Language Testing: Criteria and Techniques

Criteria of a good test

Content validity is one of the criteria used to determine a good test. A test is said to be good if its content represents a representative part of language skilfulness and construction among others with which it should deal with. Content validity in grammar is not indicated in several items as they are not the only items that are used to test validity. A test is said to have a high level of content validity if contains correct sentence structures.

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The pertinent structures of a sentence depend on the main purpose of the sentence. The content of a test that is meant for intermediate learners is not expected to contain similar structures as one meant for advanced learners (Hughes, 2003). For an individual to be able to evaluate whether the test has content validity or not, one should be able to put down some specifications to be used in making the judgement. Such specifications should be determined at early stages of test structure. The specifications in the structure may be many but not all specifications are found in a single test.

Content validity is essential in various ways. The higher the level of content validity for a test, the higher the level of accuracy of what the test is intended to measure. If content validity is not adhered to in teaching and learning, it is most likely that it leads to backwash (Brown, 2004). The setting of test specifications should be done with care to avoid such instances.

The effectiveness of content validity can be boosted through ensuring that experts that are involved in the process are genuine specialists in the fields that they represent. Together with this, the experts should be equipped with the necessary tools and equipment needed for the task. Once content validity of a test is reached the experts should strive to get more knowledge.

Common language testing techniques

A test technique is a way in which teachers or examiners draw out a behaviour from students, which will tell more about their language capabilities. There are various characteristics of techniques. First, a good technique should bring out an act in a student that will show the behaviour that is of our interest. The technique should be economical both in time and effort it requires. It should also have a fruitful wash back effect.

Test techniques can either be objective or subjective, where the learners are required to exercise some form of judgement. An essay test requires learners to give a thought on what to express then bring it out vividly. In the case of a multiple choice test, a learner is expected to weigh various options provided and be able to choose the best option. Subjective tests are constructed by an expert, who will ensure that scoring of the same test by different examiners brings out similar results.

Objective tests have attracted the attention of many because of its ability to be marked by a computer. Various testing techniques are used by different examiners depending on the purpose of the test. There are various purposes of tests based on what the tester requires in a learner (Brown, 2004). The most common goals of a tester include measurement of general language proficiency of a learner and evaluation of student’s achievement after the completion of a particular course. These tests are named according to their purposes.

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Scoring refers to the act of assessing a learner’s capability. It can be carried out in various ways depending on the purpose of the assessment. In writing, there are various ways in which scoring is done. Analytic scoring in inscription is a mode of scoring in which the students writing capacity is measured on the basis of comprehensive grades for elements of writing, which include terminology, sentence structure and other writing fundamentals.

The results obtained are based on sub grades awarded to each section such as 4 out of 5 in grammar (Hughes, 2003). The primary trait scoring is a type of measurement that is put into place if the assessment focuses on a specific feature of writing or a certain linguistic form. This kind of scoring gives the instructor and the learners a chance to focus on the results, amendments, and any attention required. There are various problems faced during scoring just as the ones faced in writing. There is a lot of subjectivity, which lowers the reliability of a scoring. There are various techniques, which are put together to enhance reliability of scoring.

The most common techniques are the use of marking scales, and multiple marking, where one test is marked by different examiners. The use of marking scales entails various criteria of assessing oral productions. These range from accuracy, appropriateness, flexibility of communication, and fluency among others.

Testing for writing and speaking

Testing for writing and speaking is done through subjectively scored related tasks. This means, therefore, that scoring is an act of making judgement. This act may vary from one individual to the other. Various task types for testing written performance are identified. Controlled tasks are easier as it is reliable.


Brown, D. H. (2004). Language Assessment principles and practices, London: Pearson Education.

Hughes, A. (2003). Testing for Language Teachers. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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