speaking assessment tasks

5 Types of Speaking Assessment Tasks

There are four basic abilities in English that you should learn and master. The skills include listening, reading, speaking, and writing. Listening and reading are inputs to the English learning process, whereas speaking and writing are outputs.

In the learning process, there are some assessments used to measure how far your ability is in English. This article will focus on speaking assessment tasks based on Brown (2004).

There are five types of speaking assessments based on Brown (2004, p.141). They are Imitative speaking tasks, Intensive speaking tasks, Responsive speaking tasks, Interactive speaking tasks, and Extensive speaking tasks.

1. Imitative

It is repeating a small stretch of language and focusing on pronunciation. The test maker considers using this type of assessment if she/he is not interested in the test taker’s competence in understanding and conveying meaning or getting involved in an interactive conversation. The competence assessed is that of purely phonetic, prosodic, lexical, and grammatical (pronunciation).


2. Intensive

Speaking task frequently employed in this assessment context is the production of stretches of oral language designed to demonstrate competence in a narrow band of grammatical, lexical, phrasal, or phonological relationships. In this type of assessment, comprehending meaning is significant, whereas interaction with counterpart is minimal.

According to Brown (2010), when creating tasks for intensive speaking performance, speakers should provide short stretches of discourse (no more than a sentence) demonstrating their linguistic abilities at a specific language level.

Reading aloud

Heaton (1988, p.89) and Hughes (1989, p.110), reading aloud may not be appropriate because of the difference in processing written input from that of spoken one. However, a check on stress-pattern, rhythm, and pronunciation alone may be conducted using reading aloud.


Directed response task  

One of the most popular Tasks of speaking for its practicality and mass lab use, despite its mechanical and non-communicative nature, DRT is beneficial to elicit a specific grammatical form or a transformation of a sentence that requires minimal processing (micro-skills 1-5, 8 & 10) (Brown, 2004, p.147).

Sentence/dialogue completion

Heaton (1988, p.92) said that this type may provide an illogical flow of conversation, given that the sentence or dialogue completion is done in the lab (which is usually administered). Therefore, this type will probably be beneficial only for assessing the test taker’s micro skill of providing the right chunks of language and other pronunciation features.


Interpreting, as Hughes (1989, p.108) describes, may involve the test proctor acting as a native speaker of the test taker’s first language and the test taker interpreting the utterance into English.

It is believed that because speaking is the negotiation of intended meaning (O’Malley, 1996, p.59), interpreting games can measure the test-taker competence in conveying his message into the target language (Brown, 2004, p.159). 

Limited picture-cued task (Including simple sequence)

Pictures are most convenient for eliciting descriptions (Hughes, 1989, p.107). In addition to describing comparison, the order of events, positions, and location, a more detailed picture may be used to elicit the test taker’s competence in telling a plan, directions, and even opinions (Brown, 2004, p.151-158).

3. Responsive

It simply means having a short dialogue. In contrast to the other two categories, responsive speaking requires students to jabber. The conversation should be authentic. Brief conversations with the interlocutor are part of assessing the responsive task. Unlike interactive speaking, responsive speaking requires the test taker to use creativity with limited utterance lengths.

Question and answer

Questions at the responsive level tend to be referential -as opposed to intensive, display questions- (Brown, 2004, p.159).

The referential question requires test takers to produce meaningful language in response. Such questions may require an open-ended response or a counter-question directed to the interviewer (Brown, 2004, p.160).


Giving instruction and direction

Test takers have elicited their performance in describing a how-to description. A five to six-sentence response may be sufficient to be required either from an impromptu question or a minute planning before the instruction (Brown, 2004, p. 161).



Oral paraphrasing can have written or oral input, with the latter being preferable. However, paraphrasing is a speaking assessment that should be conducted cautiously because test takers’ competence may be mistakenly judged by their short-term memory and listening comprehension instead of their speaking production.

4. Interactive (Broader Dialogue on Transactional and Interactional Conversation)

two following categories of speaking: interactive and extensive involve tasks that contain relatively long stretches of interactive discourse (interviews, roleplays, discussions, oral presentations).

Sentence complexity and number of participants are the primary distinctions between responsive and interactive categories. For example, if responsive speaking involves two speakers, interactive speaking involves many people.


Interviews can be face-to-face, one-on-one, or two-on-one, each with its advantage and disadvantage. A two-on-one interview may save time and scheduling and provide authentic interaction between two test-takers, although it poses a risk of one test-taker dominating the other.

Drama-like task

O’ Malley (1996:85) divides drama-like Tasks into three sub-types: improvisations, role play, and simulation. The difference between each is respectively the preparation and scripting.

Improvisation gives the test-takers minimal opportunity to prepare the situation and may incite creativity in using the language.

Roleplay provides a slightly longer time, and test-takers can prepare what to say, although scripting is highly unlikely.

Simulation (including debate) requires planning and decision-making. In addition, the simulation may involve real-world socio-drama, which is the pinnacle of speaking competence.


Discussions and conversations

Discussions and Conversations (Brown, 2004, p.175) provide somewhat similar difficulties in terms of predictability of the response hence consistency of the scoring to that of the interview and drama-like tasks. Test makers seem to choose this type of Task as an informal assessment to elicit and observe the test taker’s performance in:

  • starting, maintaining and ending a topic;
  • getting attention, interrupting and controlling;
  • clarifying, questioning and paraphrasing;
  • signaling for comprehension (e.g., nodding);
  • using appropriate intonation patterns;
  • using kinesics, eye contact, and body language;
  • being polite, being formal and other sociolinguistic situation.


Some examples of games that Brown (2004, p.175-176) mentions (Tinker toy, crossword puzzle, information gap, predetermined direction map) can all fall in the umbrella of information-gap activities.

O’Malley (1996, p.81), explains that an information gap is an activity where one student is provided information that another (e.g., his pair) does not know but needs to.

An information gap activity involves collecting complete information to restructure a building, sequence a picture into order, or find the differences between two pictures. To score an information gap activity, O’Malley (1996 p.83) suggests a test maker consider the speaker’s “accuracy and clarity of the description as well as on the reconstruction.”

5. Extensive (Monologue)

It is a monologue. It envelops storytelling, giving long speeches, or oral presentations. Interaction between listener and speaker is minimal. The register is frequently formal. Usually, extensive speaking tasks involve complex, relatively lengthy stretches of discourse.

Speech (Oral Presentation or oral report)

It is commonly practiced to present a report, paper, or design in a school setting. An oral presentation can be used to assess a verbal skill holistically or analytically. However, it is best used for an intermediate or advanced English level, focusing on content and delivery (Brown, 2004, p.179).


Picture-cued storytelling

The use of a picture or a series of pictures is to make it into a stimulus for a longer story or description; a six-picture sequence with enough details in the settings and character will be sufficient to test, among others, vocabulary, time relatives, past tense irregular verbs and even fluency in general (Brown, 2004, p.181).

Retelling a story or news event

Unlike paraphrasing, retelling a story takes a long stretch of discourse with different, preferably narrative, genres. The focus is usually on the meaningfulness of the relationship of events within the story, fluency, and interaction with the audience (Brown, 2004, p.182).

Translation (Extended prose)

In this type of task, a longer text, preferably in written form, is presented in the test taker’s native language to be studied before interpreting the text with ease in the actual testing.

The text can cover a dialogue, procedure, complicated directions, synopsis, or a play script. Caution should be made concerning this type of Task because this particular type requires a skill not intended for every speaker of a language.

Therefore, if this type is to be used a degree of confidence should be made sure (as in thecae whether the test takers are in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree!) (Brown, 2004, p.182).

References and Recommended Reading

  • Brown, H. D. (2004). Language Assessment: Principles and Classroom Practices. White Plains, NY: Pearson Education.
  • Heaton, J. B. (1988). Writing English Language Tests (New Edition). London: Longman.
  • Hughes, A. (1989). Testing for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • O’Malley, J. M., & Pierce, L. V. (1996). Authentic Assessment for English Language Learner: Practical Approaches for Teachers. White Plains, NY: Addison Wesley.
Tenry Colle
Tenry Colle

Hi! My name is A. Tenry Lawangen Aspat Colle. I am a motivated and resourceful English educator. In addition, as the owner of @rymari.translation17 has shaped me to be a punctual and dependable translator of Indonesian to English and vice versa.

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