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T. Rasskazova, A. Muzafarova, J. Daminova, A. Okhotnikova

Ural Federal University (RUSSIAN FEDERATION)
The phenomenon of globalisation and internationalization has had a transformative effect on the institutions of higher education in Russia leading to a variety of academic changes, such as the introduction of two-level education (bachelor and master degrees), major curricula alterations and greater emphasis on encouraging academic mobility, the international exchange of students.

This is creating opportunities for sharing knowledge and is broadening students’ horizons in terms of becoming more employable in the context of world economy. However, it requires a sufficient command of a foreign language, English being the most desirable option for obvious reasons. This, in turn, has made many educationalists rethink the basic principles of language teaching and learning, which resulted in a dramatic change of syllabuses in most Russian tertiary education institutions.

Apart from increasing the proportion of language training in their curricula, most progressive universities have shifted the focus of their foreign language courses onto communication skills and adhering to international standards. This inevitably raised the issue of adequate assessment, necessitating the development of a reliable instrument to measure the students’ achievement and proficiency in language learning. While there is a graduation exam in foreign languages (Unified State Exam) that Russian secondary school leavers can choose to take, there is no uniform assessment tool designed specifically for the tertiary education context.

Moreover, the new Russian educational standards are too general in describing the competences a university graduate has to acquire, including those related to foreign language proficiency. This does not contribute to clear understanding of the learning outcomes a university foreign language course should aim to achieve leading to different universities creatively interpreting the standard requirements and designing tests based on their own understanding and experience.

The attempt taken by a federal testing centre to design a universal computer-based test of English intended for bachelor degree students of different specialties can hardly be considered successful. The results are highly questionable as the test defies many of the testing and assessment principles and is unsuitable for university context for a number of reasons to be discussed in the article.

One of the largest universities in Russia, Ural Federal University, has an extensive experience, unique in many respects, of testing its students’ language ability. First, the university authorities decided to introduce computer-based tests for its first and second year students in several subjects, including English. Second, as there are five departments in the university responsible for teaching foreign languages, three different language tests co-exist within one educational establishment, which provides invaluable data to study and draw conclusions about the effectiveness of each test type.

Having analysed these data and the tests themselves, the authors suggest that the prospects for the development of a uniform standardised test to serve as a reliable and balanced language assessment instrument for the Russian higher education context lie in the language proficiency level-based tests direction. This needs to be done through a concerted effort on the part of the leading Russian universities and inter-university teams composed of professionally trained language test designers.