanced test security with human and AI proctoring.

    Fernando Fleurquin is Michigan Language Assessment’s director of marketing, communications, and stakeholder relations. He has presented at conferences in over 20 countries on English teaching, teacher development, language testing, standards, leadership, strategic planning, program evaluation, and marketing. Fernando has a master’s degree in marketing and business management and is currently a doctoral (EdD) candidate in higher education. He is also a medical doctor. For information about MET Digital or other Michigan tests, visit www.michiganassessment.org.

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