SAT and A-level exams as English proficiency tests


Most of us are quite familiar with tests such as the TOEFL-test, the Cambridge examinations and the IELTS, which are designed to measure the English proficiency of people with English as a second or foreign language. But what about tests including language sections that are targeted for native speakers of English, such as the English section in the SAT exam or the English Language A-level? Could these tests be used in an ESL context? Why or why not?

I’d very much appreciate any opinions and comments that you may have concerning the topic.

Those exams for native speakers are written to detect the language weaknesses of native speakers, which are different from those of non-native speakers. Plus, their placement scales assume that the student does not need ESL. Therefore, if you use them on non-native speakers, they usually don’t place the student correctly.

At a college where I teach, we use the Compass test, which includes an English test for native speakers. Even if a foreigner knows no English and gets every question wrong on this test, it still places him in a class at a level meant for native speakers. Its ESL equivalent, ESL Compass, usually places foreign speakers of English accurately.

Both tests, however, have a cultural bias, and students with bad English but deep familiarity with American culture can score much higher than students whose English is excellent but who have only been here a few weeks.