You are on page 1of 13

The backwash effect: from

testing to teaching
Luke Prodromou


To find out how much someone knows by asking them questions.

(Longman's Active Study Dictionary).

'Teach' and 'test' are quite close together in a dictionary, but in testing we
do different things from the things we do when we teach. This article
assesses the concept of 'backwash' in language teaching, looks at the
consequences of testing on teaching in a broad educational context, and
suggests that 'negative backwash' makes good language teaching more
difficult. The two processes of testing and teaching are considered to be
necessary but distinct. A system is described for distinguishing between
them which is then applied to developing classroom activities for
examination preparation classes, to help teachers move from testing to
teaching procedures.

What is the
backwash effect?

The backwash effect can be defined as the direct or indirect effect of

examinations on teaching methods. According to the effect of
examinations on what we do in the classroom we may refer to 'positive'
and 'negative' backwash (Heaton 1990: 170, Hughes 1989: 1). Although
it is an important factor in classrooms wherever examinations play a
dominant role in the educational process, it has not been fully explored. It
is not mentioned in the index to such standard ELT handbooks as Stern
(1983), Howatt (1984), or Harmer (1991), and reference books such as
Richards et al. (1985) and Seaton (1982) do not consider it worthy of an
entry. Heaton (1990) and Hughes (1989) discuss, rather sketchily, what I
refer to as 'overt' backwash (see below), but do not explore the broader
educational implications of 'covert' backwash. The most thorough
treatment of the concept of backwash is that of Alderson and Wall (1993),
who suggest that 'washback' as they call it, is more complex than has
hitherto been assumed. They make the valid point that there is no one-toone relationship between tests, good or bad, and their effect on the
classroom. In their view, before a test has any impact on classroom
practice it is mediated by factors such as the place of examinations in
particular societies, the teacher's competence, and the resources available
within the school system.
ELT Journal Volume 4911 January 1995 Oxford University Press 1995


Downloaded from at University of Reading on May 4, 2014

Teach: If you teach someone something you give them instructions so

they know about it or how to do it; you make them think, feel or act
in a new or different way; you explain or show students how to do
something. (Collins' COBUILD Dictionary)

Whether the backwash effect is positive or negative, how it operates in

particular contextsindeed, whether it exists at allmust be explored
empirically. Many of the assumptions about backwash are untested and
simplistic. Alderson and Wall (1993) point out that very little observation
of the effect has been carried out, and that what evidence there is points to
the highly complex nature of the process.

The Professional neglect of the backwash effect (what it is, how it operates,
consequences of and its consequences) is one of the main reasons why new methods often
backwash fail to take root in language classes. Many teachers, trapped in an
examination preparation cycle, feel that communicative and humanistic
methodologies are luxuries they cannot afford. When the market calls on
teachers and institutions to produce quantifiable results, it usually means
good examination results. Sound teaching practices are often sacrificed in
an anxious attempt to 'cover' the examination syllabus, and to keep ahead
of the competition. In summary, 'negative backwash', as experienced by
the learner, means language learning in a stressful, textbook-bound
The value of It goes without saying that tests and examinationsat the right time, in
testing the right proportionshave a valuable contribution to make in assessing
learners' proficiency, progress, and achievement. As a device for
diagnosing learners' errors, and for defining the interlanguage of
individuals and groups of learners, they are indispensable. Tests are also
the simplest and most effective form of extrinsic motivation, of imposing
discipline on the most unruly class, and of ensuring attention as well as
regular attendance. Because they are closely bound up with classroom
authority, tests invariably lead to teacher-centred lessons, especially
where the teacher is inexperienced or insecure.
Uses and abuses Abuse of testing occurs when tests invade essential teaching space, when
of testing they are not the final stage of a process of learning but become the
beginning, middle, and end of the whole process. Testing may be a short
cut to extrinsic motivation, but constant resort to it is an admission of the
teacher's failure to make intrinsic motivation work. In the long run, it will
demotivate the learner.
Overt backwash The backwash effect can be overt or covert. In its overt forms, it usually

means doing a lot of past papers in class as preparation for an examination;

it may involve replicating, from past papers or the textbook, the exercise14

Luke Prodromou

Downloaded from at University of Reading on May 4, 2014

Bearing these words of caution in mind, it might be useful to provide a

brief background to the description of backwash put forward in this
article. I have been involved in examinations at several levels: as a
teacher, trainer, examiner, and writer of tests and examination-related
materials. The backwash effect described here is based on my observation
of examination classes in the private and public sectors, over a period of
twenty years, in a society (Greece) where examinations play a very
significant role.

types favoured in the particular examination students will be taking:

multiple-choice, transformation, or gap-filling. The methodological routine
that results from the negative backwash effect in its overt forms is an all too
familiar one: presentation of the text followed by questions similar to those
in the examination. This 'text + questions' formula is a crude mirror-image
of what happens in most conventional examinations.
Other hallmarks of the backwash effect include the use of fragments of
(often inauthentic) language, a concentration on word- and sentence-level
linguistic features, and a focus on skills which in terms of administration
and marking are easier to test. This is why reading and writing tend to be
given much more emphasis in classrooms than speaking and listening.

Covert backwash

The explicit consequences of the backwash effect are easily identifiable.

The implicit consequences are more elusive, and more disturbing. Even if
examination boards reduced the number of boring multiple-choice
exercises, the examination class would still be in conflict with the
teacher's desire to teach communicatively and humanistically. This is
because covert testing will always be with us. It is a deep-seated, often
unconscious process, which reflects unexamined assumptions about a
wide range of pedagogic principles: how people learn, the relationship
between learner and teacher, the nature of teacher authority, the
importance of correction, the balance between form and content, the role
of classroom management, and so on.
Basically, covert testing amounts to teaching a textbook as if it were a
testbook. Usually the teacher is not fully aware of this process: in his or
her mind there is a clear dividing line between a lesson which involves
teaching and one which involves testing. I am using the latter term in a
specific sense which includes both overt and covert backwash effects.
Some examples of covert testing will show what I mean. I have observed
many lessons where the teacher asks a question, receives a correct answer
from a particular student, and then moves on to ask the next student the
next question. The objective of this routine is tofindout what the students
know. This, and the lack of involvement of the rest of the class in the
sequence, makes the activity more of an informal assessment than a
teaching procedure. The absence of any lead-in or follow-up to the work
done on a text is entirely typical of testing procedures.
The backwash effect: testing and teaching


Downloaded from at University of Reading on May 4, 2014

This kind of overt backwash is usually negative, but there is no reason

why we should not have tests which adopt techniques more in line with
communicative and, to some extent, humanistic teaching. Fortunately, it
seems that most examination boards are aware of the problem, and are
taking steps to tip the balance in favour of positive backwash. It is possible
for testing procedures to have a positive effect on classroom practice. For
example, when one of the examination boards introduced a listening test
based on audio-cassette material (to replace the texts read aloud by an
examination supervisor), this had the effect of heightening awareness of
what authentic listening involves, and schools quickly began to prepare
students to cope with the new challenges.

Lead-ins and follow-ups have become standard teaching devices (see Peck
1988: 201, where he refers to them as 'heads and tails'). The pedagogic
rationale of a lead-in is to arouse interest and draw on the students'
knowledge, thereby making learning 'easier'. By drawing a personal
response from students, a follow-up will help fix or anchor the new input in
the learners' memories. A good teacher maximises the learners' chance of
success by pre-teaching vocabulary, and doing pre-Jistening and prereading tasks to motivate learners, activate their past experience, and draw
on their potential for more effective learning strategies. This approach
could not be more in contrast to the standard ritual in classroom tests and
public examinations, where the teacher simply gives out the papers, and
instructs students to 'get on with it' in silence.


Asking questions

In overt tests, the teacher or the examiners ask a lot of questions, but
students taking public examinations, for instance, are expressly
discouraged from doing so, unless there are exceptional circumstances. In
covert testing, too, the teacher asks a lot of questions, while the students
are not given much opportunity to ask questions (of the teacher or each
other). A teaching procedure, on the other hand, allows students to
exercise the power of asking questions; question-asking is accepted as an
assertion of personality that can give a boost to self-confidence. It is
symptomatic of the psychology of conventional testing that questions are
discouraged, and worrying to note how often teaching mimics the monointerrogative mode of public examination, with parallel systems of
teacher authority and student submissiveness.

Denying learners'
thinking time

In covert testing less able learners are penalized by the collective

assumption that the objective of teacher questions is to elicit the right
answer in the shortest possible time. Thus, good students shout out the
answers, put their hands up first, fill in the pauses created by 'slower'
learners searching for the right answer. Testing abhors pauses, which it
sees as a vacuum rather than a necessary space in which studentsfindtheir
own level.
Luke Prodromou

Downloaded from at University of Reading on May 4, 2014

Penalizing error Testing values correct answers, and penalizes error. But in teaching we
should be as interested in the process by which students arrive at the
wrong answer as we are in the correct answer itself. Holt (1964: 142-3)
described how the process of 'only the right answer' ignores the stage
individual students have reached in their learning, and imposes on them
models of performance based on the 'good' learners in the class. In
testing, the good learner is a yardstick by which all students are measured;
in teaching, the student is his or her own yardstick. This is important:
covert testing occurs whenever we do not give individuals their own space
and time to answer questions; it is in subtle, invisible ways like this that
we set up students to fail. Failure may be an inevitable feature of the
discrimination required in testing procedures, and the classroom
hierarchies this leads to; in teaching, however, discrimination in the
negative sense has no placefor the good language teacher, success in
tests should be as routine as failure.

Some learners need more thinking time than others, but conventional
testing conditions impose a strict time limit on the production of
knowledge. It is not uncommon to hear of highly intelligent people who
have failed public examinations because of time constraints, or an
inability to adapt their learning style to examination conditions.
In denying learners essential thinking time teachers often unconsciously
recreate these conditions; it is a great temptation to accept a correct
answer from the quicker students and move on to the next question. Not
giving students the time they need to prepare and process language, either
in whole-class work or in pairs, creates anxiety, even panic, and therefore
errorteacher-induced error. The strict time limits of formal tests can
produce error in the same way.

Many teachers tend to move closer to the student they have asked to
answer a question, and to fix their gaze on this student as they wait for the
answer they have in mind. This proximity of teacher and nominated
student tends to exclude the rest of the class; the teacher's body language,
almost invites the non-participants, to 'switch off and talk amongst
themselves, which they often do, till the teacher turns to them in search of
the next correct answer.
Denying learners A powerful visual message is also conveyed by the way desks are
communication arranged in the classroom. In testing, the desks are invariably arranged in
straight lines with a space between them large enough to deter students
from communicating with each other. Communication between students
in a test is thus both implictly and explicitly forbidden.
In teaching, by contrast, we encourage sharing and communication by
arranging desks in a semi-circular or group formation. These are familiar
dichotomies. Yet how many teachers go into a classroom for an ordinary
lesson where the desks have already been laid out in linear fashion and leave
them exactly as they are, even though a horse-shoe or group arrangement is
possible? The learners are thus given an unspoken but powerful message
about the teacher's methodological assumptions; what in teaching we would
call 'caring and sharing', in testing becomes 'cheating'.
The way we use space in class is as important as the texts we choose and
the methodology we adopt in presenting them. An arrangement of desks,
appropriate in the context of objective assessment, when transferred to
everyday teaching, may obstruct the process of learning.
Inflation of teacher Testing, overt and covert is, as Fabian (1982: 24) has argued, a
authority paternalistic, teacher-centred business: 'Examinationslike democratic
institutionsdo not thrive in isolation. When the consumer and the
The backwash effect: testing and teaching


Downloaded from at University of Reading on May 4, 2014

The proxemics of Covert testing routines are often accompanied and reinforced by the
covert testing teacher's approach to classroom management. The use of space is one
important dimension of the management of groups. Teachers can teach
badly, not because of the methods or techniques they have adopted, but
through mismanagement of space.

community at large surrender to academic technicians their right and duty

to be involved, they also surrender their right to check on the teaching
strategies that are the direct result.'
The premium placed on the 'right answer' in both overt and covert testing
inevitably adds to the inflation of the teacher's authority, based on his or her
role as arbiter of correctness. One of my main arguments is that we need to
move away from this relationship towards a learner-centred approach to
testing, and I will give examples of how this can begin to happen.
Characteristics of
testing and

In Table 1,1 summarize what I feel are the most important characteristics
of the teaching and testing processes.

The features listed under 'Testing' are those we normally associate with
the backwash effect, with the addition of what I have referred to as covert
symptoms of backwash. While most public examinations and tests, often
against the testers' wishes, encourage attitudes to learning summed up
under Testing, it should be said that a number of recent public
examinations have tried to counter negative backwash by basing more of
their material on authentic sources, and reducing the number of
decontextualized sentences. Discrete item testing (knowledge of
individual points of language) is balanced with global testing (successful
use of more than one language skill in more extensive chunks of text). In
addition, the testing of speaking has become a more important feature,
and has been made more natural and communicative. It is also refreshing
to see some examining bodies insist on the use of dictionaries in the
examination room: in real life, students would not be isolated from such
useful resources, so why should the examination not allow this? However,
the backwash effect remains predominantly negative and encourages a
model of learning summed up in the left-hand column of Table 1.
(Broadly speaking, the two approaches described correspond to left and
right brain learningsee, for example, Gerngross and Puchta, 1992.
I would like now to discuss in more detail some of the characteristics
listed in Table 1.
Failure and Tests are designed to discriminate proficiency, progress, and achievement.
success Indeed, some tests would be regarded as inefficient if all candidates
enjoyed equal success. This is innocent enough, and, in administrative
terms, very useful. It does, however, tend to encourage a view of students
as 'good' or 'bad', 'strong' or 'weak'. Such a classification may be the
first step towards a fatalism that assumes some students are born to fail
and others are 'natural' language learners. The victim of this Manichaean
view of the classroom world is usually the so-called 'bad' learner, who is

Luke Prodromou

Downloaded from at University of Reading on May 4, 2014

The qualities listed there under 'Teaching' are based on my own

observation of teachers, native-speakers and non-native speakers, in the
context of a number of teacher training courses and on a survey I have
been conducting with students into what makes a good language teacher. I
have also drawn on the work into effective teaching reported in Holt
(1964), Peck (1988), Richards (1990), and Harmer (1991).

Table 1



exercises (multiple-choice, etc.]

teacher control
textbook input
individualism, competition
isolated sentences
fragments of text
extrinsic motivation



condemned to failure by the pressures of examination preparation.

Testing is a straitjacket that cramps personal learning styles and
discourages the 'weak' learner's potential for growth.

In testing, there is a pre-occupation with accuracy and error that reaches

almost behaviourist proportions. Sadly, 'errormania' on the part of the
teacher encourages 'errorphobia' in the learners: a reluctance by 'weaker'
members of the group in particular to take risks for fear of making
mistakes, losing marks, and thus slipping down in the classroom
hierarchy. The result is a silence arising not from the learners' ability but
from discriminatory classroom procedures. Research into the good
language learner has highlighted the fact that these learners are risk-takers
who are also able to learn from their mistakes (Rubin 1987, Wenden 1987,
Stern 1983). By not encouraging learners to learn from their mistakes and
work out the rules of the language for themselves, conventional testing
prevents the full development of the cognitive aspects of learning, thereby
contradicting what we have come to consider as good teaching practice.

Marks versus

A classroom climate dominated by testing will give students the

impression that what matters in language learning is the mark they get, not
only in tests, but also for classroom performance, assignments, and
homework, even though these may have no direct connection with the final
examination. The students' frequent demand for feedback on all of their
errors and their preoccupation with their weaknesses rather than their
strengths have their numerical equivalent in the pursuit of high marks or
grades. Although the view that language acquisition is easily quantifiable
may encourage students to work harder (extrinsic motivation), it also
obscures the importance of concepts which are not always easy to
measure, such as appropriacy, quality, and attitude in learning.
The backwash effect: testing and teaching


Downloaded from at University of Reading on May 4, 2014

learning from error
learner independence
learner input
support (from teacher and peer group)
the group, co-operation
sensitivity to learners
whole texts
lead-in, follow-up
intrinsic motivation

Anxiety versus

Tests and examinations are closely associated in learners' minds with

anxiety; it is doubtful whether performance, even in tests, is facilitated by
an attack of fear and nervous tension but, in educational terms, these are a
major obstacle to learning. Most recent approaches to language learning
would accept the importance of affective factors in the classroom. The
features of orthodox testing I have described so far all contribute towards
raising the learner's affective filter, and thus placing barriers in the way of
efficient learning. Moreover, a great strain is placed on classroom
relationships when the teacher is called upon to play the role of the
students' judge and executioner: when testing comes through the door,
rapport between teacher and learner often goes out the window.

One-dimensional or anaemic textbook/teacher input is to some extent

inevitable when the public examination is also an international
examination, available in countries with widely differing cultures.
Challenging and culturally relevant material is watered down on the
principle of the lowest common denominator. Examination material will
tend to reflect the culture in which English is spoken as a first language.
The problem of alien and alienating content is a parallel one to that of the
'global textbook', but in an even more acute form. The remedy might be a
greater use of local and learner input, but this is an option rarely adopted
by teachers and students straitjacketed by examination syllabuses and
materials: material that will not 'come up in the exams' will rarely be
'brought up' in class.
The discourse of The content of texts used in examination preparation is not only
examination texts impersonal and culture-bound, it is often a peculiar variety of English,
which is neither fact notfiction.Test items like the following are unique to
the examination genrethey are literally context-less and content-less,
about nothing and nobody in particular:
1 I'd like to visit India more than any other country in the world.
India is
2 The flight to Moscow lasted three and a half hours.
It took
Pronouns in English usually refer to somebody or something previously
mentioned, but the pronoun in sentence 1 refers to neither: it is pure form.
We do not know who the T referred to is, and we will never know why he
or she would like to visit India.

Luke Prodromou

Downloaded from at University of Reading on May 4, 2014

Textbook input Anxiety about covering the examination syllabus means teachers are
versus learner afraid to take risks with material not manifestly related to the
input examination; students may also become impatient with material which
does not seem to be in the form of examination practice. This has multiple
consequences: textbook and teacher input are the order of the day, and the
material chosen may be irrelevant to learners' personal needs or culture;
even when the material is potentially interesting it is not taught for content
but for form, as this serves the narrow requirements of examination

The definite article in sentence 2 is tantalizingly specific, but in fact the

cohesion is misleading: there is no flight, definite or indefinite; there is no
context to which this text belongs and to which we can refer if we want to
know more. It is difficult (though not impossible, as I will show later) to
relate these propositions to a linguistic or real-world context.
Functionally, we do not know whether these texts are parts of a narrative
or argumentative text.
Solemnity versus

Product and
The two methods of imparting language that I have referred to as testing
and teaching differ in one overarching essential: the first focuses almost
exclusively on the product (the language to be taught), while the second
aims to make the process of imparting language both interesting and
fulfilling. In the former, the learner's potential, both linguistic and
personal, is downgraded; in the latter, it is encouraged. The obsession
with the linguistic product, and the sacrifice of rich pedagogic processes,
is usually accompanied by cries of 'We don't have time', 'I mustfinishthe
book', 'Cover the syllabus', etc. Preoccupation with the end-product
obscures the importance in language teaching of two factors mentioned
earlier: classroom management and rapport. If the examination syllabus
and its accompanying exercise types are the destination for many
teachers, the process by which they reach that destination is the journey: I
have been arguing that this journey, which depends so much on good
management and rapport, should be both enjoyable and educationally
procedures to

Tests and examinations are not going to go away; the product, both
linguistic and commercial, will continue to be packaged, marketed, and
sold. Any suggestions one makes concerning the transfer from testing
procedures to teaching procedures must take this fact of educational life
into account. The examples I give in the final part of this paper are based
on exercise types commonly used in examinations. I will try to show how
the most unpromising testing material might be made into a more
challenging vehicle of personal expression, without the teacher having to
abandon the book or the syllabus.
The overall principle behind the techniques described below is the shift
from teacher control to student control. The tasks will therefore involve
the use of learner input, which I feel is a key element in transforming
negative into positive backwash and in making examination preparation
more of an educational activity than it is at present in most examination
The backwash effect: testing and teaching


Downloaded from at University of Reading on May 4, 2014

Humour, like context and content, is considered inappropriate in testing.

Tests cannot be funny because there is not thought to be room for humour
in the solemn ritual of the examination process. Thus, testing becomes a
pretext for numerous practices which in any other pedagogic context we
would reject out of hand as inimical to good language learning.

1 The examiner's hat

(i) Students complete sentence-level multiple-choice, gap-filling, or
transformation exercises in the conventional way.

(iii) In groups, the students re-cast their personalized sentences in the

style of the test format they are working on (multiple-choice, gapfilling, transformation exercises, etc).
(iv) The groups swap their personalized test items and do each other's
(v) The teacher checks and gets feedback on the form and in particular
on the content of the sentences.
2 Gender bending
(i) Get students to rewrite sentence-level multiple-choice and
transformation exercises by asking them to change all feminine
subjects into masculine and vice versa. The results will be both
surprising and memorable.
(ii) Focus on content: consider whether the resulting sentences are (a)
correct (b) acceptable. A lively debate will invariably ensue as, for
instance, when 'He's such a naughty boy; it's amazing what his
mother lets him get away with' becomes 'She's such a naughty girl;
it's amazing what her father lets her get away with' or when 'Having
laid the table, Mrs Jones called the family to supper' becomes 'Having
laid the table, Mr Jones called the family to supper.'
(iii) Ask students to summarize the results of this exercise into a chart
similar to Table 2. (This is a small sample based on an authentic,
international public examination!).
(iv) Ask students to write an argumentative composition on equality of
the sexes based on the 'data' given in Table 2.
3 Transformation tennis
The following exercise breaks down the pattern of serried ranks of
studentsheads in books, no eye contactby using the classroom space
as a kind of verbal tennis court.

Luke Prodromou

Downloaded from at University of Reading on May 4, 2014

(ii) Students rewrite the test items to reflect their personal views, using
the textbook or testbook as a guide. Thus, if an original sentence in
the test says 'Stamp collecting is the most enjoyable hobby I know',
students can replace either the subject or the adjective with items of
their choice. Students may also replace impersonal or 'non-existent'
subjects such as 'he', 'she', or 'John', with the names of friends,
people in the class, members of their family, or famous people, or
make the sentence interesting or amusing in any way they wish. The
objective in each case is to make the utterly forgettable original
sentence become memorable in some way.

Table 2



stay out late

can push open doors
earn a lot of money
drive quickly and carelessly
make difficult decisions
take an active part in politics
become priests

have to come home early

make chocolate cake
give up their jobs to look after children
look carefully before crossing the road
are afraid to go into the sea
tell lies
become nurses

(i) The class form into two teams. A student in team X 'serves' the first
half of a pair of transformation sentences, for example by saying
'India is the country I would like to visit more than any other.'

(iii) The teams take it in turns to serve.

This technique can be applied to any textbook exercise which is in two
distinct parts: matching, multiple-choice, word-building (e.g. noun to
4 Connecting the fragments
The following exercise takes impersonal fragments of language with
minimal content and gets students to make them into an integrated part of
a whole text.
(i) Complete a sentence-level test in your usual way (multiple-choice,
transformations, word-building, expansion from notes to complete
sentences, etc.).
(ii) Ask students to write a composition to include at least one of the
practice sentences. They can incorporate the sentences at the
beginning, middle, or end of their composition.
(iii) Students circulate their compositions round the class (or you can
stick them up on the class noticeboard as an 'exhibition'). Students
read each other's texts and try to identify and make a note of the
sentences from the original textbook exercise.
This exercise not only provides creative composition practice, but also
revises those sentences which, no sooner practised, are usually forgotten.

My suggestions may seem to imply that the problem of negative

backwash is one of course design and methodology. It is, however,
especially in its covert forms, chiefly a problem of attitude and rapport.
Teachers express attitudes towards learning not only in their choice of
materials and methods, but also in their approach to classroom
management. This disciplinewhich involves the use of time, space,
voice, and gestureweaves subtle messages which can motivate or
demotivate a class. For this reason I would like to end with a brief
The backwash effect: testing and teaching


Downloaded from at University of Reading on May 4, 2014

(ii) A student from team Y serves the sentence back in the form of an
appropriate transformation, using the stem provided in the book: The
country (I would like to visit more than any other is India). Team Y
scores if the transformation is correct.

checklist of management tactics which will tend to mitigate some of the

features of testing, and encourage an ideology of co-operative learning.
From multiple
choice to personal

1 When you ask the class a question, allow the 'weaker' students some
thinking timedo not make question and answer routine a race to the
right answer.
2 Do not stand too close to the student who is answering the question,
thereby excluding the rest of the class: use space and distance to create
an inclusive, group feeling.

4 Give students time to look at questions before they listen or readthis

will make the task more directed, and help develop skills rather than
merely test them.
5 Encourage students to shareestablish the idea of tests as a group
activity alongside individual testing tactics.
6 Ensure smooth linking of the stages of the lessonavoid the
disconnected, random fragments, the rag-bag so characteristic of test
material and examination preparation classes.
7 Avoid saying things like 'work quickly', or 'you've got one minute to
do thishurry up'.
8 Arrange desks in such a way that students can see each other and make
eye contact.
9 When you ask a question or discuss a problem use eye contact to
include the whole class, not just the 'best' students.
10 Use your voice to suggest that error is a useful contribution to the
class, not an unfortunate lapse on the part of the student. Try a fall-rise
intonation ('Yes, but . . .') rather than a fall ('No').
Received December 1993


Luke Prodromou

Downloaded from at University of Reading on May 4, 2014

3 When you get a 'right' answer do not just move on to the next item:
ask other students 'Do you agree?', 'What have you got?' Do not
reveal the right answer too soon. The process is as important as the

The backwash effect: testing and teaching


Downloaded from at University of Reading on May 4, 2014

Richards, J. C. 1990. The Language Teaching
Alderson, C. and D. Wall. 1993. 'Does washback
Matrix. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rubin, J. 1987. 'What the 'good language learner'
exist?' Applied Linguistics 14/2: 115-29.
Fabian, P. 1982. 'Examinations: why tolerate their
can teach us'. TESOL Quarterly 9/1:41-51.
paternalism?' in J. B. Heaton (ed.) Language Seaton, B. 1982. A Handbook of English Language
Testing. London: Modern English Publications.
Teaching Terms and Practice. London: Macmillan.
Gerngross, G. and H. Puchta. 1992. Creative Stern, H. H. 1983. Fundamental Concepts of
Grammar Practice. London: Longman.
Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University
Harmer, J. 1991. The Practice of English Language
Teaching. London: Longman.
Wenden, A. 1987. 'How to be a good language
Heaton, J. D. 1990. Writing English Language Tests. learner' in A. Wenden and J. Rubin (eds.) Learner
London: Longman.
Strategies in Language Learning. Englewood
Holt, J. 1964. How Children Fail. Harmondsworth:
Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.
Howatt, A. P. R. 1984. A History of English The author
Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Luke Prodromou works for The British Council in
Greece. He has been involved in training teachers for
Hughes, A. 1989. Testing for Language Teachers. the DTEFLA and DOTE and is an assessor/moderator
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
for these schemes. He has also been a member of the
Peck, A. 1988. Language Teachers at Work. London: UCLES CTEFLA Scheme Committee and the team
Prentice Hall.
working on the new Cambridge Integrated Language
Richards, J., J. Platt, and H. Weber. 1985. The Training Schemes (CILTS). He is the author of Mixed
Longman Dictionary of Applied Linguistics. Ability Classes (Macmillan) and several textbooks for
London: Longman.
examination classes.