Can a computer test your writing and speaking skills?

The new Pearson Test of English Academic is out! In fact it has been out for a while and I have been meaning to mention it for a few months. Of course Pearson, the publishing company who have designed the test, hope that this test will become very popular and students will do it instead of doing IELTS and TOEFL. Pearson claims that there is already a big list of institutions which have agreed to accept the test. Pearson has spent a lot of money developing the test and the interesting thing is that you do the whole test on a computer. That means that the computer marks the test, including your essay and your speaking! Can a computer really give a fair mark to someone’s speech or to a text? Apparently it can. I went to a presentation a few months ago put on by a Pearson representative and she was adamant that the computer marks the test as accurately as a human does. It will be interesting to see if the test proves popular. According to their website, the PTE Academic costs $170 in the UK, which comes out at £101. IELTS costs £105 which is virtually the same price. Considering that Pearson want to break into the IELTS market I am surprised the PTE isn’t cheaper. There’s an interesting article about the PTE Academic on the Guardian Weekly website here. If you are a teacher of English I hope you aware of the Guardian Weekly’s materials for English teachers. It’s well worth signing up for free so you can access the pdf lesson plans here.)

OK, now to a link for students who are still making mistakes with their articles, and that means virtually everybody! As I’ve said before the rules are almost impossible to follow because explaining when to use THE or A or NO ARTICLE is so complex. One of the easy rules I give is that if you have a single countable noun then use an article! Take a look at the very handy exercises on article usage from Monash University here. (Yes, again!)