Assessing interactional skills in a paired speaking test: Raters’ interpretation of the construct

Linda Borger

Construct operationalization, Interactional competence, Paired speaking test, Swedish national test of English, Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)


The operationalization of interactional competence (IC) within the paired speaking test format allows for a range of interactional skills to be tested. However, in terms of assessment, challenges are posed with regard to the co-constructed nature of IC, making investigations into raters’ perceptions of the construct essential to inform test score interpretation. This qualitative study explores features of IC that raters attended to as they evaluated performances in a paired speaking test, part of a Swedish national test of English as a Foreign Language (EFL). Two groups of raters, 17 EFL teachers from Sweden, using national standards based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), and 14 raters from Finland and Spain, using CEFR scales, rated six audio-recorded paired performances, and provided written comments to explain their scores and account for salient features. The findings of the content analysis indicate that raters attended to three main interactional resources: topic development moves, turn-taking management, and interactive listening strategies. As part of the decision-making process, raters also considered the impact of test-takers’ interactional roles and how candidates’ performances were interrelated. In the paper, interaction strategies that were perceived as more or less successful by raters are highlighted. The findings have implications for our understanding of raters’ operationalization of IC in the context of paired speaking tests, and for the development of rating scales and guidelines that reflect the social dimensions of the construct.

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Apples - Journal of Applied Language Studies