The weekly column
Article 36, November 2000
Language Testing in Practice
Lyle F. Bachman and Adrian S. Palmer. Oxford University Press 1996 377pp ISBN 0 19 4371448 4
Reviewed by Mohamed Najbi
The chief purpose of this book is to enable the reader to become competent in the design, development, and use of language tests . The book is organised into three main parts. The first part (substance) is about the conceptual bases of test development. Chapter 1 surveys common misconceptions about language testing and their resulting problems; for example, the misconception: 'having unreasonable expectations about what language tests can do and what they should be and its resulting problem: uninformed use of tests or testing methods simply because they have become popular, and the requirements for competence in language testing. According to the authors, competence in language testing involves:
The reader must make a great deal of effort to acquire such competence through using this book both as a manual and a reference. The exercises that conclude each chapter are interesting and well worked out. They provide a great deal of practice in the issues dealt with. This same chapter then provides the authors philosophy of language testing. The essential tenets of this philosophy include relating language testing to language teaching and language use. Chapter 2 discusses test usefulness. The authors notion of test usefulness which is taken to be the sum of reliability, construct validity, authenticity, interactiveness,impact and practicality and are of value. So are the three principles behind it. Chapter 3 offers a detailed description of (i) the specific characteristics of language use tasks and tests tasks, and a series of tips on how to achieve flexibility or adaptability in test development; and (ii) language ability.
The second part (technique) is on language test development. Chapter 5 overviews the process of test development; that is, conceptualisation, design, pretesting, test administration, and scoring. Chapter 6 is a detailed discussion of the considerations and procedures for describing the specific purposes of the test itself, and the salient features of the test takers, as well as the language abilities to be measured. Chapter 7 focuses our attention on developing a plan and a set of conceptual and empirical procedures for evaluating the tests that the authors themselves have developed over the years. Chapter 8 considers the practical issues in the allocation and management of resources that are required in the development and use of language tests. Chapter 9 deals with writing test tasks and creating blueprints for tests, while Chapter 10 is concerned with the writing of effective instructions. Chapter 11 identifies a number of considerations to be made in scoring and a wide range of scoring techniques. Finally, Chapter 10 discusses in some depth procedures for administering tests and the process of collecting feedback for assessing the usefulness of tests. The third and final part of the book (illustrations) is a series of genuine examples of tests that the authors themselves have developed over the years. Here, the reader is taken through the entire test development process by means of 10 projects, which include a wide variety of task types, and cover a wide range of language abilities. The tests suggested here are consistent with the theories of communicative language use the authors adhere to. This part synthesises the preceding contents of the book in terms of language test development. Among these closely packed pages114 of them Classroom teachers and test developers will find suggestions of immediate practical value.
This book is remarkable for several reasons: in one volume, though compact, it outlines a communicative approach to testing and applies it through convincing illustrations; it is written with clarity; and it offers a source of rich information. I have three reservations, though. This book is at times authoritative. The authors take sides with some of the issues related to testing. There is no mention whatsoever of ESP testing, which is surprising in such a lengthy work. I would have liked to see some rudimentary statistical techniques and procedures for measurement and evaluation. Despite these reservations, the book deserves attention from virtually everyone concerned with communicative testing.
Bachman, L.F. 1990. Fundamental Considerations in Language Testing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hughes, A. 1989. Testing for language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.