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    The Effect of Testing on Test Takers and Test Users (The Backwash Effect)


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    The Effect of Testing on Test Takers and Test Users (The Backwash Effect)

    Post by Admin on Thu Feb 19, 2009 12:44 pm

    The Effect of Testing on Test Takers and Test Users (The Backwash Effect)

    In the following short article , I am going to tackle
    the impact of testing on both test takers and test
    users, with special reference to the testing situation
    in Egypt.

    The impact of testing on teaching and learning is
    known as backwash (or washback). Backwash is assumed
    to have an impact on individuals, educational systems
    and societal systems.

    If the test contents and testing techniques are at
    variance with the objectives of the course, then there
    is likely to be harmful backwash. The proper
    relationship between teaching and testing is surely
    that of partnership. It is true that there may be
    occasions when teaching is good and appropriate and
    the testing is not.

    In the following sections, the impact of testing on
    individuals (test takers and users) will be
    investigated in more detail.

    The Impact of Testing on Test Takers (Students):

    A variety of individuals will be affected by a given
    test in any particular situation. Test takers
    (students) are most directly affected by the test.
    Students can be affected by three aspects of the
    testing procedure:

    the experience of taking and, in some cases, preparing
    for the test, the feedback they receive about their performance on
    the test, and the decisions that may be made about them on the basis of their test scores.

    In the case of public examinations, or standardized
    tests for nationally or internationally recognized
    qualifications, test takers may spend weeks preparing
    for the test. In Egypt, public examinations are used
    for selection and placement into higher levels of the
    school system or into colleges and universities.
    Consequently, teaching is usually focused on the
    syllabi of such examinations for up to several years
    before the actual tests are taken and the techniques
    needed for testing are practised in class.

    The General Secondary Certificate Examination in Egypt
    places very heavy demands on high school students
    because students' acceptance or non-acceptance into
    universities depends on the scores they obtain on this
    test. Therefore students work day and night preparing
    for this examination.

    The experience of taking the test itself can also have
    an impact on test takers. The test taker's topical
    knowledge can be affected if the test provides topical
    or cultural information that is new. Test takers'
    areas of language knowledge may also be affected by
    the test. For many test takers, the test can provide
    some confirmation or disconfirmation of their own
    perceptions of their language ability. The test taker
    may improve his/her language knowledge either while
    taking the test or from feedback received.

    The types of feedback test takers receive about their
    test performance are likely to affect them directly.
    Feedback must be relevant, complete and meaningful to
    the test taker. Feedback is almost always in the form
    of some sort of score. We need to consider additional
    types of feedback such as verbal description to help
    interpret test scores as well as verbal descriptions
    of the actual test tasks and the test taker's performance.

    Finally, the decisions that may be made about the test
    takers on the basis of their test scores may directly
    affect them in a number of ways. Acceptance or
    non-acceptance into an instructional program, and
    advancement or non-advancement from one course to
    another are examples of decisions that can have
    serious consequences for test takers.

    Impact on Teachers

    The second group of individuals who are directly
    affected by tests are teachers. Most teachers are
    familiar with the amount of influence testing can have
    on their instruction. If teachers have to use a
    specified test, they may find teaching to the test
    almost unavoidable. Teaching to the test usually
    implies doing something in teaching that may not be
    compatible with the values and goals of the
    instructional program. If teachers feel that what they
    teach is not relevant to the test (or vice versa) ,
    the test may have harmful backwash , or a negative
    impact on instruction.

    In Egypt, the ultimate goal of teaching English as a
    foreign language in Egyptian high schools is to enable
    students to use the language for purposes of
    communication, as well as for other academic purposes.
    However, because of the great significance of the
    General Secondary Education Certificate (GSEC)
    Examination, the main goal of most teachers of English
    is to prepare their students for this examination. The
    result is obvious to all. Language is no longer viewed
    as a means of communication. There is indeed a wide
    gap between the material taught to students and the
    final exam that evaluates their progress.
    Unfortunately, teachers view language in the same way
    they view biology or physics. They are not teaching
    the language. They are actually teaching about the

    In this situation, we should be able to bring about
    improvement in test procedures and instructional
    practices through the use of tests that incorporate or
    are compatible with what is believed to be principles
    of effective teaching and learning.

    Enhancing the Positive Impact of Testing:

    To enhance the positive impact of testing on test
    takers, the following classroom testing procedures
    should be avoided:

    using tests as punishment - for example, because no
    one did the homework,

    administering tests instead of giving instruction,

    using tests as the exclusive measure for grading,

    Testing material that was not taught,

    Returning tests to students without offering
    corrections or explanations,

    Using only one testing method,

    Giving tests that students did not know how to take,

    Taking too long in returning tests.

    The following classroom testing procedures have been
    found to be very effective in enhancing positive

    broadening the scope of what is included in assessment
    from tests alone to a variety of formal and informal
    assessment techniques,

    viewing assessment as an opportunity for meaningful
    interaction between teacher and student,

    judging students on the basis of the knowledge they
    have, rather than on what they do not know,

    using assessment measures intended to help learners to
    improve their skills,

    making sure that the criteria for success on an
    assessment task are made clear to the respondents,

    having students grades reflect their performance on a
    set of tests representing different assessment
    methods, rather than being based on just one measure,

    training the test takers in test-taking strategies if
    performance on the assessment task could benefit from
    such training,

    returning the evaluated tests promptly, and

    discussing the results in class or in individual

    In summary, in assessing the impact of test use, we
    must consider the characteristics of the particular
    testing situation in terms of the values and goals of
    the individuals affected and of the educational system
    and society, and of the potential consequence for all
    parties concerned. The notion of backwash in language
    testing includes the potential impact on test takers,
    on teaching and learning activities and on educational
    systems and society.


    Andrew D. Cohen. 1994. Assessing Language Ability in
    the Classroom. Heinle and Heinle Publishers.

    Lyle F. Bachman & Adrian S. Palmer. 1996. Language
    Testing in Practice. Oxford University Press

    W. James Popham, 1995. Classroom Assessment: What
    Teachers Need to Know. Allyn & Bacon.
    Essam Wahba

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