ESL Speaking Tests | 4 English Speaking Test Ideas

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ESL Speaking Test Options

There are a few different options for ESL speaking tests, all of which have their advantages and disadvantages in terms of teacher effort, ease of grading and how well it measures what you’re trying to measure.

Choosing the best English speaking test style can go a long way towards making you feel less exhausted during exam periods. It can also assist with better student evaluations if the students feel that your testing method is fair, and measure what you’re teaching in the class.

Check out my my top 4 English speaking test options below.

ESL Speaking Test Option #1: Speeches for ESL Students

Some English teachers put a big emphasis upon presentations and speeches, but I don’t love this ESL Speaking Test idea for a conversation class. I’ve taught lots of presentation classes in Korean universities over the years, and of course, the final exam was a speech. It makes sense.

However, for a conversation class, it’s not the best option. This is because a speech is more of an academic thing, and not a true test of communication skills. Communication, is more of a 2-way thing and is far better judged by the following speaking test styles I’ll mention below.

But, if you’re going to do the speech thing for an ESL Speaking Test, check out:

Ideas for Presentation Projects

ESL Speaking Test Option #2: A Dialogue

This is something that students prepare at home and perform in front of the teacher, or class. Many of my fellow teachers do this, but I’m not sure this is ideal either.

Generally, the best students will write the dialogues, and then the rest of the team will memorize their parts. However, to me, memorization isn’t really a true test of English communication. It’s not even an indication of the weaker students’ English skills, as the best student was the one who wrote it.

In general, I much prefer something where the questions/answers can’t be known ahead of time. This is how communication in real life actually works. There’s some give and take, and it’s impossible to predict with certainty what sort of responses will be needed.

ESL Speaking Test Option #3: Question and Answers, with another student

This English speaking test happens between two students, chosen at random on the day of the test. These days, this is by far my favourite way to conduct ESL speaking tests, since the teacher can just listen and not act an examiner at the same time. This makes English speaking tests, particularly if you have a large numbers of students far less exhausting.

I do have to facilitate a little bit, but it’s quite easy. For example, John and Carol, go ahead. Okay stop. Next group: Tim and Jen.

If you spend time during class showing your students what to expect, and how to do the exam, then it’ll be quite easy for you on the exam day.

How I Do This Style of English Speaking Test

The way I do it is to give students a list of around 10 possible topics a week or two before the exame (things we covered in class). For example, hobbies, future dreams, high school days, etc. I don’t make specific questions because that’s the students job to figure out!

I print off the list, and cut them into strips of paper. Each student (I evaluate 6 at a time, in about 12-15 minutes total) grabs one paper at random. I then choose two students to go together, and direct one student to start with their topic. The students have a 1-2 minute conversation about that, and then I direct them to talk about the second topic for 1-2 minutes.

Sure, the group of 6 knows ahead of time that they’re together, so could in theory plan everything out. But, 10 topics, with any number of pair variations? I’m not sure anyone would put in the effort to memorize dialogues in this case!

All about Student Centred Learning

I’m all about the student-centred learning as well and so anything that can put the pressure on my students, and not on me is my goal. It’s up to them to open the conversation, keep the conversation going with follow-up questions, and shift topics when appropriate. I speak English well and don’t need practice with this stuff!

Check out this ESL speaking rubric for some ideas on how I evaluate this kind of exam.

ESL Speaking Test Option #4: Questions and Answers, with me

This English speaking test is where the teacher has a short conversation with the teacher, individually. This is a very accurate way to test students but the huge negative is the exhaustion factor, especially with very low-level students.

There is basically nothing more tedious than having 1-1 conversations with someone who is just waiting for the teacher to ask them question after question. It’s particularly bad if you have people who only give 1-2 word answers in return. The pressure is not on the student to keep the conversation going, it’s on the teacher.

Another reason this option isn’t great is because the students usually don’t ask questions in this style of English speaking exam. You can design it so that they have to, but it’s not so easy to do. Then you also have the problem of when a student ask you a very personal question that you don’t want to answer (which they often will in Korea!). I just try to avoid this whenever possible.

Don’t Like to Waste Your Time?

Like these ESL Speaking Tests? Then you’re going to love this!

Nobody likes wasting their time, in testing, lesson planning or doing admin work. Here are ten tips that are going to save you a ton of time on all those things. Although this article is written for teaching in a Korean university, most of the principles are general enough to be applicable for a wide range of situations.

Check it out here:

Top 10 Time-Savers When Teaching in a Korean University

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ESL Speaking Tests: Have your Say!

Leave a comment below and let us know your favourite ESL Speaking Tests. How do you evaluate your students’ spoken English ability?

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