Variation in the Use and Norms of English Verb Forms: A Study of Finnish University Students and Teachers

Tutkimustuotos: OpinnäyteVäitöskirjaMonografia


This study focuses on variation in Finnish university students’ use of English verb forms and teachers’ assessment of such use. The goal of the study was to identify the nature and extent of variation in both students’ responses and teachers’ assessment of these responses. The study demonstrates that there is extensive variation in both students’ use of English verb forms and in teachers’ assessment of the forms. The data consist of students’ responses to a fill-in-the-gap test. The study comprised 319 students attending English courses at three Finnish universities in 2003-2004. In addition, 13 English language teachers at the University of Helsinki evaluated the level of acceptability of the students’ responses. The study was conducted by drafting a list of all the suggested answers and asking teachers of English to rate the answers with a four-point scale. After this, the responses were analysed with different levels of strictness. The criteria for this depended on how many teachers were required to judge an answer successful. The results indicate that the level of expected teacher consensus radically affected the results. The criteria applied in assessment have a critical impact on the impression created of the students’ proficiency. The range of variation among teachers mainly resulted from their different interpretations of event time and their reactions to spelling errors and to providing unconventional tense or aspect. Finnish, American and British teachers of English had negligible differences at the group level: the differences were caused by the individual norms the teachers followed. Reliance on only one teacher’s assessment of a student’s performance may create arbitrary results, and more teachers are needed for reliable evaluation, at least for high-stakes purposes. The results also indicate that although some students are skilful at providing the expected verb forms, many students struggle with the provision of any forms beyond the simple past. It seems that investment in communicative teaching practices, although beneficial for promoting students’ fluency in English, does not assist them in their attempts at greater accuracy. Some further attention to grammar would provide students with more options to express their message accurately, proficiently, meaningfully and intelligibly. Of the background factors, increased exposure to and use of English or additional study did not influence students’ skills in the use of English verb forms. Regardingschool and matriculation examination marks, only high marks predicted good performance in the test, while marks in the middle and low end of the spectrum were not reliable indicators of students’ ability to provide verb forms accurately. The findings imply that researchers, raters and teachers need to become more aware of the limitations of reliance on intuition alone in evaluating students’ language skills. Some parts of language use do not readily bend to existing norms. The degree to which teachers are likely to accept unexpected forms significantly contributes to how learners are treated in testing situations. While it is useful to attempt to harmonise testing practices, it is also important to acknowledge the fact that there is variation both in learners’ use of English and in teachers’ assessment of such use.
Myöntävä instituutio
  • Helsingin yliopisto
  • Nevalainen, Terttu, Valvoja
  • Palander-Collin, Minna, Valvoja
Myöntöpäivämäärä29 toukok. 2019
Painoksen ISBN978-951-51-5223-7
Sähköinen ISBN978-951-51-5224-4
TilaJulkaistu - 29 toukok. 2019
OKM-julkaisutyyppiG4 Tohtorinväitöskirja (monografia)


  • 6121 Kielitieteet
  • 516 Kasvatustieteet

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