How do I know how much English my students know?

How do I know how much English my students know?

Reflective Diary submitted by Max, Madrid.

There are several different ways that one can evaluate how much English a student knows.

Firstly, one can evaluate ones level via small talk at the beginning of a lesson. By asking them simple questions you are able to gather whether their level of English corresponds with their supposed level. Although this is a good indicator, you do not want to spend more than 3/4 minutes on small talk and therefore an accurate extraction of their speaking level is never exact.
Another way in which you can evaluate how much English a student knows is by putting them through a level test. The CEFR, also known as ‘The Common Framework of Reference for Languages’ is the system that has been put in place to determine which level a student should come under. It ranges from A1 (Starter or Beginner) – C2 (proficient or master). This is very accurate way of determining what level a student has.

Case Study — Evaluating a student.

I will take an example I had from last week. This student came into the school and wanted to start lessons, so, my boss asked me to evaluate him through the method of a level test. I took his answers from his basic writing test and went through to my Classroom.

I started by introducing myself and asking him to tell me a little about himself. Then we proceeded to correct his written work. I noticed immediately that he was making consistent mistakes where the passive voice was concerned.

I then proceeded to ask him some questions in present past and future tenses. He was able to answer all of the questions however, with limited vocabulary. I also noticed that his pronunciation of ED ending were inconsistent. At this point it seemed to me like he was fitting the profile of someone who had a B1 level. I made this decision because of the fact that although his basic tenses were correct, he was unable to expand on his ideas easily and he had trouble with the passive voice and ED endings. As a result, I was able to accurately access his ability and enrol him at our school starting at B1.

Although in this example the level seemed to present itself easily, there are definitely some challenges that present themselves. There are two problems I have faced with level test.

The first being that the student already thinks he/she knows her level and is disappointed by an evaluation. I had one example of this and it was incredibly uncomfortable. I had to refer her to my boss as she was incredibly unhappy, however, I think I managed the situation well.

Secondly, the next re- occurring problem is that people have a very good level of English but only in speaking. You therefore evaluate them correctly on the information given however, when they presented with a text they are unable to engage with it. The lesson therefore becomes an exercise in negotiation and explaining meaning which is not the aim of a speaking lesson necessarily.


  • www.tefltrainer.com
  • https://www.ets.org/s/about/pdf/ell_guidelines.pdf