Assessing Listening

Hanan Alqarni & Yuanyuan Sun
This handout is submitted as a part of requirements for E 638: Assessment of English Language
Learners. It is a supplemental material to the powerpoint created for a group presentation
assignment in E 638 class. My colleague and I had to research on assessing listening, then
reported the relevant information about the language area, a variety of sub-constructs which can
be assessed in this language area, the kinds of research that is done in this area, the kinds of tasks
a test developer could create, as well as how to score and report scores in this area.
Research on Assessing Listening is:
Listening comprehension:​ A complex listening process to measure

● Interaction of different sources of information: the acoustic input (phonological
modification, stress and intonation, etc.), linguistic (vocabulary, syntax, etc.) and non-
linguistic knowledge (knowledge about topic and context, etc.)
● A dynamic, ongoing process: constructing an interpretation of what the text is about, and
continually modifying that as new information becomes available (Buck, 2001)
● A multidimentional process
● A very individual, personal process: listeners make different inferences and have
different interpretations of the texts they hear (Buck, 2001)

Models of Listening​ (Nation & Newton, 2009)

● Types of Listening:
one-way listening: it is typically associated with the transfer of information (transactional
listening). e.g. monologues such as lectures in academic contexts.
two-way listening: it is typically associated with maintaining social relations
(interactional listening). e.g. dialogues such as group discussions in academic contexts.
● Listening Processes:
Bottom-up Processes: perceiving and parsing the speech stream at increasingly larger
levels beginning with auditory-phonetic, phonemic, syllabic, lexical, syntactic, semantic,
propositional, pragmatic and interpretive.
Top-down Processes: the various types of knowledge involved in understanding
knowledge are not applied in any fixed order.
Listening Sub-skills​ (Buck, 2001)

Theorists have attempted to describe listening comprehension in terms of taxonomies of
sub-skills that underlie the process using different approaches, such as Richards (1983) ‘s
sub-skills model in conversational listening (cited in Buck, 2001). All the taxonomies should be
treated with caution.

Factors Affecting Listening ​(Ockey, 2012): rate of speech, background knowledge about the
topic, accent, prosody (stress and intonation, etc.), types of interaction and relationships among

Approaches to Assessing Listening ​(Buck, 2001)

● The discrete-point approach:​ ​it focuses on testing ability to recognise elements of the
language in their oral form. Discrete-point tests generally use selected responses
(True/False, multiple choice). The most common tasks used are phonemic discrimination
tasks, paraphrase recognition and response evaluation.

● Integrative testing: it emphasizes assessing the processing of language (not only know
about language but use it). The most widely used tests are tests of reduced redundancy
(e.g. listening cloze and dictation) in which elements are removed thus reducing the
redundancy of the text.

● Communicative Testing: it emphasizes communicative competence. Characteristics of
test items include authentic texts, providing a communicative purpose and authentic

Future Developments in Assessing Listening​ (Buck, 2001)

● Providing suitable texts: genuine v. authentic, etc.
● Visuals
● Collaborative listening: requiring skills in terms of listener roles in interactive situations:
the addressee, participants who are not being directly addressed, over-hearers, etc.
● Computer-based testing

Designing Assessment Tasks:

Intensive​ listening (the discrete-point approach)

● Recognizing phonological and morphological elements:
○ Phonemic pairs. e.g. (is he leaving? vs. is he living)
○ Morphological pairs. e.g. (I missed you vs. I miss you)
○ Stress pattern. e.g. (suspect as noun vs. suspect as verb)
● Paraphrase Recognition:
○ Sentence paraphrase
○ Dialogue paraphrase

Responsive​ listening

● Appropriate response to a question
○ Multiple choice questions
● Open-ended response to a question (writing/ speaking)

Selective​ listening (integrative testing)

● Listening Cloze (fill in the blanks)
● Information Transfer (chart filling)
● Note-Taking

Extensive​ listening

● Top-down
● Improve listening fluency (listen to a TedTalk video and write a listening log)

Assessing Listening for Learning (Vandergrift & Goh, 2012)

Formative Learner checklists, teacher checklists, questionnaires, listening diaries,
Assessment interviews (think-loud, stimulated recall), portfolios,
dynamic listening assessment, quizzes

Summative Quizzes
Assessment Portfolios
Achievement tests
Proficiency tests
Large-scale standard tests

Choosing formative and summative assessment tool for L2 listening must consider five criteria:
● Validity: to what degree does the assessment accurately measure what you want to
● Reliability: to what degree is the assessment dependable?
● Authenticity: to what degree is the assessment representative of real-life language use?
● Washback: to what degree does the assessment provide useful feedback for the learner
and influence the teaching process?
● Practicality: to what degree is the assessment amenable for classroom use, given
administrative constraints?


Selected response tasks:​ widely used in achievement tests and large scale standard tests, easy to

Limited response tasks:​ possible partial credits

e.g. Gap-filling tests are usually scored by counting the number of gaps that are correctly
filled, and using the sum as the total test score. In tests where test-taker has to replace
deleted words (listening recall tests), there are two methods of scoring: to score the item
as correct only when the actual deleted word is replaced, or to count any acceptable

Extended production tasks: ​criterion referenced, rubrics


Buck, G. (2001). ​Assessing listening​. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Nation, I. S. P., & Newton, J. (2009). ​Teaching ESL/EFL listening and speaking. ​New York,
NY: Routledge.

Ockey, G. (2012). Assessment of listening. In C. Chapelle (Ed.), ​The encyclopedia of applied
linguistics.​ ​Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Vandergrift, L., & Goh, C. (2012).​ Teaching and learning second language listening:
Metacognition in action.​ New York, NY: Routledge.