ESL Assessments


Intensive listening activities focus specifically on the components of language such as phonemes, words, intonation, discourse markers, and others.

Dictation is a great way to provide an intensive listening assessment. It can be altered or a different passage may be chosen to focus on a variety of language skills. Also, the variability aids to authenticity. To provide a more authentic dictation, the teacher may choose to read a common song, or news article that would be very authentic. Similarly, it is a practical efficient way to assess the students as you could start each day with a dictation of a news article, or poem of the day and students would be active listeners as you read the piece. In doing it that way, it becomes a more informal assessment as part of a daily routine. These could be kept for the year in a journal and reviewed at random by the teacher. It would not provide washback unless the teacher talked about errors made or tricky words/phrases within the passage. More specific sentences could be used for really focusing on a lesson, such as names or addresses and how to write them. This provides a lot of opportunity to cater the assessment to the intended material.

This also a writing assessment as dictation requires students to listen to the teacher reading a passage which may be shorter or longer based on the intended purpose of the dictation. Students are to focus on listening to what is said and writing that information down on paper. The teacher may choose as to what the focus is for the assignment, whether they use authentic material such as menu items, news articles, phone numbers, addresses, etc. or if they use passages such as songs, poems, paragraphs from a story, a picture book, etc.

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What to dictate?

Choosing the right level is clearly critical. Dictating a leader from "The Times" to a group of intermediate students would be a rather fruitless exercise. Do not underestimate the difficulty of accurately reproducing a text from dictation. As for the material itself, the range is limitless, from written for ELT to authentic:

  • texts (from course books, newspaper articles, user guides...)
  • songs
  • poetry
  • short compiled lists (numbers, names, appointments...)
  • cornflakes packets
  • etc

There is no fixed rule on the procedure to adopt and it can be modified according to level, class size, actual subject matter. As a guide, a common procedure for texts is:

  1. Read the whole text once at slightly reduced speed.
  2. Read the text again clearly and phrase by phrase (saying each phrase twice and ending with "comma", "full stop" etc as appropriate). Allow students reasonable time to finish one phrase before starting another.
  3. Allow time for students to review what they have written and to try to apply grammar to correct any logical errors.
  4. Read the whole text again.
  5. Allow some more time for student review and fine-tuning.
Allowing thinking time for self-correction is particularly valuable. Often students will think they have heard one thing but their knowledge of grammar can tell them you must have said another thing.

Students often appreciate dictation as it really puts them to the test. Just be careful that you don't demoralise them by choosing a text that is too difficult or by reading at a speed that is unrealistic for them.

Authentic Material
The latest news stories and features, which can be ideal for dictation at the right level.

Dictation Fillers Here are some ideas for quick dictations to fill in an odd five minutes. You can certainly invent more of your own: shopping lists, football results etc. Adjust the speed to the level.

Flight Schedule
Numbers & Symbols
Telephone Numbers

Read the times and dates any way you like. If you repeat them (as you should), you can vary the format (for example "two fifteen pm" and "quarter past two in the afternoon").

  1. 2.15pm Thursday 25 June
  2. 4.40pm 12th January
  3. 12 noon Wednesday 27 April
  4. 2.05am Saturday 19 August
  5. 5.50pm 1/5/03
Flight Schedule
The flight times should be read in the 24-hour format (for example "oh-seven-forty", "thirteen-thirty").

  1. Depart Paris Terminal 2a 12:25 3 May, flight AF157
  2. Arrive Hanoi 07:40 4 May
  3. Wait in Transit Lounge C
  4. Depart Hanoi 11:45 4 May, flight TH263
  5. Arrive Bangkok 13:30 4 May
Change the currencies as you wish. You could also introduce the international currency abbreviations (GBP, CHF, USD, JPY, EUR etc) if appropriate.

  1. 97 pence
  2. 367 Swiss Francs
  3. $200.50
  4. ¥5,630,000
  5. 250 Euro
You'll need to spell these names. They are constructed with letters that give many native French-speakers problems. You may want to invent your own, depending on the language of your students.

  1. Mr George Jeffrey Jnr
  2. Miss I.E. Weider
  3. Mrs S.R Haney-Gaspari
  4. Sir Athie Houghey
  5. Judge J.G. Haamer
Numbers & Symbols
Read each question as a calculation (for example, for (c) you would say "Sixty times two all divided by ten"). Ask students to calculate the answer. If they've heard you correctly, the calculation is very simple. Don't read out the answers (which are shown in square brackets []).

  1. (17 x 2) + 6 [= 40]
  2. 1,000,601FF + 901,000FF [= 1,901,601FF]
  3. (60 x 2) / 10 [= 12]
  4. £724,510 @ 10% per annum [= £72,451]
  5. 1,050 + 100.50 [= 1,150.50]
Telephone Numbers
Students should be able to reproduce the groups, not just the numbers. In other words, if you read "01-234-5678", the students should not just give you "012345678". When you repeat them, you can vary them. For example, you could say "three, three, three", "three double three" and "triple three", if you wanted to be particularly awkward .

  1. 44-30-699-7310
  2. 212-973-0065
  3. 0480-940-3336
  4. 19-66-2-221-4024
  5. 08-0369-1229

Segmentation/Blending Boards

Through blending boards, students are given a visual to connect with the language that helps them learn. This activity could again be adjusted based on content or intended purpose, to make it more authentic. For example, if teaching street signs it would really help to have a visual to connect the words to the pictures. Assessments like that can help to make it more authentic, and could be the summation of a unit regarding to directions. Students get instant feedback as to the words used. It also emulates how to stretch out a word for the students when they are reading on their own. This is somewhat integrative as students can read the word and see the visual picture, then they listen to the teacher sounding it out, and if the teacher had them say the word afterward it would be include speaking. It is practical that it could be done while waiting in line, or as an introduction to a lesson.


This is a shorter amount of language that is spoke for the students to listen to, which is usually brief such as greetings, commands, quick comprehension checks, questions, and others, that elicit a brief response.

Directions in the Dark

This is an authentic task as individuals may be asked to give directions in the future, either to a place or as to how to do something. It is also a practical activity to engage students and make them feel that it is a game, while they are still learning. It could be summative as the class could tell him/her how to get to a certain desk in the room, or a place in the classroom, or have him/her complete a task. As stated by the assessment creator, s/he needed to have a physical task to complete to show they were able to give directions as otherwise it was rehearsed and somewhat abstract for the students. After each set of directions, the teacher is able to provide feedback to help them give better directions. Also, the student being directed is able to realize what constitutes good or bad directions and tell the class what was helpful in their directions.

I wanted them to learn how to give directions. As it was very difficult for them because we needed a context, I picked one of them and blindfolded him using my jumper. That was really funny for them.

He was placed in the middle of the classroom and told to find a word on the blackboard following instructions given by the group.

Minimal pairs, morphology and intonation

This is a great idea for an assessment, but would probably need to be adjusted to fit a language need. This could be adapted for a teacher to use with words that s/he is specifically focusing on in the classroom that the students mistake. It could also be specific to an aspect of grammar such as verb tense or irregular verbs. For morphology, it is a great way to check students' ability to differentiate and identify various sounds. However, the teacher must be careful that it is a fair assessment and that they are audible differences because students may not have problems with the sound differences, but not be able to hear the statement. Given the adaptability of the assessment, it seems like this would be easy to integrate and therefore rather practical for assessment. It could be summative, but does not provide extensive positive washback.

Students will hear each prompt twice and will be given 15 seconds of response time.  
Test-takers hear: Please select on your paper the phrase that you hear.  You will hear each prompt twice.
1)    Test-takers hear: “The doctor gave me a bill”
Test-takers see:
a.    The doctor gave me a pill.
b.    The doctor gave me a bill.

2)    Test-takers hear: “He lives in Lansing”
Test-takers see:
a.    He lives in Lansing.
b.    She lives in Lansing.

3)    Test-takers hear: “I walked to the store”
Test-takers see:
a.    I walk to the store.
b.    I walked to the store.

4)    Test-takers hear: “My brother shouldn’t call her back”
Test-takers see:
a.    My brother shouldn’t call her back.
b.    My brother should call her back.

5)    Test-takers see: “Mika is allergic to chocolate?”
Test-takers read:
a.    Mika is allergic to chocolate.
b.    Mika is allergic to chocolate?

Short Answer to Wh- Questions

This assessment provides a  wide range of questions that could be asked and integrated into non-language lessons. However, in doing that, it creates variability and focuses less on the listening aspect and more on the knowledge and understanding of material. Also, the students may answer questions in an unexpected way that the teacher did not anticipate and is actually correct even though it is not the answer they were looking for. This does provide authenticity because these are questions that may regularly be asked, but usually would be answered verbally. Realistically, the teacher may look for students to "echo-back" but in conversation the student would not respond that way. Generally in conversation they may not answer in complete sentences, so the authenticity is not automatically there. Another negative, is that the students would focus on their answer and the content rather than any grammatical aspects. So if that is the intent, then this may not be the ideal assessment. Attn: This assessment does not focus on the students' ability to create Wh- questions.

Read each prompt twice and allow 30 seconds of response time.
Test-takers hear: You will hear each question twice.  Please answer each question using a complete phrase.
1)    Test-takers hear: “When do you wake up in the morning?”
Test-takers see: _________________________________________.

2)    Test-takers hear: “Where do you live?”
Test-takers see: _________________________________________.

3)    Test-takers hear: “Who is your best friend?”
Test-takers see: _________________________________________.

4)    Test-takers hear: “What do you like doing over the weekend?”
Test-takers see: _________________________________________.

5)    Test-takers hear: “How much time does it take to do your homework?”
Test-takers see: _________________________________________.

6)    Test-takers hear: “What is your favorite book?  Why?”
Test-takers see: _________________________________________.


Selective listening is a longer activity with language that would span several minutes and may be a short dialogue or passage. The students are then asked to listed or "scan" for specific details. These assessments are used to check the student's comprehension of meaning rather than the various aspects of language. Students may be asked to recall character names, numbers, a specific category of grammar (nouns, verbs, articles, etc.) of they may need to provide a summary response of directions, procedures, or overall facts/events.

Non-Verbal responses

It is selective because students are using a specific set of vocabulary to tell the builder how to put the pieces together or where to draw the symbols. This is a great assessment for students to follow physical directions rather than street directions. It is important for them to understand descriptive words such as above, below, next to, etc. This assessment is unauthentic because student's will not be asked to do this in the real world, although they need to understand direction formation and the meaning of directional words, using them in this manner is not authentic. The assessment is practical in that the one student needs to practice their speaking, and the other student must listen to their directions and rely completely on them to build the picture. For higher achieving students, they may be asked to put things on top of each other or build a structure with legos. Therefore, this can be adapted to a variety of ages and appears as a game, but the teacher is able to assess their use of language and key words that they are anticipated to use. Then they have a completed image of the communication between the two students. The only negative is that the students would need to be recorded to really decide which student's language was lacking, whether it was a lack in producing helpful language, or the builder could not understand what they meant. Also, the student producing the picture may not know how to draw a star, so these are things that should be kept in mind when creating the assessment.

Read the recording once at normal speed, once with pauses after each phrase, and again at normal speed.
Test-takers hear: You will hear a description of a picture.  Draw what you hear.  The first time you hear the description, it will be at a normal speaking speed.  Just listen.  The second time you hear the description, I will pause often.  Try to draw your picture during the pauses.  The third time you hear the description, it will be at a normal speaking speed.  Use this time to check your work. 
“Draw a circle in the middle of the page, and place an “X” above the circle.  Draw a small triangle to the right of the circle.  Draw a large square under the triangle.  Place four vertical lines to the left of the circle.  Now draw a rectangle around the triangle.  Place a star to the left of the square.  Draw an arrow below the lines that points to the circle.”
Test-takers see: A blank page to draw on. 

The following is an example of a possible outcome from following the directions.

Listening Cloze

This selective assessment has students listening for key words to fill in the blanks in their assessment. This is a great way to check their listening, but also it could be used in conjuncture with other subjects to present information, such as a song, poem, speech, or collection of facts. This is authentic in the material chosen, if the teacher uses the above suggestions, it adds to authenticity. It is also very practical as it can be an assessment hidden in another assignment for the students to receive the information. Students are able to see exactly which spots they missed, and may know why they missed those. For example, if someone coughed or they were stuck on the previous blank.

Read passage aloud to students three times; the first time at a normal pace, the second time with pauses after phrases and natural word groups, and the third time at a normal speed. 
Test-takers hear: You will hear the following passage read aloud to you.  Please follow along, and fill in the blanks with the missing words you hear.  You will hear this passage three times.  The first time will be at a normal speed; just listen carefully.  The second time will have pauses after each phrase; take this time to write in the missing words.  The third time will be read at a normal speed; use this time to check your work. 
Customer: I'd like a round-trip ticket to Detroit, please.

Clerk: What time? Trains leave every hour on the hour.

Customer: Well, it's 2:30 now. I'll take one for the 3:00.

Clerk: That'll be $35.

Customer: Do you have a student discount?

Clerk: $25 with a valid student ID.

Customer: Here's my student ID.

Clerk: The train leaves from gate 111, downstairs.

Customer: Oh, is there a bathroom?

Clerk: Yes, there is.

Customer: And what time does the train arrive in Detroit?

Clerk: 6 p.m.

Customer: Thanks a lot.

Clerk: You're welcome. Have a good trip.


The mostly lengthy in application, extensive listening is generally similar to a lecture, an entire conversation, or a longer reading. The student is then asked for the main ideas and summarization or to make predictions after listening.


This is an extremely authentic assessment as students in the future may need to make a dinner reservation or reservation at a hotel, etc. This teaches the skill as well as the basics of a more formal conversation with a stranger. It is an extensive assessment because it provides a longer conversation for the students to listen to. Students then need to pull the main ideas/details from the conversation. This is more so to introduce the conversation than to teach any lexical concepts. It would not be very formal, and if the answers were reviewed, feedback could be received and washback may occur.

Teacher will read script or play recording.  Students will hear recording twice, and answer the 6 questions below to assess listening comprehension.
Test-takers hear: You will hear a man who is making a diner reservation.  Chose the correct answer from the questions that follow. You will hear the recording twice.
[phone rings]
Woman: Appletree restaurant, can I help you?
Man: Oh yes, good morning, um, I’d like to make a reservation please. 
Woman: Yes?  What day?
Man: Uh, for Friday.
Woman: This Friday?
Man: Yes, the 22nd.
Woman: And what time would you like to come?
Man: Would it be possible at 8?
Woman: Yes, 8 o’clock would be fine. And that’s for how many people?
Man: Um, I’m not sure.  It’s going to be 4, or 5. Probably 5.
Woman: Right.  I’ll make a reservation for 5. And, uh, what, what’s the name?
Man: The name is Mark Leavens.
Woman: Mark Leavens.  Uh, how do you spell Leavens?
Man: L e a v e n s
Woman: L e a v e n s
Man: That’s right.
Woman: Ok, so Saturday the 22nd at 8 o’clock for 5 people.
Man: Lovely.
Woman: Thanks very much.  Bye
Man: Bye

Test-takers see:
1) What is the name of the restaurant?
A) Appeal Restaurant
B) Apple Inn Restaurant
C) Apple Tree Restaurant
2) What day would the man like to make a reservation for?
A) Thursday
B) Friday
C) Saturday
3) What is the date of the diner reservation?
A) 2nd
B) 12th
C) 22nd
4) What time would he like to make the reservation for?
A) Eight o'clock
B) Nine o'clock
C) 18 o'clock
5) How many people does he make a reservation for?
A) 3
B) 4
C) 5
6) What is his surname?
A) Leavens
B) Leavins
C) Liavens

Answering Machine

This assessment requires students to listen and comprehend the phone message read by the teacher. They are given the chance to hear the message twice to allow them to catch any parts that they miss the first time. There are to pull the main ideas from the message, as would be done in a real-life situation. This is an extremely authentic task because in the work place, or home, or anyone with a cell phone does this anytime they receive a voicemail. These questions check the students understanding. In combination with other assessments, it could be a part of a final exam, placement exam, formal or summative assessment.

Test-takers hear: Listen closely to the following massage left on a phone.  You will hear the passage 2 times; then answer the questions below.
“Hi Sam, this is Eliza Jones calling from Family Dental Group.  This is a call to remind you that you have a dentist appointment with Dr. Marshall tomorrow, Wednesday the 24th at 4pm.  We look forward to seeing you.  Again, this is Eliza Jones calling to remind you of your appointment tomorrow at 4pm.  Please call me back at 586-314-7927 to confirm this appointment.”
Test-takers see: Please answer the following questions after you hear the passage. 
1)    Who is calling?
a.    Sam
b.    Dr. Marshall
c.    Eliza

2)    Why is the call being placed?
a.    A reminder from the dentist
b.    A reminder to go to dinner.
c.    A reminder for a job interview.

3)    What time is the appointment?
a.    Family Dental Group
b.    4:00pm
c.     586-314-7927

4)    What day is the appointment?
a.    4:00pm
b.    Wednesday
c.    Family Dental Group

5)    Does Sam need to call Eliza? Why?
a.    Yes, to confirm the appointment time.
b.    No, she does not want to see him.
c.    Yes, they are meeting for dinner.