Digital assessment: Flexibility and the CEFR

by | 14 April 2021

Sean McDonald (left) and Thom Jones (right) delivering their talk at the Dynamic Placement Test webinar.

As anyone who has ever played a computer game can tell you, being a great driver in-game is not an indication that you should be put behind the wheel of a real car. Our skills are not always transferable to real life – a weekend playing Mario Kart does not mean automatic success on the freeway!

How does this relate to language education? We have all met people who have achieved a high test score in a language, but are then unable to order a coffee in that same language. Being able to dissect the poetry of Lamartine is of no great use when trying to buy fish in modern day Paris. A rarified academic language approach to specific lexical groups is no preparation for the world of work.

In a global society where English is Lingua Franca and not the possession of any one culture, should we even bother with trying to teach/learn in this specific academic style anymore? Surely what we should be assessing and measuring is what learners can do in a real life setting.

Enter the CEFR. The CEFR is valuable as a way of measuring the ‘currency’ of testing. The currency here is an indication of what that test will grant the test taker access to: higher studies? Higher salary? Higher professional position? Similar to real-world currencies, the CEFR is widely used, understood and, hence, valuable. As a shorthand, the fact that it is built on ‘can do’ statements gives everyone concrete proof of what a test taker can do at each level. So, how can we test using the CEFR efficiently and effectively? After all, the pandemic has made the increasingly confused parameters demarcating our online lives and face-to-face interactions even less clear.

Digital testing is clearly the key, but you may still be sceptical — can we test digitally? Is it robust? Secure? Relevant? Will it replace paper-based testing? Is a mile on a treadmill less than a mile on a hike? Digital assessment, much like online learning, looks very different in 2021. Significantly more people have done it and accepted it, for one thing. But it is not something new. Some people have been at the forefront for a long time. The Dynamic Placement Test (DPT) and the lovely people at Clarity came through the telc door years ago, like they were stepping from a spacecraft, with their tech and their visions of the future of testing. And they were not wrong.

Partnering the ‘can do’ statements of the CEFR with the technology of DPT has been game changing for efficiency and flexibility of online testing. We’re not suggesting DPT is the best online testing tool ever created. Merely that it’s the best for what it does: accurate assessment, with direct classroom wash-back to celebrate what students can do, and not punish them for what they can’t do. It gives an immediate answer that you can trust.

But the expert you need to ask is: you. You know what you need better than anyone, what will work best in your context. So have a look, see what you think:

The thoughts in this post are based on a presentation delivered by Sean McDonald and Thom Jones at the Dynamic Placement Test webinar. If you wish to know more about the Dynamic Placement Test or any of our webinars, follow our Linkedin page here or contact

Further reading

Sean McDonald, Project Manager English Assessment, telc Language Tests

Sean McDonald, Project Manager English Assessment, telc Language Tests