EFL/ESL University Listening Test Design, Writing, Editing, and Recording – Do’s and Don’ts

I went today to do my first listening test recording in China for my university. I think I’ve probably done 50+ listening test recordings over the past six years I’ve been teaching, and I’d like to think I’ve accumulated a bit of useful experience and ideas about how things should be done.

As a native English speaking instructor I always struggle to find ways to integrate myself into the L2 educational environment–and in China it’s no different than in South Korea in terms of trying to remind teachers to give me the information I NEED TO KNOW, and to keep me in the communication loop with all the parties that are involved in the process of designing, writing, editing, recording, and then editing and checking the final product.

If you’re new to EFL/ESL teaching, I strongly recommend you purchase a good book on test design.  There are three titles that I’ve come across that are really good.

Assessing Speaking by Sari Luoma. Cambridge Language Assessment Series, 2004

Testing Second Language Speaking by Glenn Fulcher. General Editor: C. N. Candlin. Applied Linguistics and Language Study. Pearson Education Limited, 2003

Testing for Language Teachers, Second Edition by Arthur Hughes. Cambridge Language Teaching Library Cambridge, 2002

Of the three books, I’d recommend the 3rd title, Testing for Language Teachers, Second Edition, as the most useful book for any type of test you might have to make for the four language skills. For new EFL/ESL teachers who are beginning a career this book is an invaluable resource.

Yet at the same time the EFL/ESL training, experience, and methodology books we have can cause us unnecessary stress when it comes to designing tests, writing them, and then (in the case of listening tests) doing the recordings.  Knowing how something should be done, or can be done, and then seeing first hand how untrained, inexperienced, incompetent, or working under poor conditions teachers ACTUALLY produce tests can be . . . ahem, unsettling.

Depending on your personality this may result in anything from a shrug, and saying “Okay, let’s get on with it,” to banging your head into a brick wall as you intermittently do shots of the cheap local libations (not, of course, that I’ve ever done that, lol).

Before I (finally) get to some Do’s and Don’ts, let me say one final thing: ‘professionalism’ is a huge cultural difference.

Let me say that one more time: PROFESSIONALISM is a cultural difference.

I’ll write about this topic in depth some other time, but for now suffice it to say that during today’s recording session I kept hearing other university instructors say to me, “You’re so professional.”  And it made me want to ‘scream’ a wee bit because I was biting my tongue from pointing out all the small issues I kept seeing crop up in the process for the listening test recording we were doing, and the bigger issues I wanted to say something about but didn’t because there was no time to do anything about them, nor did the general education culture and setting allow for the proper rehearsing and language pronunciation issues that kept appearing during the recording session I had with my Chinese English teacher partner.

It’s definitely a blessing and a curse to be seen by other teachers, and your supervisors, as being a ‘professional teacher’–especially when the behaviors or actions they’re commenting on are, in my mind anyways, things that EFL/ESL professional career teachers should do WITHOUT THINKING . . . anyways, back to the topic at hand.

Do’s . . .

1. Ask your university contact person for their cell phone and email, and then ask who the other people are that are involved in the test recording process and production line. (Oh yeah, and ask them if they have YOUR cell phone and email info–ask them to READ IT TO YOU, lol.  Sometimes ‘loss of face’ will prevent a teacher from admitting to you that they lost your info, or forgot it, or whatever is going on–and then later when they need to tell you something they can’t because they don’t have your contact info.)

2.  Ask your university contact person the following explicit questions.

a) Who will approve the listening script and questions?

b) Who will be my partner for the listening recording?

c) Who is available to edit the written script and questions for the listening test?

NOTE: Then ask again for the contact information for these people to keep everyone involved in the communication loop.

3. Do use the ‘spell and grammar’ check in MS WORD.

4. Do SPEAK OUT LOUD anything and everything that will be recorded.  My senior year high school English teacher taught me perhaps the most valuable editing trick is to read out loud the text because unnatural sounding language is easier to detect and revise, and errors that you missed while only reading also sometimes get caught by the ear when the eye misses it.

5. Do PRACTICE and REHEARSE the text to be recorded before you get into the recording studio (IF POSSIBLE–it’s not always possible).

6. Do PRACTICE and REHEARSE with your partner, and any other speakers involved, before you get into the recording studio if possible.  Often, if your partner is a L2 (non native English speaker) there are words they do not know  how to pronounce, sentences with difficult stress patterns, and vocabulary or cultural items that they do not know.  You can help them practice whatever they need to BEFORE getting into the recording studio where it’s not a good time to have to stop and start, stop and start, because they are making errors that cannot be used on a recording for testing purposes.

7.  Do make sure you have in your possession a copy of the master text to be used for the recording session.

8.  Do bring with you a color pen or highlighter and pencil to mark your spoken parts, and any special text like instructions for sections of a test, or questions that you are to read off alternating with other speakers, etc.  This helps to lower wasted time with having to redo sections of the recording when someone forgets or doesn’t realize it’s their turn to speak!

9.  Do bring water, juice, or coffee with you to the recording session. (But do NOT bring Coke or any kind of pop with you–burping or having gas problems during a recording wastes your time, and everyone else’s too).

10.  Do ask for a time estimate on how long the recording session will take (but do NOT believe it will be accurate as all too often the person in charge of setting up recordings has either never done it before, or they don’t know how to assess how much time it will take because there are too many unknown variables.)

11. Do take breaks when needed cause if you don’t fatigue will just make things take longer to do.

12.  Do get as many teachers as possible to review and offer editing/revision comments as you feel it is appropriate to do (though be careful in who you choose to ask as sometimes workplace politics can get in the way).

13. Do bring food and drinks with you if the recording session is going to last all day. (Also, if you don’t know what kind of restaurants or quality of food is available–bring your own supply!)

14. Do bring a warm coat/jacketet/sweater with you if it’s during the winter as not all recording studios/rooms in Asia are heated (and it’s hard to do a recording if your voice is messed up cause you’re shivering!)

15. Do make sure there’s a fluent English speaking/L2 speaking teacher in the control booth with the sound technician.  Having someone who can translate questions/recordings saves time and misunderstandings.

16. Do make sure the translator and sound tech have a copy of the script so they can follow along and help monitor the recordings.

Don’ts . . .

1. Don’t believe that making necessary changes to the testing format is an impossible request–everything is open to negotiation and change depending on a myriad of variables that you may or may not know.

2. Don’t be afraid of invoking ‘executive teacher powers’ when it comes to test design if you’ve been given absolutely insane testing conditions and instructions.

NOTE: That being said, if there’s a risk of being disciplined, fired, deported, or not re-signed for another contract (IF you want to sign on again) reconsider carefully how you invoke your ‘executive powers’ as the teacher and test designer.

3.  Don’t rely on MS WORD’s ‘spell and grammar’ check to catch every error in the test.  All too often there are small grammatical and spelling errors that the program cannot catch (though it is the BEST program to use!), so a human editor is still the best way to go after using the program to catch as many of the small mistakes as possible.

4.  Don’t assume the supervisor (or teacher ‘in charge’) running the recording project knows what to do, how to do it, and that they are as invested in producing a good quality recording as you are (often they seem to be overworked, overstressed, and overtired).

5. Don’t be afraid to delay the start of the recording session if you see the script and notice that there are too many errors that need correcting.  Trying to do a recording with a script that has errors scattered all throughout is just a complete waste of time, and you’ll end up having to do all the recording time over again as it’s highly likely you won’t be able to avoid making errors.  Just take the time needed to edit as much as possible, and then do the best you can if time is restricted for access to the recording room.

6.  Don’t be afraid to point out mistakes you make, or others in the recording booth make.  Listening test recordings need to be very high quality otherwise there can be many consequences after the test takes place.  For example, students will lose trust in you as a teacher and how you evaluate them and the quality and fairness tests you’re involved in . . . and that’s just one issue among many that can come up.

7.  Don’t forget to take a few minutes and make a plan with everyone who will be speaking in the recording.  Walk through each page of the script and make sure each speaker knows what they will be saying, what parts they have to say, and that they mark those items with a color pen.  If you don’t do this BEFORE the recording begins I guarantee you’ll be doing it later DURING the recording.

8.  Don’t forget to look over the master script and make sure editing notes and corrections you made and passed on have been implemented on the master copy.  I have experienced far too many times now looking at a listening test script that I have closely read and edited, and seeing that the ‘master’ copy has errors still on it that I had sent to the person/teacher/supervisor running the recording project.  If the errors are clear and yet haven’t been fixed on the master script insist that changes be made before the recording begins.

9.  Don’t forget to stay after the recording session is done and LISTEN TO THE RECORDING!  You may find yourself being called back later in the same day, or the next day (and your plans being destroyed if it’s a weekend) to re-record a part of the test that has problems in it.

10.  Don’t get upset if it’s your first time, or for that matter your twenty-fifth time, making an EFL/ESL listening test and the only instructions you get are, “Make a listening test.”  Ask if there are any models of past listening tests the school/university has used for you to look at.  Ask if there’s a veteran teacher who has made listening tests before who could help you.  Ask for help from other teachers at the school.  BUT also be prepared to have to do some reading, some research, and some do-it-yourself-teach-yourself-how-to-do-it cause there may not be anyone around who knows more than you do.
Well, I’m going to stop there.  I’m sure there are things that need to be added to this post, and I’ll ask the veteran expat EFL/ESL teachers who read this post to add comments and any other things they think are useful to this post.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you find some things here helpful.




Filed under EFL/ESL Test Topics and Issues

2 responses to “EFL/ESL University Listening Test Design, Writing, Editing, and Recording – Do’s and Don’ts

  1. Pingback: New Year = New EFL/ESL blog…introducing ‘EFL Teacher Learner’ « Kimchi Icecream

  2. Nice post, pretty comprehensive. I hope you are enjoying your time in China.

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