How do we assess English language competence?

Posted by: Barbara Morgan, Manager, Academic Literacies & Maths, Discipline Services, Study and Learning Centre, RMIT University.

Click on the image to open a new window to RMIT's Study and Learning Centre.

Click on the image to open a new window to RMIT’s Study and Learning Centre.

Lecturers often ask us what they can do to help their students improve their English. They face a growing number of students in their classes from a range of language and cultural backgrounds, prior education experiences and academic abilities who all want to succeed in their studies. It is not just in the classroom that lecturers articulate their fears as there is increasing concern about English proficiency across the sector in response to the recent inclusion of English language in the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency (TEQSA) threshold standards.

At RMIT English language development is an important aspect of the ‘Work Ready’ graduate attribute.

The issue is how do we ensure that these crucial skills are developed over the course of a degree?  It seems that with increasing diversity we need to be even more explicit about what is expected and how to  go about it. The challenge for all tertiary institutions is that English language is developmental and context specific; university learning is a kind of apprenticeship into a discipline. This takes time.

So how do we overcome this barrier and teach this? One useful way is through the feedback we provide to students. Writing effective English language feedback for students can be challenging. Of interest to us all is that English language feedback is useful for all students and helps them to develop the capabilities required in their program.

For this purpose the Study and Learning Centre has developed a series of user friendly English language rubrics (for essays, reports, reflective journals, and oral presentations) to assist teachers to give practical feedback to their students on their English language and academic skills.

The rubrics aim to explicitly verbalise the implicit language and literacy requirements of assignment tasks. They do this through clear and simple explanations of the linguistic features of assignments and links to models on the Learning Lab. Staff can use the feedback provided in the rubrics to give students the specific advice they need to improve their language and literacy. Students highly value feedback from their teachers so we expect that use of the rubric could support positive GTS scores. Staff from the Study and Learning Centre are also available to directly work with you to customise the rubrics to suit your needs.

You can find the rubrics on the webpage English Language Development Project in the Teaching resources area of the RMIT staff webpage.  Please contact the Barbara Morgan at the Study and Learning Centre for more information (

Share your thoughts on the nature of feedback or English language competence in the comments section!

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