Testing Grammar

Why test grammar?

Can one justify the separate testing of grammar? There was a time when this would have seemed a very odd question. Control of grammatical structures was seen as the very core of language ability and it would have been unthinkable not to test it. But times have changed. As far as proficiency tests are concerned, there has been a shift towards the view that since it is language skills that are usually of interest, then it is these which should be tested directly, not the abilities that seem to underlie them. For one thing, it is argued, there is more to any skill than the sum of its parts; one cannot accurately predict mastery of the skill by measuring control of what we believe to be the abilities that underlie it. For another, as has been argued earlier in this book, the backwash effect of tests that measure mastery of skills directly may be thought prefer- able to that of tests that might encourage the learning of grammatical structures in isolation, with no apparent need to use them. Consider- ations of this kind have resulted in the absence of any grammar compo- nent in some well-known proficiency tests.

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