Placement testing: man and machine, doing the best we can?

Douglas McPherson (Texas A&M University at Qatar, Doha, Qatar)

Interactive Technology and Smart Education

ISSN: 1741-5659

Publication date: 20 November 2009



The purpose of this paper is to describe how and why Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ) has developed a system aiming to effectively place students in freshman and developmental English programs. The placement system includes: triangulating data from external test scores, with scores from a panel‐marked hand‐written essay (HWE), written at the University under proctored conditions, and also data from a range of computer based tests, including a computer assessed essay. This is discussed within the broader context of placement testing in general.


Notes on the evolving process have been kept for the last three years, and this case study is written by a “placement evaluator”, using these notes as a starting point.


TAMUQ has found an integrated approach to placement testing to be effective.


The number of institutions integrating internal and external testing for placement is growing. TAMUQ's perspective may be of value to many academic institutions. The paper outlines the types of assessments used at TAMUQ in order to appropriately place students in classes. It describes the strengths and shortcomings of both external test data and placement software, and argues that relying on either alone (or in conjunction) to decide starting points for students in English programs is a flawed approach. The need for integrating authentic HWE samples and opinion from English faculty is discussed.



McPherson, D. (2009), "Placement testing: man and machine, doing the best we can?", Interactive Technology and Smart Education, Vol. 6 No. 4, pp. 244-253.

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