English Profile Journal

Research Article

What kind of interaction receives high and low ratings in Oral Proficiency Interviews?

Paul Seedhousea1

a1 School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, Newcastle University Email: paul.seedhouse@newcastle.ac.uk


Based on a Conversation Analysis (CA) of a corpus of Oral Proficiency Interviews (OPI), the study asks what kind of interaction receives high and low ratings in OPIs. The discussion focuses on issues of interactional organisation, considering turn-taking, sequence, repair and topic development in relation to candidate scores. The study presents findings of two funded studies of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Speaking Test (IST), which is one part of IELTS, a major international English proficiency test.

The article explains how interaction in the IST is organised in interactional terms and how this organisation generates opportunities to differentiate high- and low-scoring interaction. The study then lists the interactional characteristics of high-scoring and low-scoring tests, based on an inductive search through the database and analysis of the micro-interaction. Extracts are presented to support characterisations. Differences in score correlate to the following interactional differences in Parts 1 and 3 of the IST: ability to answer the question, engage with and develop a topic coherently, amount of trouble and repair, lexical choice, and identity construction. In Part 2 of the IST, length of turn may also be related to score.

(Online publication June 15 2012)


  • oral proficiency interviews;
  • language assessment;
  • spoken interaction;
  • IELTS;
  • Conversation Analysis;
  • Scoring