“How do you rate?” Collaboratively Developing Oral Interviews in English Exemption Tests at the University of Helsinki

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Exemption testing constitutes a small but significant element of teachers’ workloads at the University of Helsinki Language Centre. Offering exemption from compulsory courses responds to student needs as students increasingly acquire the required English level outside language classrooms, both informally and non-formally (Karjalainen & Laulajainen 2011). With this in mind, a portfolio testing system was introduced in 2010-2011 in several faculties and we conducted an exemption testing project in order to examine and develop our current practices. This article focuses on our work on the assessment of oral skills, which is almost exclusively based on interview-style tests. This work included teachers participating in a workshop with an accompanying pre-workshop task. The aims were to share assessment practices and procedures and to work toward greater standardisation in both rating and testing focus. The task consisted of a reflection on experience of interviewing and oral assessment and / or assessment of an exemption test interview. In the workshop, groups of teachers were asked to rate student performance in an exemption test and to make explicit the processes used to reach their decision. They also used CEFR oral assessment grids to express their ratings and discussed the grids’ usefulness. Each group produced a poster visualizing their ratings and processes. In the article, we present the groups’ findings and examine the workshop in the context of our exemption testing project. The group rating task revealed a high degree of consensus on CEFR levels, despite some variation in assessment focuses. We also discuss the benefits of this workshop activity and identify future directions for the development of oral testing at our Language Centre. In offering an example of a bottom-up approach to the development of assessment procedure, the article suggests ways in which testers working on a small scale in an institutional context can respond to existing theory in developing reliability in oral tests.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPapers from the 26th Communication Skills Workshop : Identity Explored: Language Centre, Language Professional, Language Teacher, Language Learner
EditorsFergal Bradley, Pia Lappalainen, Eva Braidwood
Number of pages15
Place of PublicationHelsinki
PublisherUniversity of Helsinki, Language Centre
Publication date17 Sep 2015
Article number6
ISBN (Electronic)978-951-51-1495-2
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sep 2015
MoE publication typeA3 Book chapter

Publication series

NameLanguage Centre Publications
PublisherUniversity of Helsinki Language Centre
ISSN (Electronic)1797-9269

Fields of Science

  • 6121 Languages

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