A Study into the Effects of Sentence Context in English Grammar Tests in Dutch Secondary Schools
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Earlier studies have noted a strong relationship between language testing and language learning, as the teaching method and the test method may be interrelating. Involvement of the students may be highly advantageous to language learning, so teachers should try to make this learning process as appealing as possible while retaining the students’ attention to the subject. Also, the relationship between language learning and language testing has been thoroughly investigated, and the term washback was coined to represent this relationship. If the positive effects of student involvement in language learning can be extended through washback, this involvement might be beneficial for language testing as well. However, studies into language testing have revealed that context might influence the test scores negatively. The present study was designed to determine the effect of sentence context on grammar test scores. It was hypothesised that sentence context would have a significant effect on test scores and the effect was expected to be negative if the sentence context involved the students more, and was therefore possibly more distracting. An experiment was conducted among 73 Dutch secondary school students, who were evenly divided into two groups. Both groups made a version of an English cloze deletion grammar test. The control group made a test (Y) which resembled the test format with which the students were most familiar. The other group made a test (X) which had been altered with the purpose of involving the students in the test. The test was followed by a questionnaire which goal was to assess the students’ perception of the tests’ difficulty and enjoyment rate. The results demonstrated that, although Y was made slightly better, the difference between the scores of both versions was not statistically significant. The questionnaire showed that the students tended to perceive X as more enjoyable but Y as less difficult. Y might have been made better because the sentence context did not distract the students. The difference can also be ascribed to the fact that the context of the sentences in Y was more similar to the assigned learning material than X. Further research might assess the effect of sentence context more adequately by making the control group independent of the learning material. It may also be helpful to determine the influence on the test scores of student involvement if the teaching method itself is also altered.