In 2005, as the Examination for the Certificate of Proficiency in English (or ECPE) test celebrated more than five decades of service, the University of Michigan’s English Language Institute announced that it would be making a number of changes to the Speaking section of the exam. Designed in response to careful research and study, these changes – which came into effect in 2009 – are important considerations for first-time and repeat test takers alike. This change impacts both the exam’s tasks and its evaluation.
First and foremost, the new ECPE speaking test will require candidates to participate in what the UM-ELI calls a “semi-structured, multistage task involving two candidates and two examiners.” In practice this means that, following a detailed introductory conversation in which test takers are expected to actively engage each other and the examiners, applicants will be asked to complete a series of multi-part tasks which progress though the selection of four available decision making options and their consequences. As an example, consider a scenarios in which applicants are asked to select one person for a job from a short list of four. After reaching individual conclusions, they should be able to explain and justifying their choice to their partner. If they disagree, they should then work to reach a consensus by using persuasive skills. Finally, having primarily addressed one another through this process, they should present their choice to the examiners.
While there are no right or wrong answers, remember that the exam is designed to assess the use of formal English, so if possible applicants should emphasize both fluency and accuracy throughout. Moreover, each candidate’s abilities will be evaluated independently by the two examiners so it is important that each candidate contributes equally throughout the speaking activity. In making their evaluations, the examiners will receive use a five-band measure designed to assess all aspects of active English communication.