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Administering recorded speaking tests quickly and easily

Writer(s): 
Ben Shearon andJohn Wiltshier

 

Quick guide

  • Key words:Oral testing, speaking tests, computer-based testing, assessing speaking
  • Learner English level:Any
  • Learner maturity level:Any
  • Preparation time:60 minutes
  • Activitytime:One class period
  • Materials:Computers with audio recording software installed (such as Sound Recorder on Windows XP or Audacity), microphones

Introduction

Traditionally,oral testing has been an extremely time-consuming process. Interviewing students individually, in pairs, or small groups takes up large amounts of class time or requires students and teachers to meet outside of class. For teachers with large classes, the logistics involved can lead them to give up on speaking tests altogether, and restrict themselves to listening and paper-based tests.

For a class that focuses on oral communication, not to test student speaking may seem illogical and unfair, to say nothing of the missed opportunity tocreatea positive backwash effect. This article outlines a way to administer and grade speaking tests quickly and relativelyeasily.

All that is needed are computers with a simple audio recording program installed and some external microphones. Audacity (available at <audacity.sourceforge.net/>) is a free, open-source program that can work on any platform (Windows, Mac, or Linux) and offers many powerful and useful features.

If installing software such as Audacity is too much of a hassle, another alternative is Sound Recorder, a simple Windows-only program included in Windows XP. It is designed to record short sound files and can be used to record student speech using an external microphone. The primary advantage of Sound Recorder is that it is integrated into Windows and thus does not require any special arrangements or installation. However, one very important limitation of Sound Recorder is that it can only record up to one minute at a time. Student replies thus need to be one minute or less for each question.  

Preparation

Step 1:Determine one or more prompts that will allow your students to speak for up to one minute. An example of a prompt might be, Think about a good friend. Tell me about this friend's character. If prompts are not going to be given orally, prepare a written prompt sheet.

Step 2: If students have minimal computer skills, preparestep-by-step instructions on how to use the recording software.

Step 3:Create a rubric to grade student replies. This should be fairly simple in order to speed up marking.

Step 4:Book time in a computer lab and notify students of any room change.

Step 5:Finally, decide your method of saving the sound files created by the students. A USB thumb (flash) memoryis ideal, but besure it is large enough, as the audio files created can be quite large (up to 2.5MB per minute).

Procedure  

Step 1:Determine how many students can take the test at once. Theoretically, only the number of computers limits this, but in practice the larger the group, the harder it is to supervise and make sure that all the students are doing the right thing. It may be worth doing the test with smaller groups the first time, then increasing the numbers as students become more used to the format and procedure.

Step 2:Give students the prompts/briefing sheets and give them a few minutes to read.  

Step 3:Have students turn on their computers, and start the recording software.

Step 4:Have students name and save their audio files to their computer by using their name and student number (makingit easy to identify them later).  

Step 5:Start the test. Students speak in response to a question or prompt. After one minute or less, stop the students.  

Step 6:Continue asking questionsor providing prompts.  

Step 7:End the test. Have students save their audio files and then close down the recording program.  

Step 8:Save all student-produced sound files (to either your own account or a portable media device).  

Step 9:Review all the files and grade the students. This can be done quickly if a simple and clear rubric is used. The use of a portable music player, such as an iPod, allows this to be done anywhere.  

Conclusion  

This quick and easy speaking test allows teachers to assess students’speaking skills, even in large classes. In our experience, a class of 48 students took less than ten minutes to test and just over an hour to grade. Such an assessment procedure matches classroom practice, creates a positive backwash effect, and is in line with the aims of an oral communication class. 

Useful resources

  • Audacity:<audacity.sourceforge.net/>
  • Help with using Sound Recorder: <www.ccc.commnet.edu/dl/dl-help/help-SoundRecorder.htm#recording>
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