Task difficulty in speaking tests

Fulcher, G. and Márquez Reiter, R. (2003). Task difficulty in speaking tests. Language Testing, 20(3) 321 - 344.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1191/0265532203lt259oa


The difficulty of speaking tasks has only recently become a topic of investigation in language testing. This has been prompted by work on discourse variability in second language acquisition (SLA) research, new classificatory systems for describing tasks, and the advent of statistical techniques that enable the prediction of task difficulty. This article reviews assumptions underlying approaches to research into speaking task difficulty and questions the view that test scores always vary with task conditions or discourse variation. A new approach to defining task difficulty in terms of the interaction between pragmatic task features and first language (L1) cultural background is offered, and the results of a study to investigate the impact of these variables on test scores are presented. The relevance for the generalizability of score meaning and the definition of constructs in speaking tests is discussed.

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