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presented as a final semester assignment for

Language Testing and Assessment subject
by Dr. Muhammad Farkhan, M.Pd


Arnis Silvia



The role of vocabulary is essential in second language acquisition as
vocabulary knowledge is the basis for communication, and it is also emphasized
by the basis that grammatical errors still result in understandable structures, while
vocabulary errors may disturb communication. Vocabulary knowledge, within this
context, can be assessed quantitatively (breadth) and qualitatively (depth). The
first refers to the number of acquired vocabulary (vocabulary size) while the last
refers to depth of vocabulary knowledge (how well the target words are known).
For this purpose, various kinds of vocabulary test have been constructed through
times. This paper is trying to get together the notion of vocabulary assessment, the
development of vocabulary assessment from time to time, what constitute good
vocabulary test, and the implication of vocabulary assessment in language

I. What is Vocabulary and Why should be Tested?

Taken a definition from Random House Websters Unabridged
Dictionary1, vocabulary is the stock of words used by or known to a particular
people or group of persons. The following definition is the words of a
language. Additionally, word is defined as a unit of language, consisting of one
or more spoken sounds or their written representation, that functions as a principal
carrier of meaning. This stock of words are needed for comprehension. To be
able to understand an English news, for instance, at least a listener need 90% of
the spoken words. Although it cannot be assumed that vocabulary knowledge is a
precondition for the language skill performance, but vocabulary knowledge
supports the language use, and the language use develop vocabulary knowledge,
and so on.

Lexner, S.B., Random House Websters unabridged dictionary (2nd ed.), (New York: Random

House), 2003

Nation2 (1990) divides vocabulary into three groups: (1) a small number of highfrequency words, which are clearly so important that considerable time should be
spent on them by teachers and learners; (2) a very large number of low-frequency
words, which require the mastery of coping strategies; and (3) specialized
vocabulary which is of interest for learners who are active in specific professional
fields. The first group of vocabulary, high frequency words, are needed for
second/foreign language learners to comprehend spoken/written text. When the
learner know these words, they will know a very large proportion of the running
words in a written or spoken text. Most of these words are content words and
knowing enough of them enables a good degree of text comprehension. To
illustrate, comprehending 2,000 words enables up to 80% coverage of written text
(formal written text), and enables 96% coverage of informal spoken text
(Schonell, Meddleton and Shaw3).
In academic setting, vocabulary that appears on the written or oral texts
are rarely similar to those that are used in informal talks. On the other hand,
vocabulary will be found in all English skills (listening, speaking, reading, and
writing) which means that the measurement of vocabulary knowledge is essential
as it is the fundamental element for supporting the other language skills.
There are some rationales on why vocabulary knowledge is emergent to be
assessed. First, the backwash of vocabulary test. A vocabulary test could be a
good input for the teachers and administrators to check the vocabulary size of
their students and detect as early as possible if there is some problems in the
vocabulary acquisition. Immediate treatment is given to cope this problem.
Second, vocabulary test is a good instrument to measure how vocabulary
develops. If vocabulary levels do reflect language development more generally,
then vocabulary testing might offer a relatively quick and easy way for

Nation, I.S.P, Teaching and Learning Vocabulary., (New York: Newbury House), 1990

Schonell, F.J., I.G. Meddleton and B.A. Shaw., A Study of the Oral Vocabulary of Adults,
(Brisbane: University of Queensland Press), l956

researchers and schools to monitor progress in language development (Cameron4).

Third, vocabulary test functions like any other tests as it can meet different
purposes: they can be used to assess whether learners have acquired the words
they were learned (achievement test), it can help detecting gaps in the vocabulary
knowledge of learners (diagnostic test), it is to place students in the appropriate
language class level (placement test), or it can form part of a more global
language proficiency test in order to arrive at an estimate of the learners skills to
perform in the target language (proficiency test).

II. How is Vocabulary Knowledge Measured?

There are three dimentions of vocabulary assessment which represents
threefolds of methods in assessing vocabulary. Read5 divides this into: discrete vs.
embedded, selective vs. comprehensive, context-independent vs contextdependent. All of these three dimentions imply that vocabulary knowledge can be
assessed separately or inclusive into the other skills (listening, reading). This is
shown in this following figure.

Cameron, L, Measuring vocabulary size in English an an additional language. Language

Teaching Research. 6,2, 2002, 145-173.

Read, J, Assessing Vocabulary , (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 2000, p. 8-10

Another perspective of vocabulary assessment is seen from the point of

view breadth and depth. Breadth refers to the number of words a learner knows
and depth refers to what the learner knows about these words. Milton6 explains
this more that Vocabulary breadth, for example, might involve the passive
recognition of word forms quite separate from meaning; the kind of recognition
where you know a word is a word in a foreign language, you can remember seeing
or hearing it, even if you cannot think what it means or provide a translation.
Equally, vocabulary breadth might be measured by a translation test where the
learner must provide a translation equivalent or some kind of explanation.

Nation7 proposes the following list of the different kinds of

knowledge that a person must master in order to know a word.

the meaning(s) of the word .
the written form of the word
the spoken form of the word
the grammatical behaviour of the word
the collocations of the word
the register of the word
the associations of the word

III. Types of Vocabulary Tests: From Past to Present

As the other types of test, vocabulary test form are changing and
developing from time to time. Multiple choice items and Yes/No questions are
probably the most common known vocabulary test types, but other than that, there
are some more types of vocabulary tests. The history of the vocabulary test
development can be seen below.

Milton, J, Measuring Second Language Vocabulary, (New York: Multilingual Matters), 2009, p.

Nation, I.S.P, Teaching and Learning Vocabulary., (New York: Newbury House), 1990, p.31

Figure 1. The History of Sample Items within Era (Piersen, Hiebert & Kamil8)


Type of Vocabulary




Sample Items


Pick the word that fit in the blank:


A ............... is used to eat with.


a) saw b) spoon c) pin d) car

Pick the best meaning for the italicized word:
a) clever b) mild c) happy d) frank






Pick the best meaning fro the italicized word:


The framer discovered a tunnel under the barn.


a) built b) found c) searched d) handled




In a (1) democratic society, we presume that individuals are

innocent until and unless proven guilty. (2) Establishing guilt
is (3) daunting. The major question is whether the prosecution
can overcome the presumption of (4) reasonable doubt about
whether the suspect committed the alleged crime.

For each item, select the choice closest in meaning to the

italicized word corresponding to the number:
2. establishing
(a) attributing (b) monitoring (c) creating (d) absolving
3. daunting
(a) exciting (b) challenging (c) intentional (d) delightful


Among a set of comprehension items, you might find the



In line 2, it says, Because he was responsible for early
morning chores on the farm, John
was often tardy for school.
The word tardy is closest in meaning to
(a) early (b) loud (c) ready (d) late

Pearson, P.D., Hielbert, E.H. & Kamil, M.L, Vocabulary Assessment: What We Know and What
Need to Learn. Reading Research Quarterly Vol. 42, No. 2, 2007, p. 285

Late 1990s


Baseball has been a favorite American pastime for over 120


years. Each year, fans flock to diamonds all over the country
to pursue this passionate hobby.

Look at the word hobby in the passage. Click on the word in

the text that has the samemeaning.

Some types of vocabulary tests proposed by Heaton9 include: word

formation, synonyms, rearrangement, definition, and completion. These types of
test are more productive instead of the common vocabulary tests which are
receptive where the testakers only choose the best answer from the given options.
Heatons types require the testakers to write on the items.
a. Word formation
Write a word in each blank. The word must be the correct form of the given words.
(i) CARE

Be ....... when you cross the road

(ii) CRUEL

To mistreat animal is a form of ....


Do you think this book is ....?

(iv) ENTER

Can you show me the ..... to the cave?

b. Synonym
Write in each space the best word to replace the words underlined in each sentence
(i) Tom went at once to the doctor's


(ii) All of sudden there was a loud cry


(iii) I came accross an interesting book


(iv) The boat is over fourteen feet in length ......................

c. Rearrangement
rearrange the following letters to make words. then use each word in a sentence of your own so as
to show the meaning of the word






Heaton, J.B, Writing English Language Test, (Hongkong: Longman Group), 1988, p. 61-62

d. Definition
Use each of the following words in a sentence so as to show the meaning of the word


industrious ...

Explain the meaning of each of the underlined words of the underlined words in the followiing
an archaic word

a fortuitous event

e. Completion

What's the (1) today?



It's the seventh.


At what (2) does the concert start?



Seven o'clock, I think. Just a moment. I made a note of it in my (3)



How long do you think it'll (4)



It finished about ten.


That's quite a long (5), isn't it?


I suppose so. it's three hours.


Some similar vocabulary test types also proposed by Hughes10 including

synonyms, definition, gap filling (multiple choice) as passive vocabulary tests,
and picture, definition, gap filling as active vocabulary tests. Vocabulary tests
also appear in the standardized English proficiency test such as TOEFL and
IELTS where vocabulary is assessed in a separate section. Schmitt11 added that
since the 1970s, the communicative approach to language pedagogy has
influenced linguists' views, and this has in turn affected perceptions about how
vocabulary should be tested. Many scholars now reject testing vocabulary in
isolation, .and believe it is better measured in context. Congruent with this
thinking, in the most recent version of the TOEFL, implemented in 1998,
vocabulary items are embedded into computerized reading. Parallel to this trend
toward greater contextualization is a trend towards more integrated testing of

See more on Hughes, A., Testing for Language Teachers, (London: Cambridge University
Press), 1989, p. 147-149

Schmitt, N., Vocabulary in Language Teaching, (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press),

2000, p.20

language. In IELTS12, for instance, vocabulary places a premium role in rating

scale of writing as vocabulary proficiency defines the level of writing

IV. What Makes Good Vocabulary Test?

Alike what makes good test, reliability and validity are also the ones that
constitute good vocabulary test. Reliability refers to the ability of a test to measure
something consistenly and accurately, whether the test results the similar score
over time (Milton13). It implies that if a learner is taking vocabulary test in the
morning will get the similar score to the afternoon test. He adds that objective
vocabulary tests (ex; multiple choice) provides better reliability instead subjective
vocabulary tests. To illustrate, writing an essay in English, it might result
unreliable results as the the assessor always makes a subjective judgement about
elements such as the vocabulary used. It implies that teachers should consider
many factors before choosing the format of vocabulary tests for their students,
such as: the number of test takers, the availability of the assessors, the availability
of cost for marking, the purpose of vocabulary test (placement, achivement, or
diagnostic test), and such.
Milton also adds the next factor, validity, which refers to 2 the question of
whether a test measures what it is supposed to measure and not something else.
There are three kinds of validity: content validity, construct validity, and face
validity. Content validity considers whether a test has the necessary and
appropriate content to measure what it is supposed to. Construct validity, which is
often closely associated with content validity, considers whether the test measures
the construct or skill it is supposed to. Language knowledge is not a directly
accessible quality, therefore the measurements have to be inferred from language
production that may involve other knowledge and abilities. And finally face

See more on Cambridge ESOL (2008) at


Milton, J., Measuring Second Language Vocabulary, (New York: Multilingual Matters), 2009,

validity that is, whether the test is credible to users as a test of what it is supposed
to measure.

V. Implications for Teaching

Foreign language learners should have at least 2000-3000 word to gives
about 80% coverage of most texts which help them to gist understanding and to
assist the beginners to communicate in authentic language situations. Milton14
adds that to achieve real, learners needs about 10,000 English word in common.
Considering the type of vocabulary tests and the urgency of vocabulary tests in
language teaching and learning, there are some pedagogical implications teachers
could do in their classroom.
First, syllabuses should include vocabulary teaching and testing large
volumes of vocabulary is one that is general to all languages. Achivement test, for
instance, should assess the vocabularies taught in the learning instruction. Second,
teachers should teach compensation strategies (strategies use when learners are
cornered to a situation where they do not know the answers or the meaning of
certain words) to be used when vocabulary knowledge is deficient. Teaching how
to guess from context, to find some clues or looking at the visual leads (graphics,
tables, and such) might be fruitful. Third, the choice of coursebook. It cant be
denied that learners develop their vocabulary mostly from the content of their
coursebook (by the story, reading materials, exercise items, and such). Thus, a
careful planning to choose a good coursebook for the learners is essential. A good
textbook provides gradual and repetitive use of vocabulary, and contextualized
vocabulary exposure. Four, a combination of good classroom practice and welldirected effort outside class. It requires adequate exposure to the new vocabularies
in a natural way. Teachers could help this by having project with the learners to
write a monthly wall magazine, by providing a lot of English written directions or
signs around the school environment, incorporating vocabulary in games (bingo,
word finding, scrambled word, spelling bee, Scrabble, and so on).

Milton, J., Measuring Second Language Vocabulary, (New York: Multilingual Matters), 2009,

Schmitt15 proposed some approaches in teaching vocabulary such as

explicit approach and incidental learning approach. In the explicit approach,
teachers underline some new vocabulary items to the students to make the
students recognize them. Some basic principles in this approach are: 1) building a
large sight vocabulary, 2) integrating new words with old, 3) providing a number
of encounters with a word, 4) promoting a deep level of processing, 5) facilitate
imaging, 6) making new words "real" by connecting them to the student's world in
Someway, 7) using a variety of techniques, and 8) encouraging independent
learning strategies. The latters, incidental learning approach focuses on making
sure that students get maximum exposure to language. In this case, teachers
should provide the students with the great opportunity for exposure to English.
One of the way if to let the students read more and more. Teachers could provide
some reading materials in the class, conducting a reading project in each semester,
or to make some quiz from the books.

Vocabulary knowledge is as essential as the language skills as it is the foundation
for comprehending those skills. Further, vocabulary is used to measure someones
the level of language especially in productive skills (writing and reading).
Vocabulary can be seen and and tested from its breadth (the size) and its depth
(the knowledge about the known words). As the time turns, the format of
vocabulary tests develop and changes, from the passive and dicrete ones into a
more communicative and comprehensive types. A test maker should consider the
reliability and the validity factor before constructing a vocabulary test. It should
be distincted between vocabulary test and reading/ listening test. Pedagogically
speaking, this fact imply that teachers should encourage the students to enlarge
their vocabulary size in various approach and to get the students familiarized with
various types of vocabulary tests.


Schmitt, N., Vocabulary in Language Teaching, (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press),

2000, p.148-151



Cambridge ESOL (2008)


Cameron, L, Measuring vocabulary size in English an an additional language.

Language Teaching Research. 6,2, 2002, 145-173
Heaton, J.B, Writing English Language Test, (Hongkong: Longman Group), 1988
Hughes, A., Testing for Language Teachers, (London: Cambridge University Press),
Lexner, S.B., Random House Websters unabridged dictionary (2nd ed.), (New York:
Random House), 2003
Milton, J., Measuring Second Language Vocabulary, (New York: Multilingual Matters),
Nation, I.S.P, Teaching and Learning Vocabulary., (New York: Newbury House), 1990
Pearson, P.D., Hielbert, E.H. & Kamil, M.L, Vocabulary Assessment: What We Know
and What Need to Learn. Reading Research Quarterly Vol. 42, No. 2, 2007
Read, J, Assessing Vocabulary , (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 2000
Schmitt, N., Vocabulary in Language Teaching, (Cambridge; Cambridge University
Press), 2000
Schonell, F.J., I.G. Meddleton and B.A. Shaw., A Study of the Oral Vocabulary of Adults,
(Brisbane: University of Queensland Press), l956.