Just as mechanical drills do not teach students the language, mechanical test questions do not assess their ability to use it in authentic ways. In order to provide authentic assessment of students’ grammar proficiency, an evaluation must reflect real-life uses of grammar in context. This means that the activity must have a purpose other than assessment and require students to demonstrate their level of grammar proficiency by completing some task.
To develop authentic assessment activities, begin with the types of tasks that students will actually need to do using the language. Assessment can then take the form of communicative drills and communicative activities like those used in the teaching process.
For example, the activity based on recordings of public address announcements (Developing Grammar Activities) can be converted into an assessment by having students respond orally or in writing to questions about a similar tape. In this type of assessment, the instructor uses a checklist or rubric to evaluate the student’s understanding and/or use of grammar in context. (See Assessing Learning for more on checklists and rubrics.)
Mechanical tests do serve one purpose: They motivate students to memorize. They can therefore serve as prompts to encourage memorization of irregular forms and vocabulary items. Because they test only memory capacity, not language ability, they are best used as quizzes and given relatively little weight in evaluating student performance and progress.