Amongst the many disruptions caused by the covid-19 pandemic has been the closure of IELTS test centres and widespread postponement of IELTS tests. For most students, schools and universities this has brought the academic application process to a halt — but not for all. Brunel University, UK normally uses IELTS to assess applicants’ English level. Several tests were scheduled in March for candidates in China. When these were cancelled, rather than disrupt their students further, Brunel improvised and adapted by moving rapidly to online testing.
The online alternative that was chosen was the Dynamic Placement Test (DPT) — a 30-minute, adaptive three-skills English placement test that could be set up and deployed quickly. Content created by telc Language Tests (the EU’s language testing specialist) ensures a high level of accuracy and reliability, while a solid technical infrastructure makes it possible to run the test anywhere, on the candidates’ own devices. Ms Yodi Yu, China Recruitment Manager at Brunel, says “as the administrator, the system is clear and allows me to check which students are doing the test, which ones have completed it, and immediately check the result”. By adapting existing resources and using technology, Brunel University has been able to test applicants accurately and reliably in the safety of their own homes.
For Brunel’s purposes, DPT would be replacing IELTS — a comprehensive, 3-hour examination — so modifications were made to the test set-up and execution. Firstly, the test (which assesses Reading, Listening and Language Elements) would be supplemented by a 40-minute writing task and a 5-minute online interview to provide a more holistic overview of the candidates’ language ability. Secondly, the test would be invigilated remotely.
Atlas English, provider of DPT to Brunel, assisted with the initial set-up by importing students’ details, creating accounts, and scheduling tests. Students were made aware of the test in advance and that it would take place in a different format to IELTS.
- Students were scheduled into two test groups and informed of test days.
- An automated welcome email was sent out to candidates the day before the test with login details and access instructions.
- Students with unreliable internet connections were advised to access the offline version of the test (explained further below).
- Test-takers were divided between three invigilators who monitored the students over Zoom (explained further below).
- Ms Yodi Yu, the administrator, used the Admin Panel to monitor the tests real-time and access results and certificates once they were complete.
- Before and after DPT, teachers conducted the productive skills tasks and collated all data for an overall score per candidate.
As a high-stakes test conducted in lieu of IELTS, security and invigilation were key considerations. There are features built into DPT to detect and prevent cheating, including an anomaly tracker and the nature of the question types. However, as the test would be conducted remotely, an added level of security was added to ensure the candidates were the ones taking the test. Test administrators at Brunel split the test-takers into groups of seven and used Zoom (video-conferencing software) to invigilate them while they took the test.
Reflection and Advice
Looking back at the first few rounds of pilot tests, Yodi shares her experience of what went well and key learning points that can help future iterations.
The first piece of advice addresses internet connectivity issues. Some candidates in the first test group with unstable internet connections ran into audio issues with the listening questions. Yodi addressed this with later test groups by having them run the offline version of the test. The offline version downloads test content before the test begins and uploads responses automatically once an internet connection becomes available – and thus does not require an active internet connection while the test is taking place. “I would suggest that you let the students download the test at least one day before the test starts,” says Yodi.
Secondly, she suggests sharing lots of information on the test with candidates beforehand — especially with regard to the question types. This is to give them time to adjust and prepare, as it is “quite different from the IELTS” that the students have been preparing for.
With regard to DPT’s Admin Panel, Yodi found it “easy to use”. The team at Atlas English provided support in setting up student accounts, but she found the system intuitive: easy to sign in, navigate the Admin Panel, and monitor the students’ results herself.
The Dynamic Placement Test is very different from the IELTS — both in form and in function — and adapting it for this purpose did present challenges. However, by flexibly reacting to changes and taking advantage of available resources and technologies, Brunel was able to test applicants safely, reliably and quickly.
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