Smarter testing

Dr Helen Wood, head of school partnerships at Password English Language Testing, discusses how technology is helping to reduce admin, improve accuracy and increase fairness in international admissions testing

I recently asked a diverse range of independent school members of the British Boarding School Network to consider how well international pupil admissions processes were working at their respective schools.

For a bit of fun, here’s the task I set them for you to try. Choose the responses that best apply to your school:

1. My school is still using paper-based entrance exam papers written by busy academic staff with little time to refresh the questions, affecting security. YES/NO

2. My school is still emailing tests and scripts backwards and forwards to agents and emailing teachers for feedback on international pupils’ assessments so I can progress applications. YES/NO

3. There are periods over holidays when our admissions decision-making processes seem slow and unresponsive to parents and agents. YES/NO

4. My school is using tests designed for native speakers, potentially under-predicting the academic potential of EAL learners by ‘an unmeasurable degree’ (according to Education Policy Institute research). YES/NO

5. Our academic staff have difficulty using our test results to interpret what this means for EAL learners in classes. YES/NO

The quality of the solutions offered by Password are why so many independent schools are adopting our sector-bespoke tests

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was these same issues that confronted our CEO, Caroline Browne, when, as a senior manager at Brunel University, she was charged with increasing their international intake whilst maintaining academic standards.

Indeed, they are precisely what led to the creation of, first, Password Skills tests for universities – later, Password Pupil for schools. The quality of the solutions offered by Password are why so many independent schools are adopting our sector-bespoke tests.

So, what are these solutions? First and foremost, Password’s online tests are constructed from a large database of curriculum and age-appropriate questions which is constantly being refreshed with items written by language and linguistics experts.

Every new item is piloted before being approved by our academic validating body, CRELLA, the world-leading Centre for Research in Language Learning and Assessment. This allows us to combine calibrated test items into a reliable, quality-assured assessment which is unique for each test taker. Hence, even when schools run repeated assessment days, EAL pupils can be tested with no risk.

Secondly, Password co-brands its online tests with its partners, so your customised tests can be run any day of the year by educational agents across the globe.

At the British Boarding Schools Workshop in March, for example, there will be 40 agents from 21 different countries across four continents who deliver tests for our 50+ UK partner schools.

Administered via our secure browser, the tests provide CEFR-aligned results which each school accesses via their private results area. Admissions and academic staff can instantly see precisely where on the CEFR a pupil’s language proficiency lies from the auto-marked ‘Knowledge’ score and reading the ‘Writing’ task the pupil produced.

Your EAL teachers can provide feedback on the ‘Writing’ component within the Password platform, removing the need for internal emails.

Alternatively, our professional team of markers are available 365 days a year to do the work for you.

Importantly, unlike general English placement tests or tests aimed at assessing native speakers, Password Pupil is appropriately designed to ascertain how well an EAL student will function in the socio-academic context of a mainstream school. So, critical decisions about whether a pupil will successfully cope with high-stakes exams such as GCSE and A-level within the time available to them can be made with confidence.

Along with institutionally co-branded certificates for each test taker to reward them for the effort of sitting your tests, we provide interpretive ‘can do’ statements from the CEFR Global Scale for the school. These are simple to understand and can help improve EAL interventions for those pupils you make offers to. In sum, Password Pupil helps schools professionalise entrance assessment processes and reduce a time-consuming aspect of the admissions workload.


If you want to free up your staff to concentrate on the vital personal interactions that will turn a promising international applicant into a confirmed student, please get in touch.

E: Helen.wood@englishlanguagetesting.co.uk

W: www.englishlanguagetesting.co.uk

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