Case Study: Diagnostic assessment of language students


Reduce staff time involved in streaming incoming students into the correct language group.


Each year the Language Centre has to place hundreds of students at the level that best matches their ability.  Failure to get students in the right language group can lead to student frustration and several weeks of wasted learning time. In the past, students were assigned a language group based on a paper-based diagnostic test and a brief conversation with centre staff. Although this worked well enough in most ways, it required a large investment of staff time for speaking with students individually and marking hundreds of tests, at a very busy time of year. The Language Centre have used online tests to assess students' pre-existing language knowledge and ability for several years. This cuts out the need to mark a large number of paper tests. It has also proven to be just as effective and reliable in terms of placing students in the appropriate group.

What was done

The Language Centre introduced thirty-minute online diagnostic tests using Questionmark Perception which allows the delivery of tests on an open platform that can be administered in about half an hour. These tests are automatically marked and the results are available to staff and students almost immediately. This enables administrative staff to place students into their language groups before the beginning of term.


The online diagnostic tests have been used successfully for several years and are now a requirement for all students enrolling on a language course, whether mandatory or optional.  The benefits derived from moving the test online include:

  • Saving on administrative and marking time 
  • Placement of students completed before term starts
  • Flexible and open access test for students who need to take the test remotely or are not registered on the unit at the time of the test
  • An opportunity for students to familiarise themselves with a system that is used during the year for formative or summative assessments


School of Modern Languages,
Faculty of Arts,
University of Bristol

Tools used


Hélène Duranton,