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China to launch new English proficiency test

The Chinese government plans to launch a new English proficiency test in an attempt to standardise and improve how the English language is taught in the country.

English language testing in China has historically been highly fragmented, with a range of tests being used at different levels. Photo: Magda Ehlers

It is expected that two band tests of NETS will be introduced in 2020

The National English Testing System is currently being developed by the National Education Examinations Authority – part of China’s Ministry of Education – and parts of the test are scheduled to be rolled out in 2020.  

According to the NEEA, the NETS will unify standards, provide comprehensive testing and informative score reports as well as “satisfy people’s needs for high-quality and diverse foreign language assessment”.

“Hopefully this means there will be a more rigorous, standardised test of English language ability within China”

It is expected that two band tests of NETS will be introduced in 2020, which will eventually replace parts of the College English Test, China’s current English proficiency test.

“Hopefully this means there will be a more rigorous, standardised test of English language ability within China so that you can compare students from wherever they are [in the country],” said senior research and data officer at UK NARIC, Andy Castro.

English language testing in China has historically been highly fragmented, with a range of tests being used at different levels. 

The amount of oral work in the CET is limited. While the system examines students in reading, writing and listening, speaking tests are offered to a limited number of top students.

In 2014, China’s State Council set out goals to build a “standardised, consistent, functional and modern” system for a national foreign language proficiency testing system.  

Since then, China has developed a national framework for English language education called ‘China’s Standards of English Language Ability’, and the NETS tests will be based on this CSE framework. 

According to NEEA, the CSE will, “define language proficiency levels comprehensively by specific, accurate and easy-to-understand descriptors”, and will serve as one of the fundamental strategies to promote English learning, teaching and assessment in China.

In January 2019, the CSE framework was linked with IELTS and Aptis, marking its entry into the international examinations system. 

Barry O’Sullivan, the academic team leader from the UK side of the collaborative research project and head of Assessment Research and Development at British Council said he welcomed the CSE’s linking with IELTS. 

He said that the CSE framework would allow test-takers to have a deeper understanding of their English proficiency by referring to the descriptions of language ability in the CSE that are mapped to their IELTS score.

“This will enable them to devise an appropriate learning plan. In addition, test users such as schools and employers will be able to select the appropriate test score boundary, by referring to the linking results and CSE level descriptors which meet their requirements of students’ English proficiency,” he said.

Assistant to managing director at Sower International Education Group Billy Xu welcomed the implementation of the new teaching methods.

However, he emphasised that the oral parts of tests, should not be left out.

“The CSE and Aptis show that China government is determined to improve the English education quality, but my concern lies in the way of teaching,” he told The PIE News. 

“China’s education model is heavily exam-oriented, so for the language study, it always shows that the Chinese candidates are very good at reading and listening (IELTS tests), including grammar tests, but the spoken and written skills are far behind.

“So the government would also need to update and improve its teaching methods in line with its new standard,” he added.

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