As with every language course you enroll in, you need to complete a placement test in order for the school to understand where you are with your language abilities and knowledge, and to place you into the right class. Having administered placement tests now and again at Kaplan, but more extensively at The English Studio, I had a fair idea of what to expect for my own placement test with the German Language School (GLS) in Berlin.
Once I paid for my course, I received a link for the test which needed to be completed online. My results would then be analysed by the teachers on their end. The test was broken up into three main areas: a self-assessment survey, a test for reading, listening, vocabulary and grammar, and separate one-to-one interview via Zoom for the speaking test.
The results and feedback I gave for the self-assessment survey informed the level of test I would take for each system or skill. The questions, for instance, ‘Can you read a newspaper comfortably’, were yes and no questions, which sometimes gave me the level I didn’t want, for example, a B1 reading test! Argh! I would have preferred, perhaps, a selection of answers to choose from – strongly agree to strongly disagree, or 1 to 10. Either way, it wasn’t a big problem as I knew what kind of level I was at for each skill, so I could have just fed that to the school if I got a level I really didn’t want to be in. I got higher scores in my reading, vocabulary and grammar skills than my speaking and listening, as is always the case for most learners, so I told the school that I wanted to be in an advanced beginner class and not a pre-intermediate one as the data had revealed.
The teacher for my speaking test felt the same, too. I took this test an hour before my course started. I knew beforehand what kind of questions would have come up:
- What is your name?
- Where are you from?
- Do you work or study?
- Why are you learning German?
- Why did you choose this course?
- What do you want to improve on this course?..
- …and any questions based on my answers.
Even with some of my answers for these prepared, it all fell out of my brain when it was time to speak. I felt so awkward being on the other side of the fence. I felt bad for the teacher as well as I could only give her some of the answers properly. I did produce an example of present perfect, but, other than that, I would have loved to have given it another stab.
So, what have I learned that I need to remember when considering my own students’ feelings towards placement tests?
Having now done one I can officially confirm that they are nerve-wracking experiences, especially the speaking tests. The speaking component can demotivate you before you have even reached the classroom door, especially if you were not prepared for a reality check on your productive abilities. To counter this argument though, these tests, particularly with the speaking, as was the case for me, could be a student’s first conversation with a native speaker or in their L2, and their first exposure to authentic or academic texts; it’s exciting stuff. You also want to show off what you have learned previously to get some sort of vindication. It felt great when I was able to understand some of the materials used by a German school. It can really give you that boost you need before you start the course.
I will report back on my first week and let you know how I got on, and any skills or techniques that my teachers use that I can steal for my own practice.