Standardized Language Proficiency Tests in Higher Education

Living reference work entry
Part of the Springer International Handbooks of Education book series (SIHE)


In higher education, standardized academic language proficiency test scores are often used for multiple purposes, including admissions of international students to degree programs and identification of students’ post-entry language support needs. In this chapter, issues surrounding the use of high-stakes standardized academic language proficiency tests for making decisions about international English as a second language (ESL) students are explored. Specifically, (a) stakeholders’ views and knowledge about standardized academic language proficiency tests, (b) predictive validity of standardized academic language proficiency tests for academic success, (c) the use of standardized language test scores for placement into language support courses, and (d) the use of locally developed tests for placement into language support courses rather than standardized tests are discussed. Based on the discussion, suggestions for the appropriate use of standardized language test scores for making admissions and placement decisions are provided.


Standardized language tests Admissions ESL placement Higher education 


  1. Arrigoni E, Clark V (2015) Investigating the appropriateness of IELTS cut-off scores for admissions and placement decisions at an English-medium university in Egypt. IELTS Res Rep Online Ser 3:1–29Google Scholar
  2. Bachman L, Palmer A (2010) Language assessment in practice. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  3. Baker B (2016) Language assessment literacy as professional competence: the case of Canadian admissions decision makers. Can J Appl Linguist 19(1):63–83Google Scholar
  4. Baker B, Tsushima R, Wang S (2014) Investigating language assessment literacy: collaboration between assessment specialists and Canadian university admissions officers. Lang Learn High Educ 4(1):137–157Google Scholar
  5. Bridgeman B, Cho Y, DiPietro S (2016) Predicting grades from an English language assessment: the importance of peeling the onion. Lang Test 33(3):307–318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Carr NT (2011) Designing and analyzing language tests. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  7. Cheng L, Fox J (2008) Towards a better understanding of academic acculturation: second language students in Canadian universities. Can Mod Lang Rev 65(2):307–333CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cheng L, Fox J (2017) Assessment in the language classroom: teachers supporting student learning. Palgrave Macmillan, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cho Y, Bridgeman B (2012) Relationship of TOEFL iBT scores to academic performance: some evidence from American universities. Lang Test 29:421–444CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Coleman DS, Starfield S, Hagan A (2003) The attitudes of IELTS stakeholders: student and staff perceptions of IELTS in Australia, UK and Chinese tertiary institutions. IELTS Res Rep Ser 4:161–235Google Scholar
  11. Davies A, Brown A, Elder C, Hill K, Lumley T, McNamara T (1999) Dictionary of language testing. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  12. Dooey P, Oliver R (2002) An investigation into the predictive validity of the IELTS test as an indicator of future academic success. Prospects 17(1):36–54Google Scholar
  13. Fox J (2004) Test decisions over time: tracking validity. Lang Test 21(4):437–465CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fox J (2009) Moderating top-down policy impact and supporting EAP curricular renewal: exploring the potential of diagnostic assessment. J Engl Acad Purp 8(1):26–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fox J, Cheng L, Zumbo BD (2014) Do they make a difference? The impact of english language programs on second language students in Canadian Universities. TESOL Q 48(1):57–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fulcher G (1997) An English language placement test: issues in reliability and validity. Lang Test 14(2):113–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ginther A, Elder C (2014) A comparative investigation into understandings and uses of the English Language Testing Service (Academic) Test, and the Pearson Test of English for Graduate Admissions in the United States and Australia: a case study of two university contexts. TOEFL iBT Research Report 24. Educational Testing Service, New JerseyGoogle Scholar
  18. Ginther A, Yan X (2017) Interpreting the relationships between TOEFL iBT scores and GPA: language proficiency, policy, and profiles. Lang Test. Scholar
  19. Green A (2012) Placement testing. In: Coombe C, O’Sullivan B, Davidson P, Stoynoff S (eds) The Cambridge guide to language assessment. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 164–170Google Scholar
  20. Harsch C, Ushioda E, Ladroue C (2017) Investigating the predictive validity of TOEFL iBT test scores and their use in informing policy in a United Kingdom university setting. TOEFL iBT Research Report 30. Educational Testing Service, New JerseyGoogle Scholar
  21. Hyatt D, Brooks G (2009) Investigating stakeholders’ perceptions of IELTS as an entry requirement for higher education in the UK. IELTS Res Rep 10:17–68Google Scholar
  22. Inbar-Lourie O (2008) Constructing a language assessment knowledge base: a focus on language assessment courses. Lang Test 25(3):385–402CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Inbar-Lourie O (2013) Language assessment literacy. In: Chapelle CA (ed) The encyclopedia of applied linguistics. Blackwell, Oxford, pp 2923–2931Google Scholar
  24. Kerstjens M, Nery C (2000) Predictive validity in the IELTS test: a study of the relationship between IELTS scores and students’ subsequent academic performance. IELTS Res Rep 3:85–108Google Scholar
  25. Kokhan K (2012) Investigating the possibility of using TOEFL scores for university ESL decision-making: placement trends and effect of time lag. Lang Test 29(2):291–308CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lee YJ, Greene J (2007) The predictive validity of an ESL placement test: a mixed methods approach. J Mixed Methods Res 1(4):366–389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ling G, Wolf K M, Cho Y, Wang Y (2014) English-as-a-Second-Language Programs for Matriculated Students in the United States: an exploratory survey and some issues. ETS Research Report 14(11). Educational Testing Service, New JerseyGoogle Scholar
  28. Messick S (1996) Validity and washback in language testing. Lang Test 13:241–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. O’Loughlin K (2008) The use of IELTS for university selection in Australia: a case study. IELTS Res Rep 8:2–98Google Scholar
  30. O’Loughlin K (2011) The interpretation and use of proficiency test scores in university selection: how valid and ethical are they? Lang Assess Q 8:146–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. O’Loughlin K (2013) Developing the assessment literacy of university proficiency test users. Lang Test 30(3):363–380CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ockey GJ (2017) Approaches and challenges to assessing oral communication on Japanese entrance exams. JLTA J 20:3–14Google Scholar
  33. Pill J, Harding L (2013) Defining the language assessment literacy gap: evidence from a parliamentary inquiry. Lang Test 30(3):381–402CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Popham WJ (2004) Why assessment illiteracy is professional suicide. Educ Leadersh 62(1):82–83Google Scholar
  35. Rea-Dickins PR, Kiely R, Yu G (2007) Student identity, learning and progression: the affective and academic impact of IELTS on ‘successful’ candidates. IELTS Research Reports 7. British Council, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  36. Riazi M (2013) Concurrent and predictive validity of Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic). Papers in Language Testing and Assessment 2(2):1–27Google Scholar
  37. Taylor L (2009) Developing assessment literacy. Annu Rev Appl Linguist 29:21–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Taylor L (2013) Communicating the theory, practice and principles of language testing to test stakeholders: some reflections. Lang Test 30(3):403–412CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ushioda E, Harsch C (2011) Addressing the needs of international students with academic writing difficulties: pilot project 2010/11. Strand 2: examining the predictive validity of IELTS scores (internal report). Accessed 31 Jan 2018
  40. Winke P (2013) The effectiveness of interactive group orals for placement testing. In: McDonough K, Mackey A (eds) Second language interaction in diverse educational contexts. pp 247–268. John Benjamins, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Iowa State UniversityAmesUSA

Personalised recommendations