Wim Gombert

116 CHAPTER 7 PREPARATION FOR THE ORAL PROFICIENCY TEST To make sure the students in both conditions would be able to talk about similar topics as part of the SOPA test procedure (see below), a 30-hour intervention was designed in which the learners had an equal amount of L2 exposure and speaking practice. Seven academic topics dealing with migrants, tattoos, abortion, etc. were selected because participants were thought to have an opinion on these topics and be able to talk about them. During a series of 6 to 7 lessons, each topic was introduced using a videodocumentary of two minutes on average. is introduction was followed by listening - and reading exercises, which entailed repeated exposure to the language used in the video-documentary, prompting the learners to focus on the vocabulary needed to speak about the topic later on. Gradually, exercises became more productive: learners were encouraged to think of arguments for and against a given view related to the topic under discussion and to use these arguments as part of several guided tasks, making sure all students were able to understand and produce content on these topics. Finally, free response tasks such as a debate, a press conference and a discussion were organized to aid students in producing language spontaneously during the nal oral pro ciency test. THE TESTING INSTRUMENT To assess free response oral skills the student oral pro ciency assessment (SOPA) protocol was used (Rhodes 1996). e rubrics (See Appendix F) distinguish nine levels of pro ciency in four subscales: oral uency (how uently do the learners express their ideas), grammar (how accurate are the learners), vocabulary (how varied and appropriate is their use of words and phrases) and listening comprehension (how well do the learners understand the questions and instructions). e SOPA tasks were originally designed for younger children (10-12) going from very easy, controlled tasks to more open, creative language use tasks. e rst task consists of naming di erent objects and animals, a second task involves managing objects, animals and persons in a farmhouse or a dollhouse and a third, free-response task invites students to talk about themes presented by pictures. As the participants in the present study were older students (17-18 years old) enrolled in pre-university education, new tasks had to be developed that were more appropriate for the age-group and in line with their pro ciency levels. Moreover, the tasks had to be aligned with the topics that the students had dealt with in class. e adapted test (see Appendix G) used in the current study was as follows: First, the interviewer asked personal questions to both students simultaneously (Task 1). en Student A and B alternately presented one of the subjects in one minute and were asked informative questions (Task 2 and 3). ese tasks were intended to make the students feel at ease as the questions could easily be prepared in advance. e fourth task consisted of academic questions in which the students were invited to give their opinion on their