A great deal of the language teacher’s time and attention is devoted to assessing the progress pupils make or preparing them for public examinations. One of the problems in discussing this area of English language teaching is that the words used to describe these activities are used in a number of different ways. First of all, the term examination usually refers to a formal set-piece kind of assessment. Typically one or more three-hour papers have to be worked. Pupils are isolated from one another and usually have no access to textbooks, notes or dictionaries. An examination of this kind may be set by the teachers or head of department in a school, or by some central examining body like the Ministry of Education in various countries or the Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate—to mention only the best known of the British examining bodies. This usage of the word examination is fairly consistent in the literature on the subject and presents few difficulties.
The word test is much more complicated. It has at least three quite distinct meanings. One of them refers to a carefully prepared measuring instrument, which has been tried out on a sample of people like those who will be assessed by it, which has been corrected and made as efficient and accurate as possible using the whole panoply of statistical techniques appropriate to educational measurement. The preparation of such tests is time-consuming, expensive and