Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Test-Taking Strategies for Second Language: Implications for the Classroom

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Test-Taking Strategies for Second Language: Implications for the Classroom

Article excerpt


To date, in language testing, much of the focus has been on the construct validation and reliability of assessment instruments. However, in the last two decades, there has been an increase in interest in approaching the assessment of language from the point of view of the test takers (Cheng & DeLuca 2011; Fan & Bond 2014; Kim 2015; Xie 2015). Such an interest has been stimulated by increasing research in second language (L2) learning strategies focusing specifically on what L2 learners do in the process of language learning (e.g. O'Malley & Chamot 1990; Oxford 2010). While learner strategies refer to mental operations that learners consciously select for use in accomplishing language tasks, test-taking strategies can be viewed as learner strategies applied to the areas of assessment (Cohen 2010:164). Research in L2 test-taking strategies investigates language use processes that the L2 learners experience while responding to L2 tests.

The literature review in this paper starts with a general overview of the major research methods for investigating test-taking processes. This is followed by a brief discussion of the interaction of primary language knowledge and skills during L2 testing. Hereafter a comprehensive review follows of studies which investigate the processes used in listening and speaking, reading and writing, as they pertain to L2 testing. Based on the findings of the literature review and research in test-taking processes, implications for L2 assessment and teaching are discussed, and recommendations made.

General Overview of Research in Test-taking Strategies

Test-taking strategies refer to the approaches used by test-takers when completing test tasks (Cohen 1994, 2006). The strategies are considered as 'deliberate, cognitive steps' used by learners (Anderson 2011: 460), and they are generally categorized into three, based largely on Cohen (2006) and Cohen and Upton (2006), as follows: (1) language learner strategies; (2) test-management strategies; and (3) test-wiseness strategies. What have emerged as normative explanations of these terms (cf. Barati and Kashkoul 2012; Xu and Wu 2012) are derived mainly from the descriptions of Cohen (2006) and Cohen and Upton (2006), which are recaptured below. Language learner strategies refer to the ways that learners utilize their basic skills in listening, speaking, reading, and writing, along with the associated skills of vocabulary learning, grammar, and translation. For example, in responding to a comprehension item, a test-taker may draw from the repertoire of reading strategies such as semantic markers and indicators of key ideas. Test-management strategies refer to techniques for responding meaningfully to testing tasks; in other words, "selecting options through the elimination of other options as unreasonable based on paragraph/overall passage meaning." Test-wiseness strategies are "strategies for using knowledge of test formats and other peripheral information to answer test items without going through the expected linguistic and cognitive processes." Research on test-taking strategies have tended to focus on validation of language tests, the relationship between respondents' language proficiency and test-taking strategies, and the effectiveness of strategy instruction for improving respondents' performance on high-stakes standardized tests, and the examination of the effect of testing methods on the use of strategies (Cohen, 2006; Barati and Kashkoul 2013). Studies in test-taking strategy play a valuable role in text validation since they help test developers to understand how test takers relate to testing tasks (Xu and Wu 2012).

Several methodologies have been used to elicit information from test takers on what processes they have employed during a test. Nevo (1989), for example, had students choose from a check list of strategies used during a multiple-choice test. The strategies were then categorized into contributory and non-contributory strategies. …

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