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The Method of Reading the Foreign Service Examination in English Composition

Coward, Ann F.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Essay Tests, Foreign Service Officer Examination, Holistic Evaluation, Scoring, Test Reliability, Test Validity, Writing Evaluation


The essay examination in English Composition which is part of the Examination for the Foreign Service is beset with the difficulties in grading common to all such examinations. The current method of grading is criticized for being unreliable and is accused of failing to measure the most important aspects of writing ability. To throw some light on these matters, this study was undertaken to compare the present method of grading, which will for convenience be characterized as "atomistic," with "holistic" grading, in which the composition is evaluated subjectively as a whole. Two questions are addressed: (1) which method of grading is the more reliable, and (2) are the same abilities evaluated by both methods?

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