English Language Testing Systems

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In a world with ever increasing numbers and intricacies of people and information flows, the demand for smooth communication has never been greater. As the de facto global lingua franca, English has been the language of choice for quite some time with its ability to absorb words from all other languages. As a result, more and more non-native English speakers need quick and efficient assessments of their language skills. These assessments might be needed for overseas studies, working abroad or family migration.

IELTS (International English Language Testing System) has been a favoured option in recent years and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) has been around for much longer. Both are here to stay and ITS Tutorial School will continue to assist test takers with their preparation. We recognize, however, that there is room in the training marketplace for new testing standards to address some process bottlenecks. Test-takers often experience long queues, lack of ‘user friendly’ venues, inconvenient schedules, and frustratingly slow result reporting. Very recently, we entered a partnership with Pearson Language Testing to provide the Pearson Test of English (PTE), precisely to expand those options available to English-language learners in Hong Kong. So what is the Pearson Test of English (PTE)?

Rather than being a ‘new kid on the block’, PLT is an offshoot of the UK-headquartered Pearson PLC, one of the world’s leading publishers of educational text books and test preparation materials (Longman, Penguin) in addition to being a media group (Financial Times, Economist).

The Pearson Test of English or PTE was launched in October 2009 and in a very short time its PTE Academic version – aimed at post-secondary school test applicants – has rapidly gained widespread recognition. Currently 1,850 programmess worldwide, including over 380 institutions in the UK, accept it as a benchmark test of English language proficiency. PTE Academic is the preferred test for the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), administrators of the globally recognized Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) based in the US.

A feature that is unique to the PTE Academic is Pearson’s fully automated scoring technologies for test takers’ written and verbal responses – with human intervention only as a backup. The system has, according to Pearson, been trained to compare students’ written and oral answers against a database of several tens of thousands of examples of language from English-medium academia, sourced from around the world, plus a bank of answers from over 10,000 trial candidates.

This is in contrast to IELTS which relies on a global network of testers who score paper-based exam answers and individually assess verbal responses. The other mainstay of ELT – TOEFL is also now largely conducted via a secure online option, although its test takers’ written and verbal responses are still assessed centrally and manually by examiners at its headquarters in the United States.

The result of Pearson’s fully automated system is much more frequent availability of tests that can be booked up to 24 hours in advance. Testing is completed in a single 3 hour sitting rather than over two consecutive days for IELTS while scores are available within 5 working days, compared, for example to 15 for TOEFL. The other advantage that the PTE has is that test takers have no limits on the number of institutions they can send their electronic test results to. By contrast IELTS results are posted.

What does this mean for the test taker particularly when the costs of IELTS, TOEFL and PTE are more or less the same at between HK$1,400 and HK$1,500?

One consideration is convenience. While the IELTS Academic test is generally available on two weekends out of the full month, testers are required to undergo the listening, reading and writing component on one day and return the next day for the oral test lasting 15 minutes. While TOEFL is largely done online (with paper tests only made available where computing facilities are not available), TOEFL assessment is still undertaken by human markers at a centralized location and as a result, TOEFL has the longest waiting period for results.

Possibly more important, however, for someone wishing to undertake testing, is whether the institutions that they wish to apply for recognize the testing standard in question. For example TOEFL is recognized by over 7,000 institutions while IELTS is recognized by over 6,000. It has to be noted that PTE is just one year old while TOEFL has been in the marketplace for over 40 years and IELTS has tested English for over 20 years. In the case of the newly developed PTE the verdict from ITS Tutorial School is definitely “watch this space”.

ITS Tutorial School and ITS Educational Services can be contacted for all kinds of advice about gaining an English proficiency score and schooling in general. Visit the main webpage.

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