A case study of Emirati females and an international EFL oral proficiency test: Does one size fit all?

AlHafidh, Gail Karen (2011). A case study of Emirati females and an international EFL oral proficiency test: Does one size fit all? EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000d629


For many students, English as a foreign language (EFL) assessments are high-stake examinations, the results of which will determine their future study and career paths. This thesis will present data gathered from questionnaires of students and examiners, filmed interviews, audio recordings and focus group feedback. The key question posed is: is it possible for international EFL exams to have global applicability and therefore maintain test validity? Furthermore, to what extent should international EFL test writers take into account the regional, socio-cultural context of the recipient student body when making question choices and devising assessment criteria? This thesis attempts to address these questions through interpretive case study research of oral interview assessment in a female campus of a tertiary college in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). CAT (Communication Accommodation Theory) was the theoretical tool used to examine the interaction between examiners and candidates during the IEL TS-style oral assessment.

The study looked at the questions typically asked in an international EFL interview and the reaction of the participants, both linguistically and behaviourally, to the context of the interview and the method of assessment of the communication in those interviews. The aim was to have a better understanding of how female Emirati candidates respond to the various aspects of an international EFL speaking assessment in the context of their own cultural, social and religious constructs.

Analysis of the data reveals that that there is a mismatch between the perceptions of the examiners and the participants, in several areas, and that this has the potential to affect grade outcomes, as seen in the case study interviews. The study concludes that there is scope for both a broader range in the choice of questions in speaking assessments and a need for examiners to be prepared to choose questions more judiciously, in line with the cultural context of the candidates and that this is possible without jeopardising the validity of the assessment. The findings also show that there are clear differences between the grading of face to face and audio 2 recorded interviews and that these should be considered when grading criteria are written. Overall the study contributes a variety of insights into the field of oral assessment and has implications for test writers, assessors, candidates and publishers, since, in the case of international EFL oral assessments, it appears that 'one-size' does not fit all.

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