Online vs. Traditional Proficiency Tests: Reading

OTE ReadingHow much of your time do you spend reading?

Maybe you’re an avid reader and your home is full of bookshelves — packed with books that you’ve read, and others still waiting their turn — and nothing makes you happier than sitting down and turning these pages for a few hours, sharing the company and thoughts of the world’s greatest thinkers and storytellers.

Or maybe you think reading isn’t really for you. Perhaps you’d rather spend your free time outdoors, meeting friends, practising sports or going shopping. Or maybe staying at home is fine, but you’d prefer to watch films or play videogames. But reading? No, maybe that’s not such a great use of your free time.

Actually, you almost certainly spend much more of your time than you think reading every day, whether you’re a bookworm or not.

Reading without realising

Most people think that reading is only ‘real’ reading if it involves a big, heavy, and, probably, difficult book. We don’t normally think of reading as something we do on our mobile phones, tablets, or laptops. But that’s where we find out about what’s happening in the world when we look at the news, weather forecast, and travel information, as well as staying in touch with our friends. You probably spend quite a lot of time on social networks and sending text messages to share plans and gossip.

When you’re walking down the street, or wandering around a shopping centre, every time you look at a sign, be that directions for where you want to go or checking a shop’s opening hours, then almost without realising it, you’re also reading.

Reading is something we do all day, every day. Reading is fun!

So what about the Reading section in English language tests?

Shouldn’t English language tests look at your ability to read, in the same way, you really do read every day? If we hardly ever read things printed on paper anymore, why is an exam printed on paper the right way to test your reading skills?

Online reading, online testing

Because the Oxford Test of English is 100% online, you’ll find the Reading test is a lot more realistic and similar to the reading that you do every day. First of all, everything you see will be on a computer screen, with colour and images to make the experience more enjoyable as well as authentic. But you’ll also see that the reading texts are framed in something which is appropriate: you might find you have to read something from a tablet – you’ll see the tablet on screen too. A sign in a shop window, a text message, or a magazine article, can all be made to look more authentic when they’re on a computer screen instead of printed in black and white on paper. And you answer on the screen, instead of on a separate answer sheet, so you won’t get confused about putting your answers in the right place.

Adaptive technology

Another great thing about the Oxford Test of English being online is that it uses adaptive technology in the Reading test. This means that you get a randomly-chosen first question, and if you get it right, the next question will be a little bit more difficult, but if you get it wrong, the next question will be a bit easier. And this carries on, question by question, so that the level of the tasks goes up and down until the system finds your level. Because of this, the Reading module of the Oxford Test of English can identify your ability more accurately in less time and with fewer questions, than a paper-based exam can. It means the Reading test isn’t any longer than it needs to be, it’s full of variety – long and short texts on lots of different subjects – and it will never seem too difficult or too easy for you. After you’ve done a few questions, you’ll soon notice how comfortable you feel, because the level of the test is adjusting to your level of English.

One question at a time

Another advantage of the Oxford Test of English and its adaptive technology is that you only see one Reading text at a time. Instead of being distracted by all those printed pages of text you’ll have to work through, you just have to concentrate on the task you have in front of you. And because every task in the Oxford Test of English is timed, the timer on the screen shows you how much time you have to complete what you’re doing, so you won’t have to worry about time management either, and of course, you can answer the questions and then move on to the next question as soon as you’re ready.

Drag and drop

Lots of English language exams require you to fill gaps with missing words, put sentences in the right order, or match people to paragraphs. This is quite a demanding task, because you have to make sure that there is a real connection and flow between all the bits and pieces, and then feel confident that the answers you have chosen are the best answers, and that for example Option C in Gap 3 plus Option D in Gap 5 works better than the other way round.   Doing this on a paper-based exam is tricky, especially if you change your mind and need to correct your answer. But because the Oxford Test of English is online, you can drag and drop the options into the right gaps, and then experiment by moving them round in different combinations to make sure you’ve chosen the best answers before you make your final decision.

Social distancing

You don’t need to worry about social distancing while you’re sitting in a room with lots of other people. You’ll be sitting comfortably at a safe distance from everyone else, because the Oxford Test of English is available at any time of day and on any day of the year, so your Test Centre can organise several sessions for smaller groups of students.

Report card and results immediately

As with Listening, you’ll be able to get your Report Card for the Reading module as soon as you leave the test room! As you can see, the Oxford Test of English offers you the very best Reading experience possible.

Try it and see

Why not visit the Oxford Test of English website, where you can try out the online demo free of charge?


Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter so you can access a free online lesson helping you to prepare for your Reading test!

You can also find more creative ways to practice English in the run-up to your test here.


Simon Ferdinand is Head of Market Development for ELT Assessment at Oxford University Press, where he is in charge of launching the Oxford Test of English worldwide. His career spans 26 years in the field of English Language Teaching, first as a teacher of English and French at a language school in Madrid, then as a sales rep and product manager with Oxford University Press working on English File and exams material.

Simon speaks six languages fluently and he is also the author of ‘Cómo negociar en inglés’ (How to Negotiate in English) which was published in Madrid in 2006 and has sold 27,000 copies.

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

Every year we help millions of people around the world to learn English. As a department of the University of Oxford, we further the University’s objective of excellence in education by publishing proven and tested language learning books, eBooks, learning materials, and educational technologies.

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