Assessing student progress

Nailia Abdullina

Nailia Abdullina, a teacher at ITMO University in Russia took part in an impact study, using our Empower course materials, in order to help understand how effective the programme was in terms of assessment and progress.

The benefits of ongoing assessment are imminently clear to any language teacher: it makes progress towards the learning goals more tangible, reveals “weak links” and allows adjustment to the learning process to focus on improvement. On top of that, ongoing assessment has substantial motivational power, prompting learners to actively increase their learning efforts.

It is quite common that students show considerably better receptive ability (especially in reading), failing to produce spoken and written texts that comply with the requirements of their aspired level. This is often due to the fact that learners focus strongly on the content they are trying to express, rather than the language to be used. In order to shift that focus, I have found it helpful to target ongoing assessment at the main challenges learners face in language production.


In order to provide the learners with regular unit progress assessment within the limited guided learning hours we had, I found it helpful to give them use-of-English-orientated test tasks. For CEFR A1 and A2 this would include: correct spelling of the vocabulary items, as well as accuracy in structuring the language production. Written and oral prompts were presented for the students to put together complete utterances of various types. For CEFR B1 and higher, the main challenges are: using the appropriate range of grammar, vocabulary and discourse management. Separate tasks in vocabulary and grammar were offered, the latter in the form of the key word transformation task present in Cambridge ESOL examinations, and the former in the form of sentences read out by the teacher, accompanied by questions, the answers to which were the vocabulary items covered in the unit. These were followed by an interview-type speaking test for CEFR A1 and A2, and a collaborative speaking test task for CEFR B1 and higher. The students were encouraged to literally count the different level-appropriate words, grammar forms and transition language in order to increase their awareness of the level requirements.


The Cambridge English Empower course, used at my university, offers a whole range of ongoing assessment tools that can be effectively used both by the teacher and the learners to track the progress across the four language skills with reference to the specific unit content.  As the university’s summative assessment schedule comprises four “modules” which correspond to two or three Cambridge English Empower units being covered, we made use of a combination of the Empower Unit Progress Test materials to assess the learners’ linguistic achievement after each “module”. For the written part of the exams taken at the end of the second year and the middle of the third year, the Empower End-of-course and Mid-course Competency Test materials are usually used.

Statistically, learners increase their test results from 30-40% at the outset, to 55-65% after just three or four tests – as they grow to realise what is being tested. Also, conducting a revision session focused on the shared issues (usually, grammar or ambiguous vocabulary, such as “impressive” and “breathtaking”) is known to make the performance improve twofold with some students. One important aspect here is the opportunity for the students to pre-test their skills themselves, and it is certainly beneficial that the Empower course provides it in the form of Unit Progress Tests, and, especially, Unit Speaking Tests.

Find out about other institutions that took part in the Empower Impact Studies.

Craig Thaine
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