An ELT Glossary : Transparency

Transparency is a test quality which refers to the extent to which it is clear to the learner what s/he has to do. This may be affected by factors such as :

  • The clarity of the instructions, including whether they are written in language that the learner understands at his/her current level.
  • If the test type includes individual items - eg a gap-fill activity - whether an example is given after the instructions to illustrate them.
  • If the task is more complex, if the learner knows what the marks are awarded for - eg in a writing activity, a specific number of marks may be awarded for each of layout, organisation of ideas, grammatical range and accuracy, lexical range and accuracy, stylistic appropriacy etc.
  • If the learner knows how much time is available for the test and, if it consists of more than one task, how much time s/he is recommended to dedicate to each.
  • If the learner knows the exact start and finish times of the test. In a classroom setting these may be written on the board, while if the task is taken online the learner needs to know if time is unlimited or whether s/he will lose access after eg 30 minutes.
  • How familiar the learner is with the test type. If a preceding course has included a number of activities of the same type, the learner won't have to think about the instructions or examples for long but will "automatically" know what to do. 
The last point, however, has two disadvantages. Firstly, it's the reason many exam preparation courses are little more than interminable "ploughing through" past papers, with a greater focus on exam strategies than on actual language improvement. Secondly, if the learner expects a specific format and there is a slight change, s/he may not have read the instructions carefully, not spot the change, and therefore lose marks. An example of this would be eg a test which had always included a task where learners could choose four our of a possible six questions to answer.  If the test suddenly changed to only three out of the six, the learners might waste time on a fourth. If it suddenly became obligatory to answer all the items, the learner might again not spot the change and throw away marks by not completing the activity.