How do I test my students?

How do I test my students?

Diary submitted by Brian, Valencia.

In considering the topic of testing of students I am reminded from my studies in physics of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Put simply, this tells us that the act of measurement affects the state of an object physically. This is surely true when it comes to testing in language teaching and learning. So we would do well to try to understand the effects of testing in order to make sure that what we do is productive and helpful in achieving the aims of teaching.

Frost[1] gives a good overview of the issues involved in testing. Lets look at some of the drawbacks. Not every student will respond in the same way to being tested. Some, of a more nervous disposition, will find the process undermining of confidence and won’t perform as well in a formal test as they had been in the more relaxed environment of lessons. Others are more skilled in performing under pressure and will do better than expected. The test can become an end in itself, rather than the real goal of improvement of English language skills.

Alternatives to formal end of course testing include : Continuous assessment with unit tests, Portfolio compilation, Self-assessment, where students agree on set criteria for success in advance and Teacher’s assessment, where the teacher relies on observation of the student over time and professional judgement is used to assess progress. Of course any or all of these can be used in combination with or instead of a final formal test.

At very least the teacher should try to eliminate sources of stress and ensure that formal testing takes place in as relaxed an environment as possible. Some points relevant to this are listed by Kuehn[2] : Test directions should be clear and understandable. Test questions should be based on material already covered in class. Use a variety of question types. Make sure you give most students enough time to complete. All questions should be clear and unambiguous and if possible proofread by another teacher.

Designing effective tests is a creative process and I won’t attempt to provide an exhaustive list of all the different test types. But one example list, from Susan Werner[3], gives an idea of what is available by way of help, online:

  • Oral interview, using grammar points and vocabulary from lessons.
  • Class presentation by the student.
  • Cloze test, using paragraphs with words removed to see if students can replace with words that make sense and are grammatically correct.
  • Fill in the blanks from word banks provided.
  • Writing samples for marking by the teacher.
  • Portfolio of work for grading. This can allow students to present what they consider to be best work.
  • Online quizes.
  • Multiple Choice. These tests have the advantage of being easy to mark.
  • True/False questions, for which students should identify why questions are false.

In conclusion, testing is a rich area for study by teachers and testing itself should be approached with sensitivity to what is appropriate and effective for students in enhancing the learning experience.


  • [1] Testing and Assessment by Richard Frost, British Council, 2009 https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/testing-assessment
  • [2] Testing EFL And ESL Students, by Paul Richard Kuehn, 2016 https://hubpages.com/education/Tips-for-Constructing-Better-Tests-for-EFL-learners
  • [3] Ten top ways to assess your students, by Susan Werner