Types of Assessment Tools and Approaches for Placement

What types of assessment tools and approaches can be used for placement purposes?

The way a program makes placement decisions, and the role of testing or assessment in that decision, will be based on the local context. Factors may include the availability of off-the-shelf testing, the number of students being tested, and the program type. Some programs may purchase placement tests while others may develop their own.

Click on the boxes below to learn more about the benefits and challenges of different assessment tools and approaches that can be used for placement purposes. Note that some programs may use multiple tools or approaches when designing or selecting their placement process.

Multiple-choice Tests

This type of test typically consists of a series of statements or questions, each of which includes a few different answer choices for students to select from. Multiple-choice tests are often easy to administer and score and are commonly associated with traditional exams used to measure students’ knowledge of grammar or vocabulary. This approach may be more efficient for placement purposes but does not allow you to develop a comprehensive understanding of what students can do with a language and therefore does not align well with a proficiency-based approach to teaching and learning.



Performance-based Tasks

This approach to placement testing involves having students demonstrate what they can do in the language in authentic, real-world situations and can be used to capture students’ knowledge and abilities in different domains of the language. These tasks often take more time to develop, administer, and score, and may therefore not be appropriate for placement testing in institutions with limited resources.

Oral Interviews
Oral interviews are increasingly used in combination with other methods of placement testing. These activities focus on assessing a students’ oral proficiency, allowing you to develop a better understanding of students’ overall communicative competence in the language.
Oral interviews may be informal, being administered and scored in-house and designed to simultaneously gather information about students’ backgrounds and experiences with the language. Informal interviews may be particularly helpful for placement when working with less commonly taught languages (LCTLs) for which there is limited funding and fewer available resources, though they are time consuming and may need to be supplemented by other methods, such as questionnaires and/or written tests to gather all information needed about students’ abilities.

Oral interviews can also be more formal and involve external administrators and raters. For example, some programs may choose to work with certified testers to administer ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interviews (OPIs) for placement purposes, though these may not be quite as efficient or cost-effective for some programs depending on their needs.

Self-assessments and Questionnaires
These approaches to placement testing involve asking students about their backgrounds, experiences, interests, needs, and abilities related to the language. Research has shown that self-assessments and questionnaires can be extremely valuable for making placement decisions, and they are often used as supplementary resources along with other placement testing methods, such as interviews and tests designed to measure discrete skills like knowledge of grammar or vocabulary. While these methods can provide you with a great deal of information about incoming students, they can be time-consuming and unreliable if used in isolation and students are not honest about their abilities.

Self-assessment allows students to feel a sense of agency in the placement process while simultaneously helping them reflect on their skills and abilities, and you may find it helpful to use the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements to guide students in this activity and align Can-Do Statements with the expectations associated with different courses offered in your program. Questionnaires also provide an opportunity for you to learn more about your students’ exposure to the language and may be particularly useful for placing students who have previous experience learning the language at home or in their communities, as well as those who have spent an extended amount of time living or working abroad in a country where the language is spoken. This method also allows you to capture information about students’ motivations for learning the language, which may be helpful when making decisions about placement for students who fall between two course levels.


Shortcut Proficiency Tests

These types of tests can provide quick estimations of students’ overall proficiency in a language. Commonly used shortcut proficiency tests include C-tests, which involve asking students to complete the second half of every second word in a paragraph of text, and elicited imitation tasks, which involve asking students to listen to and repeat a series of sentences. Shortcut proficiency tests are efficient to administer and score, can be adapted for use in a variety of languages, and have been increasingly used to support placement decisions. If you intend to develop your own rather than using an available assessment, note that they require specialized development processes and technical knowledge to create.