Exploring the Washback Effects of the Chinese National Matriculation English Test (NMET) on Student Learning and Their Test Anxiety

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Zheng, Xing
Washback , NMET Washback Test Anxiety
Washback refers to the effects of language testing on teaching and learning (Alderson & Wall, 1993). Washback studies have been frequently conducted in educational fields in the past several decades (Alderson & Wall, 1993; Cheng, 1997; 2005; Green, 2006; 2007; Qi, 2007). And those studies focus more on teaching and less on learning, so do the washback studies in the Chinese context (Gu, 2007; Gu & Peng, 2010; Qiao, 2006; Qin, 2012). The National Matriculation English Test (NMET) is the most populated large-scale high-stakes test in China with approximately 10 million test takers involved annually for admission to higher education. Thus, it offers a meaningful context to conduct research on washback as tests that have important consequences will have more intensive washback. Also, such important consequences as not being admitted to universities could lead to a potential source of heightened test anxiety, which was less researched. This study investigated the effects of the NMET in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province [hereafter referred to NMET (ZJ)], China on secondary school students’ learning and their test anxiety. A quantitative data analysis (descriptive statistics, factor analysis and regression analysis) was conducted on 406 NMET (ZJ) test takers in Hangzhou in 2017. Results from the study are as follows: (1) Negative washback effects were observed on what and how students learned about English. (2) There existed a negative effect on students’ test anxiety. (3) Both a social context aspect of test anxiety (peer-related test anxiety) and a cognitive aspect of test anxiety (worry) were observed. Additionally, one of the two test anxiety factors (test unconfident) negatively predicted students’ English level. As students’ English level decreased, their confidence on the test also decreased. The results indicate that the NMET reform in Zhejiang did not achieve its intended purpose of decreasing students’ test anxiety and promote their English learning. Both teachers and students should be aware of the negative effects of the test. Learning focus should be on genuine English learning instead of just learning for the test. Additionally, results on how changes of the test format negatively affect students also provide empirical evidence to test designers for future test development.
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