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New player to rival TOEFL, IELTS

Pearson to start English language test in six cities

education Updated: Oct 21, 2009 09:28 IST
Rahat Bano

Pearson, a leading group dealing in education, publishing and business information, is going to launch its competitor to the two major English language tests on November 2 in India. Priced at US$ 160, the first Pearson Test of English Academic (PTEA) is due to take place in Chennai. Pearson VUE, the group’s network of centres, will administer the three-hour test in Delhi/NCR, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Ahmedabad, too. “We’ll have nine (centres) by the end of the year. Another six will be added in 2010 and, thereafter, depending on the demand, we’ll add more,” says Joseph Rospars, vice-president, EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) and India, Pearson Language Tests.

Pearson is offering to dispatch the test score to an unlimited number of the candidate’s chosen universities and border agencies for visa purposes, at no extra cost to the student. The test score will be valid for two years, as is usual in the sector.

In addition, in keeping with India’s coaching culture, Rospars says the company plans to arrange coaching for PTEA, too.

Since Pearson has joined hands with the Graduate Management Admission Council, which owns the Graduate Management Admission Test, candidates registering for both PTEA and GMAT will get a full, free mock of the former, for a limited period. Excerpts:

Apart from a difference of a few dollars, why should a student take the PTEA, instead of the Test of English as Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS)?
Well, the way we see it is that this a market where you have only two players, so if you segment it, we believe there is room for a third player with modern technology and having probably a different approach to testing.

We think what we are offering is a step forward. That is what we consider our good reason for coming in. In terms of the market, there are about two million test-takers every year for an academic English test worldwide — looking at the TOEFL and IELTS numbers. Out of that, about 300,000 come from India, the second country in the world in terms of volume. So, again, an additional reason for being here.

As far as the four (major) portions go, how will your test be different?
The way the test is constructed is slightly different. We use what we call a lot of integrated items (20 in all). We are testing several skills. We have to test, as you know, reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. Each item allows us to gather information on each one of those skills. So we don’t have each item segregated.

For example, you listen to a lecture and you are asked either to summarise or you are supposed to share verbally an analysis. You have several skills in that — you have to write, listen, speak.

We’ll go a little bit further to recognise other skills. We call them sub-skills. For example, for the main speaking skills, we will measure fluency, pronunciation. On the writing side, we will measure grammar, vocabulary, spelling. So, we will provide the university 11 scorepoints, 4+6+1, made up of the four communicative skills plus six enabling skills and one being the overall score.

You are also going to provide a 30-second audio clip with the score report to the universities.

Yes. That is something we’ve proposed to universities. We are going to ask students to introduce themselves before they start the test. It’s a way of relaxing them. They speak for 30 seconds and we record. This is something that will go with their result file. But it will not be scored.

How many universities will accept PTEA scores?
We count the number of programmes (as there are separate admission offices for UG and for PG programmes, and the B-school, for instance). We already have, I think, 835 admission points (as on October 15).

What are your targets for India?
It’s difficult to say. Our objective is to be on par with the existing players within, say, eight to 10 years. We believe they will be coming in because we offer a number of benefits. First of all, this will be a completely computer-based test. (There will be no human examiner at any stage.) In addition, we have something else (artificial intelligence) that will allow us to automatically score the essays, for example. So, this is unique… It’s been verified by psychometricians.

We are bringing in consistency in grading, responses from test-takers. The biggest problem is that when you consider a face-to-face interview, obviously at the end of the day, the human examiner is tired; he could be biased. And you don’t have top-of-the-top examiners available everywhere. So, that may affect the result.

So, by introducing this technology, we are definitely making a difference with the existing products in the markets.