This study addresses the question of how competence levels, as operationalised in a rating scale, might be related to what is known about L2 developmental stages.
This study has taken its lead from discussions about the benefit of collaboration between researchers in language testing and second language acquisition (eg Bachman and Cohen, 1998; Ellis, 2001; and Laufer, 2001). It addresses the question of how competence levels, as operationalised in a rating scale, might be related to what is known about L2 developmental stages. Looking specifically at the writing performances generated by Tasks 1 and 2 of the IELTS Academic Writing module, the study explores the defining characteristics of written language performance at IELTS bands 3–8 with regards to: cohesive devices used; vocabulary richness; syntactic complexity; and grammatical accuracy. It also considers the effects of L1 and writing task type on the measures of proficiency explored.
The writing performances of 275 test-takers from two L1 groups (Chinese and Spanish) were transcribed and then subjected to manual annotation for each of the measures selected. Where automatic or semi-automated tools were available for analysis (particularly in the area of vocabulary richness), these were used. The results suggest all except the syntactic complexity measures investigated here are informative of increasing proficiency level. Vocabulary and grammatical accuracy measures appear to complement each other in interesting ways. L1 and writing tasks seem to have critical effects on some of the measures, so they are an important factor to take into account in further research.