Quotation of the Day

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Language Tests in Malaysia

The major English Language tests in Malaysia are those taken durnig the Primary School Assessment Examination (Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah or UPSR), the Lower Secondary Assessment (Penilaian Menengah Rendah or PMR), the Malaysian Certificate of Education (Sijil Peperiksaan Malaysia or SPM) and the Malaysian Universities English Test or MUET which are generally national level standardized forms of assessment. The first three examinations are developed by the Malaysian Examination Syndicate, a body directly under the Malaysian Ministry of Education while the MUET is developed by the Malaysian Education Council, a statutory body under the same ministry. These four tests can also be considered high-stakes examinations because many important decisions that affect the students' education and later career path are made on the basis of the performance of these examinations.

It is interesting to note that there have been several shifts in the policy in recent years with respect to language tests in Malaysia. The most notable has arguably been the development and use of the Malaysian Universities English Test or MUET which was introduced in 1999. Although this test measures four skills in the English language, the greatest impact has been on the testing of speaking skills. Because it is closely linked to tertiary education and entrance into local institutions of higher learning, candidates taking the MUET are smaller in number compared to the nationwide standardized examinations that all school-going children sit for. The fewer number of candidates allows for a relatively longer and more intensive test of spoken English ability.

Another development in testing in Malaysia has been the introduction of school based tests. These tests, which emphasise the assessment of speaking ability, have many implications iin teaching and learning of the English language. The objectives of the secondary school Forms 4 and 5 school based oral exams and the SPM Oral English Test, are to assess the candidates' ability to:

1. converse on a topic,
2. speak fluently,
3. speak coherently,
4. give appropriate response,
5. speak using language appropriately within context,
6. speak using correct and acceptable pronunciation,
7. speak using correct grammar, and
8. speak using a wide range of appropriate vocabulary.

It can be anticipated that the washback effects of these tests will promote the teaching and learning of aural-oral skills in the classroom. At both the primary and secondary school levels,, the schools based oral examinations require studentsto perform oral tasks in various configurations or models. These models vary according to the task the student has to perform, the interlocutors involved,and the role of the teacher-examiner.

The two developments in English language tests in Malaysia described above are positive trends that can lead to improved teaching practice in the classroom. Several other aspects that have been introduced together with the school based exas and the MUET have also contributed to the validity of the tests. In the MUET, for example, score reporting is vastly improved over the SPM English language oral test. Candidates are provided feedback interms of how they performed in four different skills. In contrast to this, candidates of the SPM English test are only provided with a single grade although the test assesses their ability in different skills.

School based examinations also tend to be formative and hence are more beneficial to the learning process than the summative type, end of the year exams. However, when school based examinations contribute to the final grade of such high stakes examinations as in Malaysia, a great deal of professionalism among teachers is required. Because of pressure to perform, teachers may be tempted to inflate scores of their own students. Other teachers may fail to appreciate the value of school based examinations and not conduct the examinations carefully. School based examinations require additional commitment from teachers as they need to manage the examinations in their schools. Although school based examinations may pose some problems in the early stages, these problems may be resolved with time, proper training and increased familiarity.

-Essentials of Language Testing for Malaysian Teachers by Arshad Abd. Samad-


  1. interesting piece~ I was about to compliment you when I saw

    -Essentials of Language Testing for Malaysian Teachers by Arshad Abd. Samad-

    so... ya nice piece written by him~ =P

  2. lolx, dr Arshad is one of my fav lecturer in UPM. we girls (more than 2) had a huge crush on him~!!! XD