Testing the ability to speak is a most important aspect of language testing. However, at all stages beyond the elementary levels of mimicry and repetition it is an extremely difficult skill to test, as it is far too complex a skill to permit any reliable analysis to be made for the purpose of objective testing. Questions relating to the criteria for measuring the speaking skills and to the weighting given to such components as correct pronunciation remain largely unanswered. It is possible for people to produce practically all the correct sounds but still unable to communicate their ideas appropriately and effectively. On the other hand, people can make numerous errors in both phonology and syntax and yet succeed in expressing themselves fairly clearly.
     In many tests of oral production it is neither possible nor desirable to separate the speaking skills. Clearly, in normal speech situations the two skills are interdependent. It is possible to hold any meaningful conversation without understanding what is being said and without making oneself understood at the same time. However, this very interdependence of the speaking and listening skills increases the difficulty of any serious attempt to analyze precisely what is being tested at any one time. Moreover, since the spoken language is transient, it is impossible without a tape recorder to applied such procedures as in the making of compositions, where examiners are able to check back and make an assessment at leisure. The examiner of an oral production test is working under great pressure all the time, making subjective judgments as quickly as possible. Even though samples of speech can be recorded during a test, the tape recording, by itself, is inadequate to provide an accurate means of reassessing or checking a score, since it cannot recapture the full context of the actual situation, all of which is so essential to any assessment of the communication that takes place.   
     The following sections in this chapter will give an idea of the range of possible types of oral tests. Some of the exercises (e.g. picture descriptions) have proved very useful in many tests while others (e.g. pencil-and-paper tests) have met with varying degrees of success. In spite of its high subjectivity, an extremely good testis the oral interview. In many cases, one or two sub tests (or oral activities) are used together with the oral interview to form a comprehensive test of oral production skills.
Many present-day oral tests include a test of reading aloud in which the student is given a short time to glance though an extract before being required to read aloud. The ability to read aloud differs greatly from the ability to converse with another person in a flexible, informal way. Although reading aloud may have a certain usefulness, only a few news readers and teachers may over require training and testing in this particular skill.
     Tests involving reading aloud are generally used when it is desired to assess pronunciation as distinct from the total speaking skills. In order to construct suitable test of reading aloud.  It is helpful to imagine actual situations in real life in which the testees may be required to read aloud. Perhaps one of the most common tasks is that of reading aloud directions or instructions to a friend, colleague or fellow-worker: e.g. how to wire a plug, how to trace faults in a car engine, how to cook certain dishes. For example, the following instructions relate to a situation in which a teacher or class monitor may be asked to read aloud:
First put the headset on. Make sure it is in its most comfortable position with the headband over the centre of the head. The microphone should be about 1½ inches from the mouth.
To record, put the white switch to the position marked Work. Put the red switch to Speak and press recording button, which will now light up.
     A test more useful in many ways than reading aloud is the retelling of a short story or incident. In this type of examination, the students are required to retell a story they have just read. If carefully constructed, such a test can assess most of the phonological elements which are otherwise tested by reading aloud. Unfortunately, it often measures other skills such as reading comprehension, memory and organization, too.
These drills are especially suitable for the language laboratory and can serve to focus attention on certain aspects of the spoken language, especially in  those countries where English is taught as a foreign language and the emphasis is primarily on the reading skills.
     The item types range from items presenting the testees with situations in which they initiate conversations to incomplete conversations with the part of one speaker omitted (i.e. a one-sided dialogue). Tests containing such item types are on the whole reliable, but they cannot be described as being valid tests of speaking. If an opportunity is provided in other parts of the test for real oral interaction, (i.e. genuine conversation and discussion), however, these controlled test items can be of some use in directing the attention of the students to specific language areas and skills.
Type 1   The testees are given a series of situations and are required to construct sentences on the lines of a certain pattern or group of patterns. Again, it is essential that two or three models be given to the testees so that they know exactly what is required. (The testees read or hear the situation and then make the appropriate responses, shown in the brackets.)
Mrs Green lives in a flat. She doesn’t like living in a flat and would like to live in a small house with a garden. (She wishes she lived in  small house with a garden.)
It’s raining heavily. Tom and Anna are waiting impatiently at home to set off on their picnic. (They wish it would stop raining.)
1.       Mr Black has a small car but his neighbours all have large cars. He would like a large car, too.
2.       Anna hasn’t learnt how to swim yet but most of her friends can swim.
3.       Tom is waiting for Bill outside the cinema. The show is just about to start but Bill has not arrived yet.
4.       Mrs Robinson doesn’t like living in town; she wants to live in the country.
Type 2   This type of test is similar to the previous type but as strictly controlled. No model responses are given by the examiner and the students are free to use whatever patterns they wish.
A friend of yours has forgotten where he has put his glasses. He cannot see too well without them. What will you say to him? (Let me help you to look for them, etc.)
You are on your way to school when it starts to rain heavily. Unfortunately, you and your friend have no raincoats. There is nowhere to shelter but your school is only a hundred yards away. What do you say to your friend? (Shall we make a dash for it?/Let’s run the rest of the way.)
1.       You are trying to get to the public library but you are lost. Ask a police officer the way.
2.       Your friend has just returned from a holiday abroad. What do you say to him?
3.       A waitress has just brought you the bill but has totaled it up incorrectly. What do you say to her?
4.       A friend of yours wants to see a film about a murder. You have already arranged to see it another evening, but you know she would be hurt if she knew. Make up an excuse.
Type 3   The students hear a stimulus to which they must respond in any appropriate way. (The test often relies on conventional greetings, apologies, acceptable ways of expressing polite disagreement, etc.)
Do you mind if I use your pencil for a moment?
(Not at all/Certainly/Please do/Go ahead, etc.)
What a game of tennis?
(Yes, I’d love a game/All right. I don’t mind/Don’t you think it’s a bit too hot?, etc.)
1.       Please don’t go to a lot of trouble on my behalf.
2.       Oh dear, it’s raining again. I hope it stops soon.
3.       We shan’t be late, shall we?
4.       Karen asked me to say she can’t come tonight.
Type 4   This is similar to the previous type of item, but the stimuli and responses form part of a longer dialogue and the situation is thus developed. Because of its total predictability, however this type of item is sometimes referred to as a dialogue of the deaf1 the man in the dialogue below continues regardless of what the testee says.
You’re on your way to the supermarket. A man comes up and speaks to you.
MAN: Excuse me. I wonder if you can help me at all. I’m looking for a chemist’s.
MAN: Thank you. Do you know what time it opens?
MAN: Thanks a lot. Oh, er, by the way, is there a phone box near here?
MAN: Oh dear, I’ll need some coins. Do you have any change for a  5 note?
MAN: Well, thanks a lot. You have been most helpful.
This dialogue clearly becomes absurd if, when asked where there is  a chemist’s, the testee replies, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know, ‘and the man promptly thanks him and asks what time it opens. Nevertheless, the use of pre-recorded material of this kind makes it possible to use the language laboratory to test large numbers of students in a very short time.
Type 5   This item takes the form of an incomplete dialogue with prompts (shown in brackets in the following example) whispered in the student’s ear.
You are at the receptionist desk of a large hotel. The receptionist turns to address you.
RECEPTIONIST: Can I help you?
                     (You want to know if there is a single room available.)
            YOU : ……………………………………………………………….
RECEPTIONIST: Yes, we have a single room with an attached bathroom.
                     (Ask the price.)
             YOU: ……………………………………………………………….
RECEPTIONIST: Thirty-four pounds fifty a night.
                    (You want to know if this includes breakfast.)
             YOU: ……………………………………………………………….
RECEPTIONIST: Yes, that’s with continental breakfast.
                    (You have no idea what ‘continental breakfast’ is.)
             YOU: ……………………………………………………………….
RECEPTIONIST: It’s fruit juice, coffee or tea, and bread rolls.
                    (Book the room for two nights.)
             YOU: ……………………………………………………………….
RECEPTIONIST: Certainly. Room 216. the porter will take your bag and show you
                                 where it is.
                     (Thank the receptionist.)
            YOU: ……………………………………………………………….
Pictures, maps and diagrams can be used in oral production tests in similar ways to those described in the previous chapter on testing the listening skills. Pictures of single objects can be used for a scene or an incident can be used for examining the total oral skills. This section will concentrate on the use of pictures for description and narration.
     The students are given a picture to study for a few minutes; they are then required to describe the picture in a given time (e.g. two or three minutes). Occasionally, the number of words each student speaks is counted by one examiner in the room, while the other examiner counts the number of errors made (but this procedure is very unreliable.) separate scores for general fluency, grammar, vocabulary, phonology, and accuracy of description/narration are far better. Advertisements, posters and strip cartoons may be used in this way for class tests, provided that there enough available to prevent the students from preparing one or two set pieces.
     Careful selection of the pictures used for the examination will help in controlling the basic vocabulary required  and may, to some extent, determine the type sentence structure that predominates. Different styles and registers can be tested by including maps and diagrams as well as pictures for comparison, pictures for instructions and pictures for description and narration. If the pictures depict a story or sequence of events, it is useful to give the testees one or two sentences as a ‘starter’, thereby familiarizing them with tense sequencing they should employ.

     The most effective type of examination using pictures requires not only narration or picture description on the part of the students but also a discussion about the picture(s) concerned. If the examiner asks questions and discusses the picture(s) concerned. If the examiner asks questions and discusses the picture(s) with each student, the formal speech situation is combined with the reciprocal speech situation and two different types of oral production skills can thus be measured. Even if no discussion is included in the examination, the examiner would be well advised to prompt the students whenever he or she appears to need encouragement. It is always important to find out what a student knows – not what he or she doesn’t know; long periods of silence will tell the examiner very little.
     A similar technique to that  described in the previous chapter can be used to test oral production. The student and examiner have five pictures in front of them, each picture differing in only one respect from the other four pictures. The student is given a card bearing a letter (A, B,C,D or E); the examiner cannot see the letter. The student is required to describe the appropriate picture (according to the letter). The examiner then selects a picture according to the description, assessing the student not only on the correctness and fluency of his or her speech but also on the length of time taken before the student’s description results in the identification of the appropriate picture. The examiner then checks the card.