You probably don’t get excited by the idea of taking tests, do you? But did you know that tests are actually crucial for the language learning process, especially if you’re learning English on your own?
In a nutshell, it’s all about feedback and motivation. When you study English formally in a language school or university, you probably take tests frequently: You take a placement test at the start to determine (decide) your level. You may have daily or weekly quizzes to provide ongoing (continued) assessment, which means evaluation, and you’ll have bigger tests and exams after a longer period of time that might be worth a larger percentage of your course score.
All of these tests are useful for your teachers because they give information your teacher needs to assess or evaluate your ability, but they are also useful to YOU because they give you feedback on your progress. They tell you what you have learned and also what you haven’t yet mastered and need to review. For example, if you fail the listening part of a test you know your need to work more on your listening skills. If you forget a grammar pattern, you know it’s a weakness and you need to practice it more. Tests give you an honest assessment of your language skills.
Learning another language takes a long time, as you know. When you’re learning on your own you might feel like you’re not making any progress. You could be taking it too easy and not doing as much as you could. Having an outside motivator like a test will give you a goal to work on and even get you excited to study and practice.
The test doesn’t need to be a good one, either. For example, taking the top level of the Japanese proficiency exam was a big motivator for me when I was studying Japanese. Actually, at the time I thought the test was kind of stupid. It tested rarely used grammar that even Japanese people say they don’t know or use, it was really picky about kanji, and there was no speaking or writing component (part). However, knowing that the test was coming soon made me focus more on my studies.
Now, as a teacher in Japan, I know a lot of Japanese people who have gotten a score of over 800 points on the TOEIC English test, but still can’t have a simple discussion in English. Tests don’t always measure our language ability well, but the quality of the test is not the point. Passing or getting a good score on a test is not the point, either. The point is that by studying and practicing – preparing – for a test, you’ll be making progress in your language learning. We all know that sometimes making time to study is hard, but having a test to work toward can give you motivation, especially if your goal is realistic and test day is on your calendar.
Tests can give you a push, a challenge, and a desire to start studying and practicing English right away. When there’s a specific date and time for the test, you have to be ready by that deadline. The test might not be the best measurement tool in the world, but the results will give you an idea of how good you are in certain areas of your language ability. They give you a way to assess yourself, so if you’re studying English on your own, consider signing up for a language proficiency test. There are many kinds of proficiency tests available. Registering for a language test will put you under added pressure and give you extra motivation to improve.