Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What is the Common European Framework of Reference?
The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, or CEF for short, has been devised by the Council of Europe as a common framework for teaching and assessment of languages. The CEF scale has six major levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2), which start with "beginner" or "false beginner" and go up to "highly advanced". The level descriptors report typical or likely behaviours of learners at any given level by stating what the learner can do rather than she cannot do. In this way language proficiency can be interpreted in similar terms and achievements can be compared in the European context.
2. What makes a modern European language exam?
A modern European language exam is standardised in order to ensure reliability and validity of the assessments.
Test specifications are clearly related to any of the six levels of the Common European Framework of Reference.
Item writers are properly trained and use guidelines for writing specific tasks.
Tasks are moderated and piloted.
The results of the piloting are statistically analyzed and the tasks are revised accordingly.
Pass levels are decided on the basis of empirical evidence.
Assessors of Speaking and raters of Writing tests are properly trained and their work is constantly monitored.
The assessment of productive skills (Speaking and Writing) is based on double marking using standardised assessment scales.
The exam is validated and related to the CEF.
The exam has positive washback on teaching.
3. Who are the Into Europe books for?The students or the teachers or both?
Reading and Use of English and the Listening volumes are for both students and teachers as they contain a large number of piloted and calibrated tasks with comments and answer keys. The Speaking and Writing Handbooks are mainly for teachers because they deal with task design and examiner training issues.
4. Can the Into Europe series help me to prepare my students for the new Hungarian school-leaving examination?
YES. There is plenty of practice material in all the four books, especially in the Reading and Use of English and Listening volumes, in which the tasks appear in an increasing order of difficulty with an answer key.
5. What language exams can students prepare for if they use the Into Europe series?
The examination described in the Into Europe series is a model language examination only. It is not offered by any examination centre. The principles of language testing described and task types included in the series are in line with modern European standards of language assessment, therefore the books are suitable for preparation for any language exam that aims to follow good practice.
6. Can the Into Europe series help me to become a good assessor for Speaking and Writing exams?
The books can certainly help a lot but proper examiner training is indispensable.
The Handbooks give an introduction to examiner training, which really helps readers to increase their awareness of assessment issues. This examination model uses analytic assessment/rating scales, the levels of which are illustrated by sample benchmarked performances and accompanied by detailed justifications for the marks. Studying all this and practising marking with the help of the given sample performances will definitely improve the reader's assessing skills. However, we strongly recommend that anyone who wishes to become a reliable assessor/rater should attend a training course.
7. How is the Into Europe series different from the other exam practice materials available?
Besides practice tasks the series also explains what the process of reading and listening involves, how writers write and what may influence oral performances. The reader is provided with useful advice for assessing different skills and designing different tasks. The volumes give an overview of a variety of testing techniques and principles.
One unique feature of the Into Europe series is that The Speaking Handbook is accompanied by a five-hour DVD, which shows students' performances on good and bad Speaking tasks in different examination formats, reflecting both standard and non-standard interlocutor behaviour. Similarly, The Writing Handbook presents scripts produced by real learners, which are annotated with raters' comments on the strengths and weaknesses of the scripts.
A further unique feature of the series is that the Reading and Use of English and Listening volumes contain a huge number of different task types piloted with real Hungarian students.
8. Where can I get help to design tests for my own classes?
All the four volumes of the Into Europe series provide guidelines for designing different test tasks, which may also be used in classroom contexts as well. The British Council offers a suite of five exam-related courses in Hungary to help teachers design test tasks.
9. Where can I get help in designing Speaking tasks for the new Hungarian intermediate level school-leaving examination in English?
The Into Europe Speaking Handbook is full of guidelines for Speaking task design discussing in details features of good and bad tasks. The Handbook also includes some sample tasks and sample student performances on DVD. This website also offers additional Speaking tasks and advice for task design.
The exam-related teacher training courses of the British Council are specifically designed to help teachers to design tasks as well as conduct and assess exams. You can check the dates for the courses.
It is very important to note that nobody can write good tasks alone so we recommend you work in a team, collaborating with your colleagues at school.
10. How to make sure that an exam task is at the right level of difficulty?
First of all, the tasks should be written in line with the test specifications which describe what is to be tested and how, at the target CEF proficiency level. All examination tasks need to be checked by a group of other item writers, then piloted with real students and finally revised in the light of the results of the piloting.
11. How can I make sure that the Speaking test that I design for the Hungarian intermediate level school-examination in English is indeed aimed at A2 or B1?
Ideally, a linking procedure to the CEF should involve an elaborate process of standard setting and benchmarking, which is described in detail in the Council of Europe Manual for Relating language examinations to the Common European Framework of Reference.
What every teacher should do at least is to consult the overall and sub-scales for oral production and interaction in the CEF. These scales can provide detailed guidelines for test developers because the level descriptors for the different language use contexts clearly state what a learner is expected to be able to do. See pp. 21, 22 in the Into Europe The Speaking Handbook.
12. Why is it necessary to prepare questions in advance for the Speaking test?(of the new Hungarian school-leaving exam)
For some people it may seem that if the examiner's behaviour is strictly controlled and his/her contributions are scripted, the naturalness of the interaction between the interlocutor and the candidate is lost. However, an oral examination can never replicate a real-life encounter. The interlocutor's job is to elicit a ratable language sample. It is important to have the questions prepared and piloted in advance because this is the only way to ensure that the wording of each question matches the intended level. The interlocutor may not be able to use the most appropriate words when formulating or paraphrasing questions on the spur of the moment. In the end s/he might confuse rather than help the candidate. It is important to stick to a standardised procedure using an interlocutor frame in order to ensure reliability and fairness.
13. I'm worried about conducting and assessing the Speaking exam on my own. How can I cope with these two roles?
Unfortunately, at the new Hungarian intermediate level school-leaving examination in English the classroom teacher is supposed to perform both roles at the same time. This is against good practice as it undermines both the validity and reliability of the results of the exam. We recommend the use of an interlocutor frame and pairing up with another English teacher on the staff so the assessor's role and the interlocutor's role can be separated.
14. What are the item writer guidelines for?
They can be useful by anyone who would like to produce a task for either classroom use or a standardized exam. The guidelines were developed by the Project over six years as a result of extensive task piloting and revision.
15. Where can I find a course that helps me to design tasks and assess exam performances?
The British Council offers a suite of five exam-related courses to support teachers in Hungary.
16. If I participate in a Bristish Council exam-related training course can I get credit points for that?
All British Council training courses are accredited courses, and you can either get 30 or 60 credit points depending on the course you take.
Important note: If you are interested in the requirements, regulations and logistics of the New Hungarian school-leaving examination in English, visit www.om.hu
If you have any other questions, please contact us at