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How t o Write a Reliable Listening Comprehension Test ?. Zhenlin Qiao Defense Language Institute April 16, 2009. Characteristics of oral communication Aspects of listening comprehension Defining the construct Approaches to assess listening Selecting text Creating tasks

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Zhenlin Qiao Defense Language Institute April 16, 2009

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How to Write a Reliable Listening Comprehension Test?

Zhenlin Qiao

Defense Language Institute

April 16, 2009

Characteristics of oral communication

Aspects of listening comprehension

Defining the construct

Approaches to assess listening

Selecting text

Creating tasks

Properties of a good test

Toward a Better Listening Comprehension Test

Encoded in the form of sound, acoustic signal

Linear and takes place in real time with no chance to review

Linguistically different from written language

Phonological modification

Stress and intonation to indicate clausal boundaries

Redundancy, hesitation, accent

Various speech rate

Discourse structure

Shared knowledge

Non-verbal signals

Characteristics of Oral Communication

Listening comprehension is an active construction of meaning, and that this is done by applying knowledge to the incoming sound.

(Buck, 2001)

Aspects of Listening Comprehension

Declarative knowledge(Anderson, 1976)

Procedural knowledge(Anderson, 1976)

Spreading activation(Cole and Jakimik, 1980)

Processing idea unit(Sachs, 1967)

Processing connected discourse/cohesion

(Halliday and Hasan, 1976)

Applying the knowledge of language


- propositional inference (Hildyardand Olson, 1978)

- enabling inference (Hildyardand Olson, 1978)

- pragmatic inference (Hildyardand Olson, 1978)

- bridging inference(Haviland and Clark 1974)

- elaborative inference

Script theory (Schank and Abelson, 1977)

Schemata (Rumelhart and Ortony, 1977;Rumelhart, 1980)

Using world knowledge

Sociolinguistic appropriacy (Hymes, 1972)

Pragmatic interpretation (Leech, 1983)

Speech acts (Austin, 1962; Searle, 1969)

Grice’s Maxim (Grice, 1975):

- maxim of quantity

- maxim of quality

- maxim of relation

- maxim of manner

Principles of analogy and minimal change (Brown and Yule, 1983)

The cognitive environment (Sperber and Wilson, 1986

The context of communication

The flow chart approach (Nagle and Sanders, 1986)

1) echoic memory

2) working memory

3) long-term memory

Mental modes: there are 3 main ways in which texts can be represented mentally (Johnson-Laird, 1983;1985):

1) as proposition

2) as mental models

3) or as image

Building mental representations of meaning

The thing we are trying to measure is called construct (Buck, 2002).

Construct validity is to make a test somehow measures that construct (Buck, 2002).

Messic(1989, 1994):

- construct-underrepresention

- construct-irrelevant variance

Defining the Construct

General language proficiency

Assessing achievement

Diagnostic testing

Purpose of assessing listening comprehension

Collaborative or non-collaborative listening

Differing interpretations of texts

Intervening variables

Available resources

Practical constraints

Competence-based construct

Task-based construct

A construct based on the interaction between competence and task

A default listening construct

Developing the construct


The knowledge, skills and abilities we think test takers should have.

Knowledge here refers to procedural knowledge- the ability to apply the knowledge in efficient and automatic language processing.

Language competence

Strategic competence

Competence-based construct

Grammatical knowledge

Discourse knowledge

Pragmatic knowledge

Sociolinguistic knowledge

Language competence

Cognitive strategies

- comprehension processes

- storing and memory processes

- using and retrieval processes

Metacongnitive strategies

- assessing the situation

- monitoring

- self-evaluating

- self-testing

Strategic competence

Discrete-point approach

(Lado, 1961)

Integrative approach

(Oller, 1979)

Communicative approach

(Caroll, 1972)

Approaches to Assess Listening

Providing suitable texts

- assimilated/authentic

- topics

- levels of difficulty

Ensuring good quality sound

- speech rate

- background noise

Selecting Text

Task Characteristics:

Setting (place)/time of day

Test rubric

- instruction

- structure

- time allotment

- scoring

Creating Tasks

Format (long/short texts)

Language of input

Topical knowledge

a. use tasks that depend on knowledge that everyone has;

b. use tasks that depend on knowledge that no one has,

c. use tasks that depend on knowledge that has been provided in the test

Input characteristics

Retention tasks

Conversation tasks

Self-evident comprehension tasks (true/false)

Picture tasks

Body movement tasks

Tasks for testing understanding of literal meanings

Understanding gist

General passage comprehension

Information transfer tasks (e.g. following direction on a map; filling in information in a grid)

Tasks for going beyond local literal meanings

Short answer/open-ended



Inference question:

The main problem is that it is very difficult to say with certainty that any inference is completely wrong.

Question types

Usefulnessincorporates the test’s measurement properties, as well as the social consequences of test use and the practicality of the test for its particular purpose.

It is a function of six properties: reliability, construct validity, authenticity, interactiveness, impact and practicality.

(Bachman and Palmer, 1996)

Properties of a Good Test

It is concerned with how accurately the test measures.

We should always get the same result testing the same person in the same situation.

The more important the decision based on the test, the more reliable the test needs to be.


It is the extent to which the test measures the right construct.

Construct validity






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