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Assessing Grammar

How do we define grammar

In order to design good test items for assessing learners' grammar skills, we need to
understand the three interrelated parts of grammar. Larsen-Freeman (2001) specifies as "A
Three-Dimensional Grammar Framework" that consists of "Form / Structure", "Meaning /
Semantics", and "Use / Pragmatics".

Form / Structure: deals with "How is a sentence formed?"

Meaning / Semantics: deals with "What does that sentence mean literally or by the meanings
of the words used?"

Use / Pragmatics: deals with "When and why should I use the sentence according to social

For examples:

1. Can you pass me the salt?

Form / Structure

Can you pass me the salt? (inverted order is used; "can" is used to make a request)

Meaning / Semantics

Can you send over the salt bottle that is out of my reach?(the meanings of each
word strung together by rules)

Use / Pragmatics

Are you willing to carry out the action of passing me the salt? (speech act: deeper
meaning involved by social conventions)

Understanding the three interrelated parts of grammar can help you design your test items
with a much clearer purpose and with a more extended scope. Some test items may be
designed just to require learners to provide the missing syntactic information; some may ask
learners to identify or provide information about meanings conveyed; some others may be
related to the figurative meanings or connotations of sentences. These can all be realized with
test items such as multiple choice questions, gap filling, true /false questions, paraphrase, and
Also, Purpura (2004) also stresses the importance of relating grammar test items to language
use. "We also need to remember that the tasks we include on tests should strive to match the
types of language-use tasks found in real-life or language-instructional domains. Given that
the main goal of a task is to elicit performance, I will discuss test tasks according to the type
of response. I will refer to selected reponse, limited-production and extended-production
tasks. Table 5.6 presents a list of some of the more common testing activities categorized
according to type of expected response."

Table 5.6 Examples of task types

Selected- Limited-
response producti
tasks on tasks
on task

uti a u
ple p m
- - m
ch fi a
oic ll ri
e in e
act g s,
ivi a e
tie ct s
s iv s
it a
Tr ie y
ue/ s s
se C D
act lo i
ivi z a
tie e l
s a o
ct g
M iv u
atc it e
hin ie s,
g s i
act n
ivi s t
tie h e
s o r
rt v
Di - i
scr a e
im n w
ina s
tio w s
n er
act a R
ivi ct o
tie iv l
s it e
ie -
Le s p
xic l
al D a
list ic y
act ta s,
ivi ti si
tie o m
s n u
a l
Gr ct a
am iv ti
ma it o
tic ie n
alit s s
jud I S
gm n t
ent f o
o ri
No r e
tici m s,
ng at r
act io e
ivi n p
tie - o
s tr rt
a s
s S
er o
a m
ct e
iv i
it n
ie f
s o
S m
o a
m ti
e o
in n
f -
o g
r a
m p
at a
io c
n ti
- v
g it
a i
p e
a s
iv P
it r
ie o
s b
D e
ia m
lo -
g s
u o
e l
( v
o i
r n
di g
s a
c c
o ti
u v
rs it
e) i
c e
o s
pl D
et e
io c
n is
a i
ct o
iv n
it -
ie m
s a


Larsen-Freeman, D. (2001). Teaching Grammar. In Teaching English as a second or

foreign language. (p.252). Boston:

Heinle & Heinle.

Purpura, J.E. (2004). Designing test tasks to measure L2 grammatical ability. In Assessing
grammar (pp.126- 127). Cambridge: CUP