Evolving the English language test during transformational times


‘Organisations must adapt or die’ has been the consistent mantra of management expert Gary Hamel. During times of exceptional change, this has never been truer.

The arrival of COVID-19 could just be one of those seminal moments that fundamentally reshapes the way the education sector serves its customers. We saw the arrival of the internet decades ago and the rise in online tuition but the vast majority of teaching in recent years has still been in person. For every university embracing online or distance learning there are hundreds of traditional universities relying on face to face courses.

From nowhere, however, we are all embracing Zoom and other platforms to stay in touch with family and friends. Many of us probably hadn’t heard of, yet alone used Zoom until 2020 despite it being founded back in 2011. It took a seismic moment in our lives to thrust it into the mainstream and the home. It isn’t just universities however, whose models are being challenged by COVID-19. English language test providers are adapting too. Whereas face to face tests have been the norm for years, with restrictions on movement in place, providers have been forced to think again about how they can help universities select overseas students.

The best propositions in any walk of life are those which meet a real human need. We didn’t know we needed real-time information, a camera and so many new  ‘apps’ on the same device we use to make telephone calls until companies like Apple made a smartphone more accessible and therefore more necessary for modern life. Apple met an unrecognised need for something that is now so vital. The need for robust, at home English language tests is perhaps more clear now, but they are nevertheless, still not common, largely perhaps because, until now,  there was no catalyst forcing people away from face to face testing and only limited offerings in the digital space.

The UK Home Office relaxed guidelines on 20 April 2020 for institutions to self-assess B1 level of English for international students below degree level. This was designed for students who could not access a test centre. This is a welcome change; however, an online at-home English language test would be presumably of great interest to institutions right now, as who is to say these will not become the norm. The ability to sit a test in a place that suits you could help tremendously with accessibility and help those who would otherwise not gain access to higher education overseas.  

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