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Caroline Browne, Password, UK

Caroline Browne is MD of Password English Language Testing Ltd. She worked for a university and at INTO University Partnerships before setting up her own company to develop the Password tests, which were developed for the pathway sector although their repertoire has since expanded.

The PIE: When did you set Password up? Do you own the company?

"We are different because we sell our tests to universities, colleges and schools offering them control over the testing of their own students"

CB: Yes, I’m the majority shareholder of English Language Testing Ltd, which is the company that designs, develops and delivers the Password tests. The University of the Arts London is also a major shareholder. Password began about 12 years ago when I was at Brunel University and tasked with trebling international student numbers within three years.

To achieve this, I knew the university must respond to the many international students (particularly from China) who required a pre-university or pathway programme before beginning their university course. At that time there was no reliable way of assessing the English language level of these students pre-arrival. The choice was between taking a full-skills based test such as IELTS or TOEFL which tested skills the students had yet to acquire or having the students take a crude unsecure paper-based test, usually administered at an educational agent’s office, which generally produced unreliable results.

“The choice was between taking a full-skills based test or a crude unsecure paper-based test”

The PIE: So how did you think you could bridge the gap?

CB: Obviously, students arriving with a lower level of English than expected caused many problems for the university, and indeed for the students themselves. Seeking a solution I started talking to a group of universities about putting together a consortium to develop a different sort of test – which would be appropriate for students who had undertaken some English language training and had some knowledge of English but who came from all sorts of different backgrounds in terms of what they had learnt and language profiles.

I discovered Professor Cyril Weir’s team of experts in testing and assessment at CRELLA and the idea of an online test of language knowledge was born.

The PIE: When did you launch the first Password test and how many test takers do you have now?

CB: The first Password test launched in October 2008 and we now work with around 200 universities and colleges, primarily in the UK and Australia. We have just opened in North America and we also have pockets of universities in other areas such as the Middle East and South East Asia.

The PIE: And in general are all institutions using Password for the same reason – as an entry test to pathway programmes?

CB: No, not at all, and that’s what’s been really interesting. Whilst the driver for developing Password was testing students’ pre-arrival for admission to pathway programmes, our partner universities and colleges have developed various different ways of using Password tests for different purposes. Currently there are two main ways the original Password test, now called Password Knowledge, is used. Firstly, as an entry test to pathway programmes and English language courses, usually pre-arrival though it can be for placement on arrival. This use has grown enormously as pathway programmes have flourished.

“A development that we would never have predicted, Password Knowledge is increasingly being used as a Post Enrolment Language Assessment”

Secondly, and a development that we would never have predicted, Password Knowledge is increasingly being used as a Post Enrolment Language Assessment (PELA). The University of Essex in the UK and Griffith University in Australia were the first to use Password in this way – testing all international students on arrival to check that their English language level was at the required level to succeed with their academic studies.

Traditional paper-based testing of new students can take weeks to administer and mark – using Password enables universities to identify students with unexpectedly weak English in week one and offer immediate remedial support.

The PIE: That is interesting..

CB: Yes, Students who need help are given it at the beginning of their course rather than many weeks into the first semester when they are struggling with their academic studies. [more>>]

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3 Responses to Caroline Browne, Password, UK

  1. I’d very interested in reading the research showing that students may leave an English-medium degree with a lower level of English than when they began it. Can anyone direct me to this research?
    “We talked earlier about testing in Australia – isn’t there some research going on there at the moment suggesting that some international students may leave university with a lower level of English than when they arrive?”

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