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ECCE

The Examination for the Certificate of Competency in English (or ECCE) is a standardized high intermediate-level English as a foreign language (EFL) examination. The ECCE certificate is recognized in several countries as official documentary evidence of high-intermediate proficiency in the English language and can be used for academic and professional purposes.

The ECCE is regularly updated to ensure that the examination reflects current research in language teaching and assessment and also continues to provide test takers with a test that helps them to demonstrate their language proficiency.

Test Description

The ECCE is a standardized high-intermediate level English as a foreign language (EFL) examination and is administered at authorized test centers around the world. New test forms are developed for each administration.

Test Purpose

The ECCE is administered internationally and is appropriate for teenagers, young adults, and adults residing in any country where the common language is not English. The ECCE assesses all four component skills of listening, reading, writing, and speaking through a combination of tasks in order to certify high-intermediate English language proficiency. The examination focuses on skills and content at the B2 level of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR).

Typical Test Taker

Language users at the B2 proficiency level:

Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

(Council of Europe, 2001: 24)

Therefore, ECCE certificate holders are expected to communicate at a high level on topics with which they are familiar. In such contexts they are interactive oral English speakers; they contribute to the development of a discussion, can understand conversational questions, can grasp both the gist and details of a conversation delivered in Standard American English, and can understand extended spoken discourse. They should also have a well-developed vocabulary as well as a sound grasp of English grammar. They can understand many different kinds of written materials. Additionally, they are able to communicate in standard written English with good expression and accuracy.

Test Content

Stimuli in the ECCE reflect a range of situations likely to be met in most countries. The CEFR identifies four basic domains, namely personal, public, occupational, and educational (Council of Europe, 2001: 48–49). The ECCE presents topics situated across all of these domains.

Personal home settings (house, rooms, or any private space) and interactions or settings among family members or social networks (friends, acquaintances)
Public public spaces (streets, shops, restaurants, sports, or entertainment venues) and other social networks outside the home
Occupational workplace settings (offices, workshops, conferences), etc.
Educational schools, colleges, classrooms, residence halls, etc.

Topics

Test takers should require no specialized knowledge or experience to understand the content of the items or prompts. Topics should be equally accessible to a range of ages and should represent a variety of opinions. In addition, the input should not present controversial, emotionally upsetting, or unrealistic scenarios.

A concerted effort is made to make sure topical content in the ECCE is not biased. Hambleton and Rodgers (1995, para. 1) define bias as “the presence of some characteristic of an item that results in differential performance for two individuals of the same ability but from different ethnic, sex, cultural, or religious groups.” They further note that another characteristic related to bias is offensiveness, which can obstruct the purpose of a test item. They explain that “while the presence of such material may not make the item more difficult for the test taker, it may cause him or her to become ‘turned off,’ and result in lowered performance” (op. cit., para. 7). Consequently, ECCE material is scrutinized to ensure that it is not inflammatory, emotionally upsetting, or controversial. This is meant to decrease the potential for bias.

Score Reporting

ECCE section scores are reported in five bands. The levels of performance, from highest to lowest, are:

Scaled Score Per Section
Honors (H) 840–1,000
Pass (P) 750–835
Low Pass (LP) 650–745
Borderline Fail (BF) 610–645
Fail (F) 0–605

ECCE test takers who achieve an average score of 650 or higher will be awarded a certificate. Additionally, those who achieve a score of 840 or higher in all four sections will be awarded a Certificate of Competency with Honors. An ECCE qualification is valid for life.


Format and Administration

The test is divided into four separate sections: a speaking test, a listening test, a GVR test (grammar, vocabulary, and reading), and a writing test. The table below presents the format and content of the ECCE.

Section Time Description Number of Items
Speaking 15 minutes Test takers participate in a structured, multistage task with one examiner. 4 stages
Listening 30 minutes Part 1 (multiple choice)
A short recorded conversation is followed by a question. Answer choices are shown as pictures.
30
Part 2 (multiple choice)
Short talks delivered by single speakers on different topics, followed by 4 to 6 questions each.
20
Grammar
Vocabulary
Reading
90 minutes Grammar (multiple choice)
An incomplete sentence is followed by a choice of words or phrases to complete it. Only one choice is grammatically correct.
35
Vocabulary (multiple choice)
An incomplete sentence is followed by a choice of words or phrases to complete it. Only one word has the correct meaning in that context.
35
Reading (multiple choice)
Part 1: A short reading passage is followed by comprehension questions.
Part 2: Two sets of four short texts related to each other by topic are followed by 10 questions each.
30
Writing 30 minutes The test taker reads a short excerpt from a newspaper article and then writes a letter or essay giving an opinion about a situation or issue. 1 task

The ECCE Speaking Test section is given separately from the other sections and may be scheduled either before or after the written test administration. The listening, grammar, vocabulary, and reading (GVR) and writing sections are administered together in a single sitting. They are administered in the following sequence:

  • Listening
  • GVR
  • Writing


Listening Section

At the B2 level, the test taker:

Can understand extended speech and lectures and follow even complex lines of argument provided the topic is reasonably familiar. [They] can understand most TV news and current affairs programmes. [They] can understand the majority of films in standard dialect.

(Council of Europe, 2001: 27)

Test takers are also expected to have mastered abilities described under lower levels of competence (A1–B1).

The CEFR applies these general expectations to four specific listening activities, namely understanding conversation between native speakers, listening as a member of a live audience, listening to announcements and instructions, and listening to audio and media recordings.

With regard to understanding conversation between native speakers, individuals at the B2 level are described as being able to:

Keep up with an animated conversation between native speakers [and], with some effort, catch much of what is said around him/her, but may find it difficult to participate effectively in discussion with several native speakers who do not modify their language in any way.

(Council of Europe, 2001: 66)

When listening as members of a live audience, B2-level users are expected to be able to:

Follow the essentials of lectures, talks and reports, and other forms of academic/professional presentation which are propositionally and linguistically complex.

(Council of Europe, 2001: 67)

Concerning listening to announcements and instructions, it is assumed that users at the B2 level are able to:

Understand announcements and messages on concrete and abstract topics spoken in standard dialect at normal speed.

(Council of Europe, 2001: 67)

Finally, when listening to audio media and recordings, B2-level users should be able to:

Understand recordings in standard dialect likely to be encountered in social, professional or academic life and identify speaker viewpoints and attitudes as well as the information content.

They should also be able to:

Understand most radio documentaries and most other recorded or broadcast audio material delivered in standard dialect and identify the speaker’s mood, tone, etc.

(Council of Europe, 2001: 68)

Format of the Listening Section

Type of Task

Part 1 presents 30 items
Each item is a short recorded conversation between two speakers followed by a question and accompanied by three picture answer-choices.
Part 2 presents four sets of 4–6 items
Each set comprises an extended talk by one speaker. The talk is followed by multiple-choice items. The items comprise a question and four options.

Notetaking is allowed during the listening section but is not required.

Duration

The entire listening section lasts 30 minutes.

ECCE Listening Subskills

The abilities that L2 listeners access when focusing on specific listening purposes are referred to as (listening) subskills. These form three subgroups of listening skills: global, local, and inferential listening skills and include (among others):

Global
  • understanding main idea
  • identifying speaker’s mood/attitude/opinion
  • synthesizing information
Local
  • understanding explicitly stated ideas (detail)
  • understanding vocabulary in context
Inferential
  • drawing an inference/conclusion
  • understanding rhetorical function
  • making predictions

Design of ECCE Listening Items

Format of the Input

Part 1
The aural input for each item is a short conversation between two speakers comprising up to five turns and lasting 15 to 20 seconds.

Listening Part 1 Example
Speaker 1: Do you remember if we turned off all the lights before we left?

Speaker 2: I got the kitchen light on my way out, but I don’t know about the living room.

Speaker 1: No, I got that. And I left the porch light on on purpose.

Speaker 2: Oh good, I’m glad you remembered that.


Part 2
Each talk is preceded by a short statement that provides a general context. There is only one speaker, who speaks for approximately one and a half minutes. (See example.)

Listening Part 2 Example

Narrator: Listen to a teacher in a music class.

Speaker 1: Good afternoon. Today, I’d like to explain one of the class requirements to you. Since you’re taking this music class, I suspect that you either love listening to music, or playing it yourself, so this assignment should be easy and fun. Basically—here, everyone take one of these sheets—I’d like you to go to five different types of musical performances during this semester. On the sheet of paper that’s coming around, you’ll see a list of suggestions, such as: musical theater, orchestra concerts, student recitals, popular bands, opera, and so on.

So, um, in addition to attending each show, you also have to prove to me that you went. In order to do that, you need to write a paragraph explaining your reaction to what you heard and saw. I want you to use as much insight as possible. Explain your reaction, you know, so that I know how the music made you feel.

Also, you should attach the ticket stub from the performance. You won’t get credit for attending a performance if you don’t turn in the ticket stub.

Oh, and I wanted to tell you about a website that lists all of the performances and shows happening in our city each month. This’ll be a great resource for planning which events you want to see. That website is listed at the bottom of the sheet that I passed out. So, any questions?

Format of the Response Options

Part 1
The aural input is followed by a question and three picture answer choices. Test takers choose the picture that answers the question.

Part 2
Each talk is followed by four to six multiple-choice items. The items comprise a question and four options. The talk and questions are presented aurally via audio recording and are heard once. The question stems are also printed in the test booklet along with the options and are visible to the test taker while listening to the talk.

Sample Listening Items

Several sample listening items are available on our website.

Evaluation of the ECCE Listening Section

The listening section is scored automatically by computer. There is only one correct answer for each item. Correct answers receive one point. Incorrect answers receive zero.


Grammar Subsection

The CEFR offers illustrative scales, or can-do statements, for grammatical accuracy and propositional precision. In terms of grammatical accuracy, users of English at the B2 level are described as having:

Good grammatical control; occasional “slips” or non-systematic errors and minor flaws in sentence structure may still occur; but they are rare and can often be corrected in retrospect. [They generally do] not make mistakes which lead to misunderstanding.

(Council of Europe, 2001: 114)

At this level, users are also expected to have mastered abilities described under lower levels of competence (A1–B1).

In terms of propositional precision, B2-level users are said to be able to “pass on detailed information reliably” (Council of Europe, 2001: 129).

Format of the Grammar Subsection

Type of Task

The ECCE grammar subsection is part of the larger GVR section that includes grammar, vocabulary, and reading items. There are 35 grammar items.

Duration

The entire GVR section lasts 90 minutes.

ECCE Grammar Subskills

ECCE grammar items focus on a variety of grammatical features observed in written American English. It is assumed that test takers can “show a relatively high degree of grammatical control” (Council of Europe, 2001: 114).

Format of the Input

Each ECCE grammar item comprises one to two sentences from which a string of words has been removed. Each item can test up to two grammatical features and is up to 25 words in length. Each ECCE grammar item should elicit a “tip-of-the-tongue” effect, in which test takers should ideally be able to mentally fill in the gap even before reading the options. The wording of ECCE grammar items is intended to reflect, as closely as possible, language use in real-life situations and provide a representative sample of different frequently observed genres in written English.

Even if I had agreed to help, I _______ everything done by tomorrow.

Format of the Response Options

Four answer choices are provided, one of which is the correct answer. All the incorrect options are grammatical in isolation from the input sentence.

Evaluation of the ECCE Grammar Subsection

The whole GVR section (including the grammar items) is scored automatically by computer. There is only one correct answer for each item. Correct answers receive one point. Incorrect answers receive zero.


Vocabulary Subsection

The CEFR offers illustrative scales, or can-do statements, for vocabulary range and control, and propositional precision. In terms of vocabulary range and control, users of English at the B2 level are described as having “a good range of vocabulary for matters connected to [their] field and most general topics,” as well as the ability to “vary formulation to avoid frequent repetition.” They are limited by “lexical gaps [which] can cause hesitation and circumlocution” and “some confusion and incorrect word choice does occur without hindering communication” (Council of Europe, 2001: 112).

In terms of propositional precision, B2-level users are said to be able to “pass on information reliably” (Council of Europe, 2001: 129).

Format of the Vocabulary Subsection

Type of Task

The ECCE vocabulary subsection is part of the larger GVR section that includes grammar, vocabulary, and reading items. There are 35 vocabulary items.

Duration

The entire GVR section lasts 90 minutes.

ECCE Vocabulary Subskills

ECCE vocabulary items measure vocabulary size and tap certain in-depth aspects of vocabulary knowledge. It is assumed that test takers will have a vocabulary size of up to 8,000 words (Laufer & Ravenhorst-Kalovski, 2010).

Design of ECCE Vocabulary Items

Format of the Input

Each ECCE vocabulary item comprises one to two sentences of up to 20 words total from which a word or lexical chunk has been removed. Each ECCE vocabulary item should elicit a “tip-of-the-tongue” effect, in which test takers should ideally be able to mentally fill in the gap even before reading the options. The wording of ECCE vocabulary items is intended to reflect, as closely as possible, language use in real-life situations and provide a representative sample of different frequently observed genres in written English.

The most __________ student complaint about the new library is its location.

Format of the Response Options

Four answer choices are provided, one of which is the most appropriate answer for the context.

Evaluation of the ECCE Vocabulary Subsection

The whole GVR section (including the vocabulary items) is scored automatically by computer. There is only one correct answer for each item. Correct answers receive one point. Incorrect answers receive zero.


Reading Subsection

The ECCE reading subsection has been designed to assess the comprehension of written English at Level B2 of the CEFR. At this level, the test taker:

Can read articles and reports concerned with contemporary problems in which the writers adopt particular attitudes or viewpoints [as well as] contemporary literary prose.

(Council of Europe, 2001: 27)

At this level, test takers are also expected to have mastered abilities described under lower levels of competence (A1–B1).

The CEFR applies these general expectations to four specific reading activities, namely reading correspondence, reading for orientation, reading for information and argument, and reading instructions. With regard to reading correspondence, individuals at the B2 level are described as being able to “understand the description of events, feelings and wishes in personal letters well enough to correspond regularly with a pen friend” (Council of Europe, 2001: 69).

When reading for orientation, B2-level users are expected to be able to:

Scan longer texts in order to locate desired information, and gather information from different parts of a text, or from different texts in order to fulfill a specific task.

Can find and understand relevant information in everyday material, such as letters, brochures and short official documents.

(Council of Europe, 2001: 70)

Concerning reading for information and argument, it is assumed that users at the B2 level are able to:

Obtain information, ideas and opinions from highly specialised sources within his/her field. Can also understand specialised articles outside his/her field, provided he/she can use a dictionary occasionally to confirm his/her interpretation of terminology.

Can understand articles and reports concerned with contemporary problems in which the writers adopt particular stances or viewpoints.

(Council of Europe, 2001: 70)

Finally, when reading instructions, B2-level users should be able to:

Understand lengthy, complex instructions in his/her field, including details on conditions and warnings, provided he/she can reread difficult sections.

(Council of Europe, 2001: 71)

Format of the Reading Subsection

Type of Task

The ECCE reading subsection is part of the larger GVR section that includes grammar, vocabulary, and reading items. There are 30 items in two parts:
Part 1
Presents two sets of five items each. Each set comprises a reading passage followed by multiple-choice items. The items comprise a question and four options.
Part 2
Presents two sets of ten items each. Each set comprises four thematically related passages followed by multiple-choice items. The items comprise a question and four options.

Duration

The entire GVR section lasts 90 minutes.

ECCE Reading Subskills

The abilities that L2 readers access when focusing on specific reading purposes are referred to as (reading) subskills. These form three subgroups of reading skills: global, local, and inferential reading skills and include (among others):

Global
  • understanding main idea
  • understanding author’s opinion
  • understanding the relationship between ideas
  • comparing/contrasting features of one or more texts
Local
  • understanding explicitly stated ideas (detail) from one or more texts
  • understanding vocabulary in context
  • identifying referents
Inferential
  • drawing an inference/conclusion from one or more texts
  • understanding rhetorical function

Reading Part 1 Example
This passage is about animal behavior.

When interacting with their environment, some animals depend not only on instinct, but also on something called social learning. One famous example of social learning involved a group of macaque monkeys in Japan. In the 1950s, researchers noticed a young monkey washing the sand off a sweet potato in a stream before eating it. Over time, this behavior spread to other monkeys, and today, it is common among macaques.

Another example of social learning was observed on an island in the United States. Biologists noticed herring gulls using hard paved roads to crack open clamshells to eat the clam meat. The gulls take clams out of a river, fly two hundred meters to a road and then drop the clams onto the pavement.

For years, the biologists collected and measured thousands of these broken clamshells. The gulls seem to prefer medium-sized clams, about eight centimeters wide. The researchers think that smaller shells aren’t worth the energy because they contain little meat. Larger clams are meatier, but too heavy to carry. As the birds grow older, they get better at calculating the right clam size and the best dropping height.

There are five species of gulls on the island, but only the herring gulls drop clams. The biologists are not certain how these birds first learned to do this, but think that herring gulls may be able to learn from one another. The other gull species on the island, however, do not appear to be capable of social learning.

Design of ECCE Reading Items

Format of the Input

Part 1
Each reading passage contains language that could be found in a formal written context. It is preceded by a short, introductory sentence and is typically no shorter than 225 words.

Part 2
Each set contains four thematically related passages (labeled Section A – D):

  • Section A consists of a short, realistic text typically found in newspapers and newsletters. It can be up to 80 words long.
  • Section B consists of text typically found in advertising material, press releases, and correspondence. It can be up to 120 words long.
  • Section C typically presents continuous prose from genres such as press releases and correspondence. It can be up to 120 words long.
  • Section D consists of paragraphs of continuous prose and can be up to 220 words.

See an example of ECCE reading part 2.

Format of the Response Options

Part 1
Each passage is followed by five multiple-choice items. The items comprise a question and four options. Test takers choose the option that answers the question.

Part 2
Each set of four passages is followed by ten multiple-choice items. The items comprise a question and four options. Test takers choose the option that answers the question.

Evaluation of the ECCE Reading Subsection

The whole GVR section (including the reading items) is scored automatically by computer. There is only one correct answer for each item. Correct answers receive one point. Incorrect answers receive zero.


Writing Section

The ECCE writing section has been designed to elicit written language representative of Level B2 of the CEFR. At this level, the test taker:

Can write clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects related to [their] interests. [They] can write an essay or report, passing on information or giving reasons in support of or against a point of view. [Additionally, they] can write letters highlighting the personal significance of events and experiences.

(Council of Europe, 2001: 27)

The test taker can also:

Express him/herself clearly and without much sign of having to restrict what he/she wants to say [and] has a sufficient range of language to be able to give clear descriptions, express viewpoints and develop arguments . . . using some complex sentence forms to do so.

(Council of Europe, 2004: 110)

Format of the Writing Section

Type of Task

The ECCE writing section offers test takers a choice to write a letter or an essay. Test takers read a short excerpt from a newspaper article and then write a letter or essay giving their opinion on the situation or issue. There is no word limit, but test takers are advised to write about one page.

Duration

The entire writing section lasts 30 minutes.

Skills Elicited by the ECCE Writing Task

The ECCE writing task gives test takers the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to:

  • develop a topic and organize the content;
  • make smooth connections between ideas;
  • use a variety of grammatical constructions accurately and appropriately; and
  • use a range of vocabulary accurately and appropriately.

Design of the ECCE Writing Task

Domains

The ECCE writing section only utilizes topics that are situated in the public, occupational, or educational domains.

Format

A typical writing task includes three parts:

1. The context/situation

For example: “Fourteen-year old movie star Jane Harris announced yesterday that she had decided not to continue her acting career. She has appeared in ten movies since she began acting at age seven. She wants to return to her hometown and be just a normal teenager. Many of her fans are shocked at her decision.”

2. Instructions for the letter

For example: “Write a letter to Jane explaining what you think of her decision. Do you think she is making the right choice? Why or why not? Begin your letter, ‘Dear Jane.’”

3. Instructions for the essay

For example: “Some people think parents should not allow children to become actors. Others think they should. What do you think? Explain your opinion, giving specific reasons to support your view.”

Evaluation of the ECCE Writing Section

The test taker’s writing performance is evaluated independently by two examiners. The five-band rating scale guides raters to attend to the test taker’s performance in the following areas:

  • Content and development
  • Organization and connection of ideas
  • Linguistic range and control (grammar and vocabulary)
  • Communicative effect

The ECCE writing section rating scale and annotated essays are available as part of the online sample materials.


Speaking Test

The ECCE Speaking Test has been designed to elicit spoken language representative of Level B2 of the CEFR. At this level, the test taker:

Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible.

(Council of Europe, 2001: 27)

The test taker can also:

Take an active part in discussion in familiar contexts, accounting for and sustaining [their] views.

(Council of Europe, 2004: 27)

The ECCE Speaking Test is a structured interaction between one test taker and one examiner that lasts approximately 15 minutes.

Format of the Speaking Test

Type of Task

During the test, examiners present test takers with a picture prompt.

Number of Stages

The ECCE Speaking Test consists of four clearly demarcated stages. The stages are designed so that each test taker is provided ample opportunity to demonstrate their ability to:

  • Gather information
  • Support an opinion
  • Discuss a topic

The examiner will interact with the test taker during each stage of the test.

Duration

The entire speaking test lasts approximately 15 minutes.

Number of Examiners

There is one examiner present during the entire test.

Skills Elicited During the ECCE Speaking Test

Throughout the ECCE Speaking Test, test takers are given the opportunity to:

  • ask and answer questions;
  • provide suggestions or recommendations;
  • present a decision;
  • justify a decision; and,
  • discuss a topic.

The four stages of the test build on each other; the linguistic and interactional demands become increasingly more difficult as the test progresses.

Design of the ECCE Speaking Test Task

Test Taker Sheets

Each test-taker sheet comprises a text to read and three pictures. The test taker reads about a situation, is guided to look at the pictures and is provided with some questions to ask. They also receive instructions on what they will need to do for Stages 3 and 4 of the test. Examples of the test-taker sheet are available on our website as part of the online sample materials.

Examiner Sheets

Each test comprises an examiner sheet which provides the answers to the questions that the test taker will ask as well as some elaboration questions to ask during Stage 4 of the test. Examples of the examiner sheet are available on the ECCE website as part of the online sample materials.

Word Counts

To ensure that no single test taker has a higher reading load than other test takers, the total number of words for each test taker sheet should be approximately equal.

Four Stages of the ECCE Speaking Test

1. Introduction, 2–3 minutes
The goal of Stage 1 is for the examiner and the test taker to introduce themselves.

Test takers are expected to actively participate in the conversation by providing expanded responses.

2. Gathering Information, 3–4 minutes
The goal of Stage 2 is for the test taker to gather information about a situation.

For this stage, the test taker is given a picture prompt. They must ask questions to find out more about the situation.

3. Expressing and Supporting an Opinion, 1–3 minutes
The goal of Stage 3 is for the test taker to present and defend their choice between two options.

Test takers will be asked why they did not select the alternative option.

4. Discussing a Topic, 2–4 minutes
The goal of Stage 4 is for the test taker and examiner to discuss the topic area of the prompt in more detail.

The examiner will ask the test taker some questions.

Evaluation of the ECCE Speaking Test

During the course of the test, the examiner evaluates the test taker’s linguistic ability (e.g., grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation) as well as their ability to participate in extended, coherent discourse. The rating scale, a five-band measure, guides raters to attend to a test taker’s performance in the following areas:

  • Overall communicative effectiveness
  • Linguistic resources (range and accuracy of vocabulary and grammar)
  • Delivery and intelligibility

The ECCE Speaking Test rating scale, as well as a video and scoring commentary are available on our website.


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