University EAP pathway placement testing: scoring vocabulary test performance

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Roche, T & Harrington, M 2015, 'University EAP pathway placement testing: scoring vocabulary test performance', paper presented to the fourth combined conference of the Applied Linguistics Association of Australia (ALAA), the Applied Linguistics Association of New Zealand (ALANZ) and Association for Language Testing and Assessment of Australia and New Zealand (ALTAANZ), Adelaide, SA, 30 November -2 December.

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This paper examines an on-line test of vocabulary knowledge as a placement tool for assessing the academic English proficiency of students applying for English for Academic Purposes (EAP) pathways to award study at an Australian university. Vocabulary size and speed were measured in a Yes/No recognition test eliciting timed responses as to whether a presented word was known. Test items were drawn from a range of frequency levels, allowing vocabulary size to be measured. The timed Yes/No (TYN) test results were correlated with performance on an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) program entry placement test (assessing speaking, reading, writing and listening skills) and the again on end of semester achievement tests. The presentation compares the sensitivity of two versions of the test (covering different vocabulary frequency bands), and the four alternative methods for scoring the test responses examined in Mochida & Harrington (2006). Zero order correlations between vocabulary measures and tests ranged between r = .3 - .5 depending on test version and scoring method, and a hierarchical regression analysis showed that both vocabulary size and speed measure contribute unique amounts of variance in predicting test outcomes. Of particular interest was how well the vocabulary scores predicted performance by learners with sufficient English to enter into direct entry EAP pathway to university programs (IELTS 5.5). The potential use of the Yes/No recognition test as a placement tool for measuring EAP proficiency in pathway programs is discussed in terms of reliability, usability and cost-effectiveness.