An interview test of form and meaning

Harlan Kellem, Momoyama Gakuin University


Quick guide

  • Keywords:Assessment, interview test, accuracy, meaning-focused
  • Learner English level:Beginner and intermediate
  • Learner maturity:High school and above
  • Preparation time:15 minutes
  • Activity time:Up to 60 minutes



Speaking tests for beginner or unmotivated students can be challenging for the teacher to develop and administer. The time students spend actually speaking in an interview test is often too brief, especially in large classes. The following activity is a perfect way to have students spend more time in English during a speaking test. This testing technique is a way for students to focus on both accuracy and meaning simultaneously, and can be used to test units in textbooks or themes of a course.



Step 1:Prepare a test sheet that has only the theme of the textbook units or course material written in the margin. For instance, to test three units from the textbook, the students write three questions for each unit and one free question, for a total of ten.

Step 2:The week before the test, ask students to choose ten questions from the textbook and memorize them as homework.



Step 1:On the day of the test, have students write the questions (see section A of the Appendix), paying attention to the theme of each. In order to receive full points, the questions must be full sentences that are error-free. All the questions should be committed to memory before the test; students cannot look at their textbook or notes.

Step 2:Collect the question sheets when students are finished, or after a time limit. It works well to quickly write the number of questions completed at the bottom of the page. This is done because students who have not finished will copy from classmates during the interview.

Step 3:Have the students sit facing a partner. Students pair up according to the order in which they finished their question sheets.

Step 4:Instruct the students to interview each other; it works best to have both partners ask and answer number 1, then number 2, etc., instead of one student asking all ten questions first. After asking a question, the student must listen and write his classmate’s answer in a full sentence. For example, “She likes Hollywood action movies.” One option that is good for high-beginners or intermediate students is asking follow-up questions. The interviewer does not write the follow-up questions, but writes a sentence based on their partner's answers. For example, if the follow-up question is “Who is your favorite actor?” the interviewer writes “Her favorite actor is Will Smith.” (See Appendix section B for answer sheet example.)

For the students who were not able to write ten questions during Step 1, allow them to steal questions from their classmates during the Q & A time. The student does not receive points in the question section, but can pick up points in the answer section. This is one way for students who did not study enough for the test to 1) get more points, and 2) improve their English during the test.

The ten questions are graded based on accuracy; however, students can receive partial points in the answer section if it is clear that their meaning was successfully communicated. The answers should all be written in complete sentences. However, half credit can be given if it is clear that the meaning was understood, for example, “Will Smith.”

Step 5:(Optional, depending on time) As the students finish interviewing their partners, assign them new partners, and repeat step 3.



With low-level students, speaking tests can be difficult to set up and carry out effectively. Having students silently sit and write out questions to ask their classmates has many advantages. It provides an opportunity for planning before speaking, which increases students’ confidence; allows students to formulate questions they wish to ask, which increases motivation to communicate; and is a good way for the teacher to include an element of accuracy in a speaking test. The interview process itself –students interviewing each other, asking follow-up questions, and writing their partners’ answers in complete sentences – is a great way to have beginner-level students spend a lot of time in English during a speaking test.



The appendix is available below: