January is the time where many go back to school and it’s great to welcome new students to English classes, perhaps for their very first time. However, one question we are regularly asked is how do you determine what level they are? You need to know this to group students together, select materials, or purchase the right course book.
It’s a perennial problem, especially for new teachers, who are getting used to the different levels, from Beginner to Advanced.
Some schools rely on a straightforward grammar test. However, this will only give you an idea of their grammatical ability. It won’t give you an idea of their vocabulary, fluency of spoken English or pronunciation.
If you are working for a language school, it is likely that they will have their own versions of placement tests which they will ask you to use. However, what about if you are working in a smaller environment, possibly giving 1-1 lessons or teaching as part of a church outreach programme? If that’s you, then hopefully these resources may help.
A basic free grammar test
If you are looking for a test for your students, try this simple (and free) test at the EnglishEnglish.com website:
There are 90 questions and the test should take around 45 minutes for most students to complete. It is marked online and a percentage grade given. However, it tests quite heavily on grammar knowledge, so it’s a little one dimensional.
A basic free grammar and vocabulary test
Alternatively, via the Macmillan Straightforward website, there are a series of downloadable placement tests that you can do with your students to see approximately what level they are. Take a look at these here (note that the placement tests are downloadable zip files that will be downloaded when you click on them from the link):
The Straightforward Placement Test has 50 questions, each worth one point. The first 40 are grammar questions and the final 10 are vocabulary questions. It then provides a chart to give a rough gauge of student level. A handy answer key is also included in the download (always useful!)
Both these are free and will give you an approximate guide to the ability of your student.
But what about speaking?
There is very little choice available to test spoken ability currently. However, one programme we very much liked was TrackTest, which includes both listening and speaking exercises as part of its testing. It’s free to download with in-app purchases, although it runs on most computer platforms too. You’ll find you’ll need to have a microphone and web browser with Adobe Flash enabled. You work your way through a range of tests, including a listening test, before coming to the spoken part. However, it is here where you have to pay (currently 15 Euros) so do be aware of this. However, it offers the most comprehensive online testing system we have found to date.
A comprehensive supported approach
On the Christian TEFL Classic 120 hour course and the 250 hour Worldwide TEFL course we provide you with guidance to enable accurate testing of your students across a range of different criteria, so you can see with a greater degree of accuracy where to place students and what materials will help them best. There are tasks where you can test your ability in gauging what students can do at different levels, along with sample material you can use when it comes to testing in your own environment.
What about you? If you are testing students, what resources have you found useful? Let us know below.
William Bradridge is Director of Studies at Christian TEFL and has been involved in teaching and TEFL training for 25 years.