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Review ~ Examining Speaking

One of the central volumes in the Studies in Language Testing series, and also a very valuable reference for researchers and institutions genuinely interested in testing. A must for test organizers, assessment students and for all those responsible for organizing and delivering speaking tests.
Reviewed for TEFL.net by Jesús García Laborda
Examining Speaking

Examining Speaking

How about “Due to the importance of external tests (IELTS, ToEFL, Trinity tests, PET, KET, FCE, BULATS, and others), testing has become an increasingly important topic in EFL. In many parts of the world today it is also difficult to find a school in which exam classes are not a vital part of their business. Consequently, the number of publications in the field has also expanded, especially in the last three years. Although generally the new publications tend to be simple but comprehensive manuals, large collections like this book have also become more common.

Examining Speaking is one volume of the Studies in Language Testing (SiLT) series edited by Dr Michael Milanovic and Prof Cyril J Weir. The series addresses a wide range of important issues and new developments in language testing and assessment. This volume is written for test users, developers and researchers. Like other titles in the series, this volume, edited by Linda Taylor, provides a theoretical and practical framework for validating the Cambridge Board of Examinations tests and also suggest ideas and concepts for the revision and validation of other tests. Examining Speaking follows the same guidelines as two previous volumes: Examining Writing (Shaw & Weir, 2007) and Examining Reading (Khalifa & Weir, 2009). The books begins with a history and a description of the current world of testing in Chapter 1. This is followed by a description of the people taking Cambridge exams (Chapter 2). The book then goes into validity of the Cambridge exams including cognitive validity (Chapter 3), context validity (Chapter 4), scoring validity (Chapter 5), consequential validity (Chapter 6), criterion-related validity (Chapter 7) and, probably the most interesting part, conclusions and recommendations (Chapter 8). The book also contains five appendices with very specific information of the Cambridge Tests.

This book is a very welcome volume for researchers and other academics at a moment when many national boards of education are working towards the creation, implementation or improvement of their speaking tasks. Researchers in educational policies may also be able to see how the new Cambridge exams (PET/KET/FCE for schools) are supported by sound theory.

This book is a bit too specialised for ordinary teachers. For such readers, the most advisable idea would be to focus on chapter 8 where a summary of all the other chapters is given. In addition, a more general audience will not want to miss Appendix D where it gives ideas on how to set the administrative tasks, and setting and management of speaking tests. These two parts of the book are more accessible and provide clear principles that can be applied to a larger number of specific and local cases.

I have also observed that one of the problems is that, although this book is well informed, it strictly attaches to the Validation Model by Cyril Weir (2005). Although this model serves to give strong support to the Cambridge Exams, it is also its limitations.

All in all, the book is a positive asset in the Studies in Language Testing collection and a volume that researchers and specialists have probably been looking forward to.

Reviewed for TEFL.net by Jesús García Laborda
June 2012 | Filed under Exam Materials, Skills: Speaking
Dr Jesús García Laborda teaches in the Masters of EFL teaching and the Faculty of Business at Universidad de Alcalá (Madrid, Spain). His main research interests are testing and CALL.

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