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The role of international proficiency exams in encouraging language learning in developing countries.

August 26, 2019

It is difficult to underestimate the role and effect of standardised Language proficiency tests from different organisations, including Cambridge Assessment English, Pearson and ETS in encouraging students of high schools and vocational colleges to study English. As most of
these exams are an important part and requirement for applying to universities, most students take them and specifically focus on taking exams rather than learning the language itself. This mostly results in intention of language learners to impress ‘examiner’ with the artificial language rather than natural use of language. In addition, if we compare different skills, which exams focus on we can come to long-standing question behind proficiency test: Why some students score significantly better in some components than others contrary to the self-evident truth that language is a complex issue. And statistical evidences can support this: Cambridge-designed IELTS (which is the most popular language test currently) has one band score difference in average writing and speaking scores. While, all parties involved in creating language tests try to convince public on designing purely language test with little importance of general knowledge and academic background of candidate taking exam, how a student with good spoken command of language cannot command writing in the same level and what is more, why writing is checked and assessed by some criteria that do not directly show the language, but rather planning and developing ideas?

The second issue is the role of above-mentioned exams in the language learning process in different non-English-speaking countries and reasons for their popularity. How proficiency tests can be used to encourage students to learn and teach English. Most of the organisations nowadays recognise exams for employment, education and career promotion, but still, most exam-takers do not use their test results to get in international organisations and apply for local universities and organisations. Finally, teachers use language proficiency tests to show off their skills and attract more students in case of private language schools, but can high result in standardised test really showcase teaching skills. Does that mean that teachers’ qualification can be evaluated or at least improved if they take and prepare for proficiency test themselves?

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