Listening Comprehension Tests
An effective way of developing the listening skill is through the provision of carefully selected practice material. Such material is many ways similar to that used for testing listening comprehension. Although the auditory skills are closely linked to the oral skills in normal speech situations, it many sometimes be useful to separate the two skills for teaching and testing, since it is possible to develop listening ability much beyond the range of speaking and writing ability if the practice material is not dependent on spoken responses and written exercises.
What is the significance of these features for testing purpose?
Firstly, the ability to distinguish between phonemes, however important, does not in itself imply an ability to understand verbal messages. Moreover, occasional confusion over selected pairs of phonemes does not matter to greatly because in real life situations listeners are able to use contextual clues to interpret what they hear. Although listeners rely on all the phonological clues present, they can often afford to miss some of them.
Secondly, impromptu speech is usually easier to understand than carefully prepared (written) material when the letter is read aloud. Writer tests generally omit many of the features of redundancy and impart information at a much higher rate than normal speech does. Consequently and rephrasing them when writing material for aural test. The length of the segments in each breath group should be limited during delivery, for the longer the segment the greater the amount of information and the greater the strain on the auditory memory. The pauses at the end of each segment should also be lengthened to compensate for the lack of redundant features.
For purposes of convenience, auditory tests are divided here into two broad categories :
1. Tests of phoneme discrimination and of sensitivity to stress and intonation.
2. Tests of listening comprehension.
A. Phoneme Discrimination Tests.
This type of discrimination test consists of a picture, accompanied by three of four words spoken by the examiner in person or on tape.
The testes hear :
1. a. pin b. pen c. pair d. pain
2. a. shark b. sock c. sack d. shock
3. a. thin b. tin c. fin d. din
After each group of four words the testes write the letter of the most appropriate word for that picture. For example :
1. a 2. b 3. b
The testes hear three sentences and have to indicate which sentences are the same and which are different. Example :
1. a. There’s a bend in the middle of the road
b. There’s a bend in the middle of the road
c. There’s a band in the middle of the road
a. In each of these items one word is given on tape while three or four words are printed in the answer booklet. The testes are required to choose the written word which corresponds to the spoken word. Example :
1. Spoken : den
Written: a. ten b. den c. ben d. pen
b. This type of item is similar to the previous one : this time, however, the words spoken by the tester occur in sentences. The four options may then be either written or spoken.
1. Spoken : I’ll thread it for you
Written or spoken : a. thread b. tread
c. threat d. dread
c. This item type is similar to type 3(a) : one word is spoken by the tester (preferably twice). However, instead of a choice of four words, testes have in front of them a choice of four definitions. They have thus to select the correct definition for the word they hear.
1. Spoken : cot – cot
Written : a. stopped and held
b. a baby’s bed
c. pulled by horses
d. a small pet animal covered with fur
Each individual test item in all the types described must be kept fairly simple. Obscure lexical items should be avoided. This may seem to be a simple enough principle to observe, but the avoidance of difficult lexical items frequently makes it impossible to test all the sound contrast that need to be included in the test. For example : the contrasts shark, sock, sack, shock would not suitable for inclusion in a test intended for elementary learners of English.
Much of the material in such tests in unfortunately very artificial differing greatly from spontaneous speech. Frequently there is a tendency for the tester to adopt a certain tone pattern and rhythm which may be a source of irritation to the listeners or affect their concentration. However, if the tester changes pitch, this will only confuse the listener. Thus, the tester must attempt to pronounce every syllable using the same stress and pitch patterns.
B. Tests of Stress and Intonation
The following item type is designed to test the ability to recognize word stress or sentence stress. The testes listen to a sentence (usually spoken on tape) and are required to indicate the syllable which carries the main stress of the whole structure. They show main stress by putting a cross in the brackets under the appropriate syllable.
Example : Spoken : I’ve just given THREE books to Bill
Written : I’ve just given three books to Bill
( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) (X) ( ) ( ) ( )
C. Statements and dialogue
These items are designed to measure how well students can understand short samples of speech and deal with a variety of signals on the lexical and grammatical levels of phonology. They are very suitable for use in tests administered in the language laboratory but they do not resemble natural discourse. The spontaneity, redundancy, hesitations, false starts and ungrammatical forms, all of which constitute such an important part of real life speech, are generally absent from these types of items simply because they have been prepared primarily as written language to be read aloud.
This item type may be included in a test of grammar, a test of reading comprehension or a test of listening comprehension, depending on whether the item is written or spoken. It tests the ability to understand both the grammatical and lexical features of a short utterance. The testes hear a statement (usually on tape) and then choose the best option from four written paraphrases.
Spoken : I wish you’d done it when i told you
Written : a. I told you and you did it then
b. I didn’t tell you but you did it then
c. I told you but you didn’t do it then
d. I didn’t tell you and you didn’t do it then
D. Testing Comprehension Through Visual Materials
Most of the item types in this section are more appropriate for the elementary stages of learning English. They are, however, preferable to discrimination items previously discussed as they involve the testing of grammar and lexis through phonology. Pictures, maps and diagrams can be used effectively for testing such skills, thereby making the testes performance less dependent on other skills ( e.g. speaking, vocabulary and reading).
In this item type a picture is used in conjunction with spoken statements. The statements are about the picture but some are correct and others incorrect. The testes have to pick out the true (i.e. correct) statements and write T (or put a tick √) at the side of the appropriate numbers. They write F (or put a cross X) at the side of the numbers of the false (i.e. incorrect) statements.
1. The lorry’s on the left of the motorcyclist.
2. The car’s travelling in the same direction.
3. A dog’s running in front of thr car.
4. A little girl’s running after her mother.
5. She’s holding a doll.
Simple diagrams (consisting of lines, squares, rectangles, circles and triangles) can be drawn to function as options in a test of elementary comprehension. Illustrations of this nature lend themselves in particular to testing such grammatical features as comparison, prepositions and determiners.
1. A : Look ! What’s that inside the square?
B : It’s a white circle.
2. A : Is that a black circle?
B : Whereabouts?
A : Above the square.
B : Yes, it is. It’s A black circle above the square.
All kinds of the shapes and forms can be used to test listening comprehension. The following example illustrates how and understanding of complex structure can be tested in this way. However, there is often a temptation for the test writer to be too clever and set an item testing intelligence (or mental agility) rather than language acquisition.
E. Understanding Talks and Lectures
The ability to understand both informal talks and formal lectures is an important skill for students studying subjects in the medium of English at intermediate and advanced levels.
Testes listen to a short talk and select the correct answer about the talk.
Spoken : There’s a marked tendency for most developed countries to grow steadily noise each year. This continually increasing amount of noise is uncomfortable and, what is more important, can affect our health. The noise of machines, heavy traffic and aero planes constitutes perhaps the most serious threat to public health. Such noise can interfere with our ability to converse, it can disturb our sleep, and it can quickly make us become nervous wrecks. A loud blast or an explosion may even cause damage to our hearing. Bit there’s another danger – just as great. This is the gradual damage which may be caused if we‘re continually exposed to noise over several years. Such exposure to noise can undermine our health – as well as our performance and efficiency. Fortunately, technology is progressing at a very rapid rate. Some manufacturers are now designing new silencing mechanisms in their products, and planning experts are even beginning to plan cities according to sound zones.
Written : Only one of the following statements about the talk you have just heard is correct. Put a circle round the letter next to the correct statement.
A. Modern technology is now making towns in developing countries free of loud noise.
B. The increase in noise is a problem which cannot yet be solved by modern technology.
C. Gradual noise over a long period may have just as harmful an effect as loud or sudden noise.
D. There is no real solution the problem of increasing noise in modern life.