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Exploring listening comprehension difficulty in language proficiency testing: the case of the Greek State Certificate Examination
Elissavet Apostolou
PhD Thesis
Faculty of English Studies
School of Philosophy
National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

 

Abstract

The disadvantaged position of listening comprehension in language assessment research calls for more thorough research into the nature of the listening test. My thesis focuses on the investigation of the problem of listening comprehension difficulty. More specifically, it will look for task and text-related factors of item difficulty with reference to the listening part of the Greek State Certificate of English language proficiency (Kratiko Pistopiitiko Glossomathias -KPG). The stimulus for such an investigation has been the difficulty that the listening comprehension test paper poses to learners of English sitting for various language exams. As Buck points out (2001: 256) “listening is a complex, multi-dimensional activity and performance on listening test tasks requires a complex combination of knowledge, processing skills and strategies”. Drawing upon quantitative and qualitative data, the ultimate purpose of this research is to describe the effect specific task and text variables have on Greek learners’ listening comprehension performance when taking part in the English B1, B2 and C1 levels of the KPG exams. As a starting point, item analysis data will be collected from the listening comprehension past papers of the KPG English exams. On the basis of such data, the ‘problematic’ test items (i.e. either too difficult or too easy for the specific exam level) will be analysed for certain variables of task and text difficulty to emerge. The results will be complemented with qualitative research data that will give useful insights into candidate response to particular tasks and texts. To this end, two methodological tools will be used: a) candidates’ feedback questionnaires, the analysis of which is expected to provide useful insights into the candidates’ perspective on task and text difficulty, and b) interviews, which are expected to yield interesting information on how individuals respond to test items. The thesis will hopefully produce results towards the improvement of the listening exam material of the KPG English exam. The outcomes of the research will also be extremely useful for item writers of listening tests who need to become aware of the complexities involved in producing successful test items. Finally, they will be a valuable source of information for English language teachers, who need to become aware of the factors that impede comprehensibility, in order to enhance their students listening skills.

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