What are pretests?
As part of Cambridge ESOL's commitment to accuracy and quality, we submit all the materials in our exams to a number of procedures to ensure they are accurate and reliable. One of these is pretesting.
Testing materials before they are used in exams allows us to make certain our exams are accurate and fair.
How can they help teachers and students?
Pretests give students a chance to practise taking a Cambridge ESOL exam using genuine questions under exam conditions.
After taking the Reading, Listening and Use of English papers, the pretesting students are given scores. Writing papers are marked by genuine Cambridge ESOL examiners and candidates receive information about how they performed in the writing test (note: Pretests are not available for Speaking papers.)
This helps students to know which areas they need most practice in, and gives them experience and confidence in taking tests. For teachers, it helps highlight areas where their students might need more help.
How do they help Cambridge ESOL?
Pretests are an essential part of the exam production process. Statistical data is obtained for each task, which allows us to construct our exams to a prescribed level of difficulty. This ensures, for example, that an FCE Reading paper produced for June 2008 is at the same level of difficulty as the same exam produced in December 2008.
When can pretests be taken?
Exams with fixed dates(such as PET, KET and FCE) usually have a pretest window of about three weeks. Exams which are 'on demand' (such as IELTS) usually have an open pretest date. The Pretesting Calendar (PDF 44Kb) gives the pretest dates available for this year as well as information about the length of the pretest.
It is best if students take pretests about six to eight weeks before their real test. This means that they are nearly ready for the exam, and so are at the right level. It also means that teachers will get the scores back in time to focus on any particular language areas in need of practice.
What else should I know?
- All test papers and DHL despatch costs are paid by Cambridge ESOL.
- Pretest papers are marked in Cambridge, and scores are returned to schools within three weeks. (Writing papers are sent to examiners, so these scores and reports may take a little longer.)
- Students take the pretests under exam conditions: pretest centres simulate the real exam, so that students not only experience the kind of questions they will face in their live exam, but also complete the answer sheets in a 'test-like' environment.
- After the pretest, all materials must be sent back to Cambridge ESOL. Materials cannot be kept for classroom practice.
How can we become involved?
To take part in pretesting, your school must either be a Cambridge ESOL test centre or be a 'Pretest Approved Institution'. If your school is not yet approved, your exam administrator needs to complete the Pretesting Institution Pre-Approval Form (PDF 472Kb), and this needs to be signed by the Local Secretary of the centre at which your students will take the real exam. Once the form is returned to Cambridge ESOL and has been checked and approved, your school may then be invited to participate in pretesting one or more of the Cambridge ESOL exams that your students sit.
How can I find out more?
You can find more information about the purpose and practice of pretesting from the Pretesting Guide (PDF 40Kb).
For more information on 'pretesting windows' as well as information about the length of pretests, see the Pretesting Calendar (44Kb).
If you have any further questions about participation in Cambridge ESOL pretesting, please contact: pretesting@CambridgeESOL.org
Please note: pretests are not available for YLE or for Speaking papers.