The Washback Effect of Grade Ten English Language (EGSEC) Examination

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Addis Ababa University


This study addresses the issue of ‘washback’ effect of language testing. What is ‘washback’? What does it look like in practice? It has been widely asserted that tests influence language learners who prepare to take them (the tests), and teachers who try to help the students to prepare, thereby influence learning and teaching in schools. ‘Washback’ effect refers to these influences of the testing especially in language education (Alderson and Wall, 1993; Hughes, 1988). Although professionals have written about the concept, and definitions from the professionals’ perspective exist, as yet little is known about how ‘washback’ actually functions, whether it really exists and (if it at all exists) what its nature looks like in the day-to-day school operation. How do the Grade 10 students and their English language teachers react to (the nature and/or the effects of) the EGSEC English Language Examination? Has the exam any ‘washback’ effect on their perceptions of what the students do when they go about it? How well does the exam reflect the syllabi objectives, their content and method? By finding out answers to these and related questions, the researcher in this study attempts to examine the ‘washback’ effects of the existing Grade 10 EGSEC English Language Examination in six representative schools in Addis Ababa. An attempt is also made to determine the nature of the washback effect of the examination. In the study, the researcher employed various methodologies such as questionnaires and checklists. Two questionnaires were used to collect views concerning the examination from 248 candidates and 13 English language teachers. From the 248 participant students, 131 were males and 112 were females. Of the total, 131 are from government-maintained schools, 50 from public and 62 from private schools. Among the 13 teachers, 4 were females. From the total 8 were from government-maintained schools and 3 from public, the rest from private schools. And two checklists were employed to aid a detail analysis of two academic years (2004/05 and 2005/06) examinations. A total of 18 raters who represents the viewpoint of the program constituency, participated in selecting representative sample objectives for the analyses. Other five teachers also participated in making precise decision about the closeness of the items content and format to the syllabi objectives that the exam items attempt to measure. The findings of both investigations revealed that the examination has washback effect on the students’ as well as their English language teachers’ perception of the students’ learning and/or language use. And when seen from the point of view of coverage, relevance, and appropriateness, the examinations are found to have negative ‘washback’ effect on the learning /teaching process. Based on the findings, relevant conclusions were drawn and implications for future test design were discussed



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