The Versant English Test

Kevin C. Browne


University of Tsukuba faculty Kevin C. Browne gives his opinion about an alternative to the oft-used TOEIC/TOEFL tests for placement and benchmarking.

The Versant English Test

I believe the Versant English Test should replace the TOEIC-IP and TOEFL-ITP tests as placement tools for benchmark measurements or as exit requirements in university EFL/ESL programs if no suitable in-house assessments are available. It is superior to the ETS (Educational Testing Services) products for its construct, ease of administration, results delivery speed, unbiased scoring, and reduction of negative washback in classrooms and curricula.

Scores on institutional versions of the ETS tests include no speaking components. Assessments limited to multiple-choice items with no production elements fail to measure the facility of English, whereas the Versant English Test construct does through various communicative tasks.

A completely automated delivery and scored spoken language test, the Versant English Test, formerly Ordinate Corporation’s PhonePass SET-10 (Speaking English Test), now operated by Pearson PLC, is a six-part test that is administered over the telephone or via computer. The test takes 15 minutes to complete and provides scores and feedback on the day of completion, often within minutes, which is much faster than the ETS tests. These quick results can provide administrators and faculty with the information they need for placement and scheduling. Washback concerns are reduced, as the test is communicative. Therefore, non-language instruction such as multiple-choice strategy training is not necessary in language curricula.

Concerning the merits and capabilities of automated scoring of spoken English, Alderson (2004) states, “impressive reliability coefficients have been found as well as correlations with the Test of Spoken English and with interviews” (p.10). TOEIC and TOEFL scores also correlate well (r=0.75 with TOEFLiBT; r=0.77 with IELTS Speaking) (Bernstein & Cheng 2007). Additionally, the software alone measures each student equally, eliminating bias concerns present in human-scored assessments.

The Versant English Test’s only weakness is a general lack of awareness by teachers and administrators, and deserves consideration for departmental uses.


Alderson, C. (2004). The shape of things to come: Will it be the normal distribution? In European language testing in a global context. Proceedings of the ALTE Barcelona Conference July 2001 (pp. 1-26). Cambridge University Press.

Bernstein, J. & Cheng, J. (2007). Logic and validation of fully automatic spoken English test. In M. Holland & F. P. Fisher (Eds.), The path of speech technologies in computer assisted language learning: From research toward practice (pp. 174-194). Florence, KY: Routledge.