- The Standard Speaking Test
The Standard Speaking Test is the first independent test in Japan to measure the oral proficiency of English learners, and provides an efficient and accurate alternative to the numerous 'paper and pencil' tests currently available.
ALC SST was originally developed in consultation with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).
The Need for a Speaking Test
Over the last decade or so, an increasing number of ESL educators in Japan have begun to realize that a test to measure oral proficiency is long overdue. The more people go abroad on business or to study, the more apparent it becomes that 'paper and pencil' test performances do not reflect the ability to communicate and must be supplemented with an oral test.
This problem is especially acute in Japan, where the consensus is that learners' oral skills are considerably weaker than the skills required to do well on 'paper and pencil' tests. Despite this, oral proficiency tests have not been used a great deal in Japan due to the following obstacles:
1. In a short interview, it is difficult to elicit ratable speech samples that allow a global assessment of an interviewee’s speaking proficiency.
2. The assessment criteria are not clear.
3. The assessment scale of speaking proficiency has not been standardized.
4. There is a lack of well-trained testers.
What is SST?
The Standard Speaking Test (SST) is an interview test for a global assessment of functional speaking ability. The SST is both structured in stages and adaptive to the perceived level of the examinee as well as his/her personal and professional interests. The purpose of the interview is to elicit a performance sample that is recorded and evaluated by two evaluators (SST Raters) according to the SST evaluation criteria that are outlined in the SST Manual.
Characteristics of SST
1. The SST interview is 10 to 15 minutes long and consists of 5 stages.
Stage 1: Warm-up questions
Stage 2: Single Picture
Stage 3: Role-play with the interviewer
Stage 4: Picture Sequences
Stage 5: Wind-Down questions
There is flexibility within this structure and each stage is designed to elicit a speech sample. Interviewers have been thoroughly trained in elicitation techniques to ensure that the performance of the examinee will lead to the most accurate rating.
2. The SST Levels are from Level 1 to Level 9.
SST Levels (Some of the characteristics of each level)
|Level 9||A Level-9 speaker can proficiently respond to any topics ranging from familiar ones to those of general interest. He/she can comfortably speak in any tense, for example, to narrate and describe and can effectively deal with unexpected complications as well. In addition, a speaker at this level can construct his/her response in a logical paragraph-like structure. Though few unconsciously made minor errors in grammar and word choices may be present, such do not impede comprehension at all.|
|Level 8||A Level-8 speaker can proficiently respond to various topics ranging from familiar ones to those of general interest. He/she is able to deal with unexpected complications most of the time. Though rare, flaws in grammar are still present. Tense control may still weaken in certain cases, and the speaker may have some difficulty in complex sentence construction. The responses are mostly organized but sometimes lack fluency and/or may include minor word choice errors; needless to say, they do not have a significant impact on listeners' comprehension.|
|Level 7||A Level-7 speaker can communicate with proficiency necessary to live and survive in English-speaking countries. He/she is able to deal with complicated situations as well, but effort is required in doing so as grammar/fluency control and speech organization may weaken. Nonetheless, a speaker at this level has noticeable strengths supporting their proficiency such as abundant volume or native-like pronunciation.|
|Level 6||A Level-6 speaker can communicate with proficiency necessary to live and survive in English-speaking countries. The speaker can somewhat effortlessly string simple sentences together to express his/her thoughts; however, as the sentences become longer and more complex, fluency and grammar control sometimes weaken. Tense control errors may still often be present. Pronunciation varies from speaker to speaker. Some may sound native-like whereas others' are still influenced by their native language.|
|Level 5||A Level-5 speaker can maintain simple communication by talking about familiar topics, answering and asking simple questions. The speaker can also add extra information and details to his/her responses, but as sentences become longer and more complex, accuracy weakens. For example, the speaker’s grammar control and fluency may weaken, and/or it may require much time for the speaker to complete them. Word choices and pronunciation are still influenced by the speaker’s native language; however, listeners used to non-native English speakers would not have trouble understanding the responses.|
|Level 4||A Level-4 speaker can maintain simple communication by talking about familiar topics and asking simple questions. A speaker at this level can connect simple short sentences to convey his/her thoughts, but fluency is disturbed doing so. With effort, the speaker can manage to respond to what has been asked, but he/she still cannot actively interact. The speaker’s pronunciation and word choices may still be influenced by his/her native language, but the impact is insignificant and listeners used to non-native English speakers would not have trouble understanding him/her.|
|Level 3||In addition to memorized set phrases, a Level-3 speaker, at times, creates simple short sentences to convey his/her thoughts. However, the speaker is only able to do so when the content of the response is very familiar to him/her, and major errors in grammar and word choices impeding comprehension are still present. Since a great amount of effort is required to create, the responses are often slow, thus requiring listeners’ patience. In addition, the pronunciation of a speaker at this level is still influenced by his/her native language and is, at times, difficult to understand without clarification.|
|Level 2||With a great amount of effort, a level-2 speaker may provide the bare minimum information necessary to maintain communication when answering simple questions regarding his/her everyday life. However, the responses are mainly just a combination of words, phrases, and memorized set expressions. There are long pauses in the responses, and in some cases, we may hear the speaker simply repeat what was heard in the question. The speaker may attempt to create in sentences; however, major errors in grammar and word choices are frequent. Even listeners who are used to hearing non-native English speakers have difficulty understanding a speaker at this level.|
|Level 1||A Level-1 speaker cannot communicate in English. The speaker may identify him/herself and make simple greetings using memorized phrases. However in most cases, the speaker can only speak in fragments of sentences, basically just listing simple vocabulary such as numbers, days of the week, colors, and so on. He/she can rarely respond to questions, and even when showing some sort of response, it takes a tremendous amount of time doing so. In addition, the pronunciation of a speaker at this level is heavily influenced by his/her native language making it significantly difficult to understand the response.|
3. The SST Assessment Criteria
The SST includes the following four categories of assessment criteria:
- What you can do with the language you have acquired
- Topics you can handle from simple personal information to complex social situations
- How well you are understood by the listener (Factors included in this category are primarily grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and fluency)
- Quantities and types of speech you provide (Factors included in this category are words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs)
The SST is a criterion-referenced assessment tool scored according to the above specified criteria.
4. The SST interview is rated by 2 or 3 SST Raters.
The SST interviewers do not formally score the candidate's speaking proficiency. The SST certified rater gives an initial rating. The initial rating must be confirmed by another rater. If the two raters do not agree on their rating, the Master Rater gives the third and final rating.
5. Official Examination Fee
10,000 yen, tax excluded (This includes interview fee, official SST rating certificate, evaluations and comments) A special group discount is available for school and companies.