Testing the tester


  • Siriol Lewis




language testing, ethics, widening participation, asylum seekers


Over the summer of 2022. I was tasked with testing the language proficiency of many potential students who were unable to access the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), either due to displacement or other adverse circumstances.  The largest cohort was that of Ukrainian students, following the Scottish government’s announcement that free education and living support would be available for those qualifying students. The second group was less homogenous.  It varied in nationality, age, background, circumstances and fell under the broad umbrella of refugees and asylum seekers. The Ukrainian students, on acceptance of academic and language qualifications would directly enter faculty as undergraduates. In contrast, the refugees and asylum seekers would join the last five weeks of a 34-week pre-sessional course and then proceed to a Widening Access Course. Completion of this, and successful settled status would then enable them to enter degree courses.  I use a reading-to-write integrated test based on an academic paper, followed by an interview of 20 – 30 minutes duration for all students who are unable to access IELTS or other recognized commercial language tests. Due to the urgency and sheer number of undergraduates needing to be tested over July/August 2022, I made the decision to use English for General Academic Purposes materials and conducted invigilated reading-to-write tests on Zoom, with individual interviews being conducted over the following days. While this format had been used successfully in the past with displaced PGT/PGR students, it quickly became apparent that it was unsuitable for the latter group of students. Here I reflect on my role and consider future test design.


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On the Horizon