is the CAEL Assessment different from IELTS and TOEFL?
The CAEL Assessment was designed as an in-house (within University)
response to what was perceived as a failure on the part of other standardized
tests to effectively identify students who were able to use English
at levels required for study at the university.
Based on the initial
needs analysis (or domain specification) which took place from 1987-89
across a range of first-year introductory courses at the university,
a number of “typified and recurring” patterns of response
were identified and these patterns formed the content of the CAEL’s
The history of the
test is important because the test is grounded in the day-to-day use
of language within first-year courses at the university. It asks and
answers the question: how exactly do students need to use English in
order to engage in academic study? This is not the question that is
asked or answered by other standardized tests of English that are more
interested in a global or decontextualized use of English. Their test
scores are used for immigration, work permits, vocational certification,
etc. We assert that CAEL Assessment scores are most meaningful in English-medium
for Academic Purposes (EAP) Perspective
Because of the EAP construct of the CAEL Assessment, the design of the
test differs from other standardized tests. The CAEL Assessment attempts
to create for the test taker an experience, which approximates the experience
of joining a first-year, introductory university course. The test taker
listens to a lecture and takes notes on a topic, which the professor
assumes they know little or nothing about. The test taker learns more
about the topic by reading several articles from a range of readings,
which are frequently used in university courses. Then, the test taker
writes a response to a question which is provided at the beginning of
the test, drawing on relevant information from the lecture and the readings.
In writing the response, the test takers must situate themselves within
the input provided by the test in much the same way as students situate
themselves within the content of a course.
The CAEL Assessment
is a fully integrated, criterion-referenced, topic-based test of English
in use for Academic Purposes. Neither TOEFL nor IELTS measures language
ability in this way. Further, because the most common response formats
in university-level study are not multiple-choice, the CAEL Assessment
uses constructed response items/tasks rather than multiple-choice items.
TOEFL relies on multiple-choice responses.
There is a direct
overlap between taking a CAEL Assessment, taking an academically-oriented
English as a Second Language course or taking a first-year course at
a university or college. The overlap is clear in the tasks and activities
of the test. In this way, the CAEL Assessment promotes positive and
useful learning and does not undermine, as other standardized tests
may do, learning that takes place in the classroom.