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The development of the Teacher Knowledge Test
Mick Ashton and Clare Harrison, University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations
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An exploratory standard-setting activity was conducted to inform the reporting of results and the grading stage of TKT. Ten judges with expertise in teacher training, rater training, setting performance criteria, and language testing were assembled to give their input. Judges were asked to go through each module, answer each item and provide a rating on a four-point difficulty scale with 1 being the easiest and 4 being the most difficult. Differences between the ratings given were discussed and a rationale to explain those differences was provided. The activity proved to be very useful in making further refinements to the candidate profile at each of the four bands which will be used for reporting performance on TKT.

For each module, candidates are required to read and then answer questions by selecting the correct letter. Listening, speaking or extended writing are not required when taking TKT. Modules can be taken together in one examination session or separately, in any order, over three sessions. TKT modules are free-standing, and there is no aggregate score for candidates taking more than one module. There is no pass/fail in TKT, and candidates receive a certificate for each module that is taken.

TKT is designed to offer maximum flexibility and accessibility for candidates, which means no compulsory course component or compulsory teaching practice. However, it is likely that teacher training centres other institutions will want to offer courses for TKT preparation, and these might include some teaching practice. Evidence from various countries so far suggests that the TKT syllabus can easily be linked to these kinds of activities.

The knowledge tested by TKT includes concepts related to language and language use, and the background to and practice of language learning and teaching. Each module contains a range of tasks with a total of 80 objective-format questions. The testing syllabus for TKT has theoretical, practical and  classroom management strands, and covers universal aspects of what a successful teacher of English needs to know. The broad syllabus areas have been grouped into three equally balanced modules which can be embedded into existing teacher training courses as well as providing a useful starting point for course design.   

In future, TKT candidates will also have their own portfolio. This will be an electronic resource which candidates can use to keep a record of their teaching experience, beliefs and aspirations for the future. By using the portfolio candidates are encouraged to become more reflective practitioners by analysing their teaching and how this impacts on their students’ learning.  

The first live administration of the test took place in Toronto, Canada in April 2005, and the response from the international English language community has been strong evidence of the need for TKT. In the first six months following the launch, thousands of teacher candidates have sat for the test at centres in 36 countries. In one of the first regions to take advantage of TKT, Latin America, private institutions are already offering dedicated TKT courses and TKT has been used as a benchmark by school chains and franchises when assessing the knowledge of their teaching staff. The Chilean Government is using TKT to re-train in-service teachers and plans to incorporate the test into teacher training programmes in state universities.

In terms of justification for the development of TKT, the feedback from experienced teachers has been important. They have found that in addition to the value of having the badge of professional knowledge represented by TKT, the process of taking the test in itself is valuable – it encourages them to think again about what they do, refreshes their knowledge, and leads to new ideas for classroom work.

Following the extensive design, development and trialling phases, Cambridge ESOL continues to engage in a programme of research and validation activities in relation to TKT. Planned studies include detailed investigations of the suitability of TKT for the range of teacher types, comparing the performance of specialist and non-specialist English language teachers, as well as native and non-native speakers. Such validation activities are required to ensure that satisfactory standards are met in line with the established principles of good testing practice, covering validity, reliability, impact and practicality.

A key feature of TKT is the level of support provided by Cambridge. This includes free online resources for trainers and candidates at and a dedicated textbook, The TKT Course, published by Cambridge University Press.

More information on TKT is available from

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