Gatekeepers of Ambition: Test-Taker Preparation Practices on Two High-Stakes Language Proficiency Tests

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  • This mixed-methods study with an exploratory convergent design (Creswell, 2009) investigated the test preparation practices, reasons for test choice, perceived performance, and reported emotional experience of 33 participant test takers on two high-stakes language proficiency tests. The findings indicated a variety of practices employed in taking the tests (i.e. IELTS and TOEFL iBT), including, in order of prevalence: seeking information from former test takers, using test preparation books/practice tests, and using online resources. Perceived performance and emotional experience during reading sections were rated most negatively. The two main concerns the participant test takers had were the speeded nature of the reading and writing sections of the test, and test administration factors. These findings shed light on the mechanism of washback (i.e. the effect of high-stakes tests on teaching and learning). Both test preparation practices and test takers' opinions of tests have implications for the validity of inferences drawn from tests.

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  • Copyright © 2018 the author(s). Theses may be used for non-commercial research, educational, or related academic purposes only. Such uses include personal study, research, scholarship, and teaching. Theses may only be shared by linking to Carleton University Institutional Repository and no part may be used without proper attribution to the author. No part may be used for commercial purposes directly or indirectly via a for-profit platform; no adaptation or derivative works are permitted without consent from the copyright owner.
Date Created
  • 2018


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