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Liying Cheng and Project Partners Awarded Grant for Study on Test Preparation

Liying Cheng

Liying Cheng (Principal Investigator) (Queen’s), Hong Wang (Mount Saint Vincent), Lynette May (Queensland University of Technology) and Shahrzad Saif (Université Laval) (Co-investigators) have been awarded a SSHRC Partnership Development Grant ($200,000, 2011-14) for their project entitled Test Preparation: Does It Enhance Test Performance and English Language Proficiency.

The three-year study will examine the effects of test preparation on test performance and English language proficiency among test-takers whose predominant language is not English. With the trend towards globalization, immigration, and internationalization of university campuses, language tests are utilized extensively as powerful decision-making tools. Inferences drawn by decision-makers about test-takers' language abilities based on these test scores result in high-stakes decisions such as university admission, program placement, graduation, and immigration to English-speaking countries like Canada.

The study will be conducted in potential partnership with the four largest international English language testing agencies, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), the Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic), and the College English Test (CET). It is therefore built on two distinct features: stakeholder involvement of test designers and test users, and international collaboration to provide training opportunities.

The findings of the study will provide both test-designers and test users with empirical evidence regarding the predominant phenomenon of test preparation and the validity of test scores. Erring in decisions of selection and access on the basis of inaccurate or improper inferences drawn from test scores will be costly, ultimately undermining knowledge transfer potential and threatening social, educational, and economic development in Canada.