Understanding Test Preparation Phenomenon Through Chinese Students' Journey Towards Success on High-Stakes English Language Tests
Many Chinese students take test preparation courses with an aim to achieve success on English language tests because of the high-stakes consequences associated with test scores. However, contrary to the massive test preparation industry in China and the huge claim of achieving high scores, there is very limited empirical evidence to help us understand how students are prepared and if the claim can be substantiated. Therefore, the purpose of my doctoral dissertation was to understand Chinese students’ test preparation for high-stakes English language tests, through examining the nature, the perceived effects, and the perceived value of test preparation practices for the Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet-based Test (TOEFL iBT) and the College English Test Band 4 (CET4). This study employed a multiple-stage, multiple-method design to collect data from three participant groups, including students, teachers, and administrators. Three research sites reflecting the stages of test preparation experience were included: ‘currently’ taking test preparation courses, recently completing test preparation courses, and achieving success on tests. Data were collected from classroom observations and interviews with 18 students, eight teachers and three administrators, questionnaires with 534 students, and documents related to test preparation courses and test preparation centre’s administration. Test familiarization, English skill improvement, and stress management were three major practices that helped Chinese students achieve success; however, the factors related to participants’ characteristics, perceptions, and their situated context interacted with each other to shape these practices. Although no immediate substantial test score gains were found, the practices that targeted at English skills were perceived to gradually improve test scores. The trustworthiness, the efficacy and the reorientation of the test preparation practices were valued to help with achieving success, although the extent of these aspects varied to individual students. Drawing on Green’s (2007) washback model, the findings contributed to the understanding of test preparation phenomenon that the variability in the nature of the test preparation practices influence the direction that test preparation practices work on test scores and English learning, and the perceived value are related to what students experienced (nature) and what they achieved (perceived effects).