Testing A traditional method of assessing students' oral language abilities is an oral test. Considering the nature of an oral language exam it is evident that the reactions to the test and the outcome could depend and can be influenced by many variables. Authors Csepes & Egyud (n.d., p. 27) list the following variables that influence oral performance on a test: personal characteristics, knowledge of the world, emotional response to the task, “affective schemata”, and strategic competence (planning, execution, evaluation, communication repair). Personal characteristics refer to age, sex, nationality, native language, type of general education and must be taken into consideration when devising assessment tasks in order to avoid embarrassment or unusual and unfamiliar situations. Background knowledge could also influence the performance of a candidate and therefore the task should never depend on knowledge of facts or background knowledge, i.e. familiarization with the topic. Students might also respond to tasks with different emotions and due to this sensitivity, the topics must be selected with care, avoiding potentially distressing topics. Furthermore, shy and rather quiet students might need more reinforcement, more prompting, while open and less anxious students might give off an impression of confidence but not necessarily in language knowledge. Generally, it can be said that stress and anxiety can play a key role in the outcome of such tests and in that respect the reliability of such a test is questioned. When assessing oral language ability of young learners, the most important criteria one must adhere to is that the test be age appropriate. It is also important to note that types of classroom assessment, continuous assessment with elements of observation, self-assessment, or portfolio assessment should suffice in assessing the development of children’s oral language skills. As in the case of testing listening skills, the oral language test must meet criteria of reliability, validity, objectivity, sensitivity and practicality. A test is reliable if the results obtained in a repeated assessment are the same and if they are evaluated based on the same criteria (criterion-referenced assessment). It is valid if it measures what it was intended to measure, i.e. knowledge and skills. This is why speaking activities should be carefully selected taking into account the language needs of the target population and the purpose of the examination. Activities must be relevant for the candidates who take the given exam (Csépes & Együd, n.d., p. 20). When referring to objectivity, oral assessment tasks by nature do not match the criteria of objectivity. However, having clear assessment criteria, with trained examiners (both interlocutor and assessor) should reduce the subjective nature of such exams. Practicality is an important criterion in language testing. A test will not be practical if too many resources are needed and too much time is spent on implementing the test. Oral tests are among the least practical types of testing considering the amount of time necessary for their implementation. According to Underhill (1987, p. 40) the duration of the oral exam should not be shorter than three minutes or longer than thirty minutes. Depending on the age of students, and their personal traits it will last between eight and twelve minutes for upper primary students while five to eight minutes is appropriate for younger students. With young language learners, the oral exam should not differ from a regular learning situation. Students should be prepared and introduced to the type of test and activity which they will be asked to carry out. Instructions should be clear and concise and depending on their level of foreign language knowledge can even be presented to them in their mother tongue. It is recommended that such assessment is carried out in a familiar space for the student and that the person assessing the young learner is the familiar teacher. In that case the teacher has two roles to fulfill, that of interlocutor and that of assessor. The obvious drawback to such an oral exam is its lack of reliability primarily because of the dual role that the teacher plays. In such cases, another person should take on the role of assessor. Among the various types of tasks used in oral exams, four stand out as being rather common in examinations. Those are interview, picture-based individual long run, discussion (paired discussion activities), role-play (Csepes & Egyud, n.d., p. 35). Conducting oral exams requires of a teacher to be very skilled in order to be able to reliably assess students’ oral skills. Depending on the type of oral exam (interview, individual long turn, role-play, discussion) guidelines have been developed in order to avoid possible pitfalls in the oral exam. The following is a list of some of the guidelines on how to develop and carry out an oral exam. Such general guidelines should however be used with caution keeping in mind the age of the learners, their cognitive and affective abilities, and their level of language knowledge.

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