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Kia Karavas

It is generally acknowledged that the assessment of speaking is one of the most challenging and complex areas of assessment. This is due to various reasons including: a) the difficulty of developing an operational construct definition of oral performance that can capture the richness of oral communication and human interaction; b) the multiplicity of communication skills required for oral interaction –skills that do not lend themselves easily to objective assessment; c) the range of factors that influence our impression of how well someone can speak a language (cf. Fulcher 2003, Kitao and Kitao 1996, Luoma 2004). Of course, despite the difficulties involved in assessment, speaking is one of the most common human activities, the development of the ability to perform orally an important part of foreign language programmes and, therefore, important in language testing. The KPG exam battery considers the assessment of speaking has equal weight as all the other areas of communication –reading and listening comprehension, as well as writing performance.

Speaking is assessed in Module 4 (oral production and mediation) of the KPG exams, at all levels. The development of the speaking test is based on clearly laid out test specifications (which all languages certified through the KPG examination system follow).[1] For the design of test items and tasks, the KPG candidates’ age, first language, language learning background and other sociocultural factors are taken into account.  The test items and tasks undergo rigorous and systematic pre- and pilot testing and evaluation (by oral examiners, KPG candidates and trained judges) on the basis of which changes, improvements and fine tuning of the test items are made. Moreover, research is carried out by the RCeL,[2] focusing on the construct validity and effectiveness of the test as a whole.

The KPG exams adhere to a functional approach to language use and set out, throughout all modules, to evaluate socially purposeful language use, which entails a certain amount of social and school literacy. Within the KPG exam battery, language is viewed as social practice embedded in the sociocultural context by which it is produced. This view of language is reflected in the design of the speaking tasks and in the assessment criteria.

The tasks rubrics always make the context of situation explicit, since candidates are expected to produce socially meaningful language given the social context. The sample task below (from the B2 level exam of May 2007) illustrates this.


Speaking Task

Look at this photo. Imagine you have taken your 4 year-old niece for a walk in the centre of town and you come across this event. Explain what’s happening, and why the event is taking place.


As one can see, the rubrics for the task above define, (a) the purpose of communication (to explain what’s happening), (b) the content of communication (to describe the event), (c) who the participants in the communicative event are and what their relationship is (adult-child, uncle/aunt –niece), (d) what the setting of the communicative event is (in the city centre), and (e) what the channel of communication is (face to face interaction).

Given the expectations in performance, one of the assessment criteria for all levels is “sociolinguistic competence,” which simply means that the candidate is expected to make lexical and grammatical choices which are appropriate for the situation as determined by the task.[3]

The KPG Speaking test

The table below presents the content and structure of the speaking test for the exams now administered by the KPG. As the reader can see, they share similarities. However, they differ decisively in terms of task difficulty, linguistic complexity of the expected output and linguistic complexity of the source texts.


Target population

Young candidates aged 10-15 years

Duration of the test

20 minutes

Pattern of participation

Candidates are tested in pairs but do not converse with each other.

Test content

Dialogue (5 minutes for both candidates )

This is a “getting to know you” task, which requires interaction between Examiner and candidate. Each candidate is asked four (4) questions – two for A1 and two for A2 level – which are signposted for the examiner.

Talking about photos (5 minutes for both candidates)

This activity essentially involves a guided description of a photo or series of photos (or other visuals e.g. sketches, drawings) which are thematically linked. The activity comprises four (4) questions – two for A1 and two for A2 level.

Giving and asking for information (5 minutes for both candidates)

This activity is based on multimodal texts and also consists of two parts and five (5) questions in total –two for A1 and three for A2 level.


Target population

Candidates aged 15+

Duration of the test

15-20 minutes

Pattern of participation

Candidates are tested in pairs but do not converse with each other.

Test content

Dialogue (3-4 minutes) for both candidates between examiner and each candidate who answers questions about him/herself and his/her environment posed by the examiner.

One-sided talk (5-6 minutes for both candidates) by each candidate who develops a topic on the basis of a visual prompt.

Mediation (6 minutes for both candidates) by each candidate who develops a topic based on input from a Greek text.


Target population

Candidates aged 15+

Duration of the test

20 minutes

Pattern of participation

Candidates are tested in pairs but do not converse with each other.

Test content

Warm-up (not assessed – 1 minute per candidate) Examiner asks each candidate a few  ice-breaking questions (age, studies/work, hobbies)

Open-ended response (4 minutes for both candidates): The candidate responds to a single question posed by the examiner expressing and justifying his/her opinion about a particular issue/topic.

Mediation and open-ended conversation (15 minutes for both candidates): Candidates carry out a conversation in order to complete a task using input from a Greek text.


As can be seen above, the speaking test for the A1+A2 level integrated test,[4] as well as for the B1 and the B2 level tests consist of three activities. The first one involves questions relating to candidates’ immediate environment, work, hobbies, interest etc., while the C1 level speaking test consists of two activities the first of which requires candidates to respond to an opinion question. The A1+A2 level speaking test does not include mediation activities which are included in the B1, B2 and C1 level tests. That is, candidates at this level are required to perform orally in English, relaying information they have selected from a source text in Greek, so as to respond to a given communicative purpose.

The speaking test procedure

The KPG speaking test involves two examiners and two candidates in the examination room. One of the two examiners is the ‘Interlocutor’, i.e., the one who conducts the exam (in other words, asks the questions, assigns the tasks and participates in the speech event). The other is the ‘Rater’, i.e., the one who sits aside silent and evaluates and marks the candidates’ performance. The Interlocutor also marks their performance, once candidates have left the room. Examiners alternate in their role as Interlocutor and Rater every three or four testing sessions.

Examiners are trained for their roles as Interlocutor and Rater through seminars which take place systematically throughout the year. However, on the day of the oral test, examiners are given an examiner pack which contains guidelines regarding the exam procedure and oral examiner conduct, and the oral test material: questions, tasks and rating criteria. These are handed to examiners at least two hours before the exam begins along with the Candidate Booklet which contains the prompts for the exam (photos and/or Greek texts, since one of the activities involves mediation).

Assessment criteria for oral production

The assessment criteria for oral production reflect the functional approach to language use that the KPG exams adhere to. The structure of the assessment scales for the different level speaking tests are similar, while the nature of the criteria depends on the expectations for oral production, illustrative descriptors and can-do statements for each level and on the requirements of the speaking activities. Thus for the A1+A2, the B1 and the B2 level speaking tests, the assessment criteria are grouped under two main categories: criteria for assessing a) task completion and b) language performance. As a result, the Speaking Test Rating Scale, which provides a breakdown and description of each criterion on the oral assessment scale, is presented in two parts. Part 1 presents the Task completion criteria, which have to do with the degree to which the candidates achieved the communicative purpose of the task, while Part 2 presents the Language performance criteria, which focus on the quality of language output in terms of pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar and syntax, and coherence (for A1+A2), and in terms of the candidates’ phonological competence, linguistic competence, sociolinguistic competence and pragmatic competence for the B1 and B2 level speaking tests.

Given the requirements of the C1 speaking test, the assessment criteria are grouped under two categories: a) overall performance for tasks 1 & 2, and b) assessment of task 2: the mediation activity. As a result, the Speaking Test Rating Scale, which provides a breakdown and description of each criterion on the oral assessment scale, is presented in two parts. Part 1 presents the Overall performance for tasks 1 & 2 criteria which focus on the quality of language output in terms of the candidates’ phonological competence, linguistic competence, appropriateness of language choices, and cohesion, coherence of speech and fluency; Part 2 presents the Assessment of task 2 criteria, which focus on the interaction and mediation skills of the candidates.

Developments and research relating to the speaking test

Assessment of oral proficiency is a complex and largely subjective process in which many variables affect the quality and quantity of language output, while the rating of performance ultimately threatens the validity, reliability and fairness of the oral test procedure. Given that one of the most significant variables potentially affecting candidate output and examiner rating is the linguistic conduct of the examiner (Bachman et al. 1995; Bonk & Ockey 2003; Lazaraton 1996, McNamara 1996; O’Sullivan 2000)[5], the KPG exam system has established a systematic, intensive and on- going programme of oral examiner training.[6] The goal of the training programme is to develop a database of approved oral examiners; that is examiners who have taken part in all training seminars and whose performance has been positively evaluated by specially trained observers (see Delieza, this volume) .

Another aspect of the speaking test being investigated systematically is the reliability of examiner marking. This is monitored and assessed through systematic inter-rater reliability checks during/after each exam administration. For the speaking test, inter-rater reliability is assessed through the data collected by observers who note the mark for each candidate awarded by each observed examiner. On the observation form, the observers also note their mark of candidates’ performance. This data is then collected by the RCeL, where inter-rater reliability estimates are calculated and results are interpreted.

Finally, after each exam administration, oral examiners are requested to complete an oral test feedback form which aims to elicit feedback concerning the potential problems with test items, their usefulness, appropriateness and practicality. These results are sent to the project team directors, who share and discuss them with their test development teams. The project team undertakes a systematic post-examination review, weighs the results of the exams, and takes into consideration the responses on examiner feedback forms before deciding on potential revisions/changes deemed necessary for the improvement of the test papers.


Bachman, L. F., Lynch, B. K., & Mason, M. (1995). Investigating variability in tasks and rater judgements in a performance test of foreign language speaking. Language Testing, 12, 239-258.

Bonk, W.J., & Ockey, G. (2003). A many-facet Rasch analysis of the second language group oral discussion task. Language Testing, 20(1), 89-110.

Fulcher, G. (2003). Testing Second Language Speaking. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Karavas, K. (Ed.) (2008). The KPG Speaking Test in English: A Handbook. National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Faculty of English Studies: RCeL Publication Series 2 (RCeL publication series editors: Bessie Dendrinos & Kia Karavas).

Kitao, S.K., & Kitao, K. (1996). Testing Speaking. ERIC Clearinghouse ED39821.

Lazaraton, A. (1996). A Qualitative Approach to Monitoring Examiner Conduct in CASE. In M. Milanovic and N. Saville (Eds.) Performance Testing, Cognition and Assessment, Studies in Language Testing 3 (18-33). Selected Papers from the 15th Language Testing Research Colloquium, Cambridge and Arnheim, Cambridge: UCLES/Cambridge University Press.

Luoma, S. (2004).  Assessing Speaking. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

MacNamara, T. F. (1996). Measuring Second Language Performance.  London: Longman.

O’Sullivan, B. (2000). Exploring gender and oral proficiency interview performance. System, 28, 373-386.

[1] The specifications (ĐñïäéáăñáöỰ) for the KPG exams (http://rcel.enl.uoa.gr/kpg/exam_specif.htm) include detailed descriptors of oral performance, articulated as CAN DO statements, for each level, based on the Common European Reference for Languages.

[3] The rating scale for each exam level explains what the expectations of oral performance are in great detail.

[4] The A1+A2 level is the only integrated-graded exam of the KPG battery which contains an equal number of A1 and A2 level items. Depending on the extent to which candidates managed to respond to the items of both levels, they will be certified for either A1 or A2 level competence.

[5] KPG examiner conduct is systematically investigated by Xenia Delieza. PhD candidate and RCeL research assistant.

[6] For more information on training KPG oral examiners see ELT News No. 236. Available at: http://rcel.enl.uoa.gr/kpg/kpgcorner_march2009.htm





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