• The effect of the prompt on writing product and process: a mixed methods approach

      Chapman, Mark Derek (University of BedfordshireUniversity of Bedfordshire, 2016)
      The aim of this thesis is to investigate the effect of the writing prompt on test takers in terms of their test taking processes and the final written product in a second language writing assessment context. The study employs a mixed methods approach, with a quantitative and a qualitative strand. The quantitative study focuses on an analysis of the responses to six different writing prompts, with the responses being analyzed for significant differences in a range of key textual features, such as syntactic complexity, lexical sophistication, fluency and cohesion. The qualitative study incorporates stimulated recall interviews with test takers to learn about the aspects of the writing prompt that can have an effect on test taking processes, such as selecting a prompt, planning a response, and composing a response. The results of the quantitative study indicate that characteristics of the writing prompt (domain, response mode, focus, number of rhetorical cues) have an effect on numerous textual features of the response; for example, fluency, syntactic complexity, lexical sophistication, and cohesion. The qualitative results indicate that similar characteristics of the writing prompt can have an effect on how test takers select a prompt, and that the test time constraint interacts with the prompt characteristics to affect how test takers plan and compose their responses. The topic and the number of rhetorical cues are the prompt characteristics that have the greatest effect on test taking processes. The main conclusion drawn from the study findings are that several prompt characteristics should be controlled if prompts are to be considered equivalent. Without controlling certain prompt characteristics, both test taking processes and the written product will vary as a result of the prompt. The findings raise some serious questions regarding the inferences that may legitimately be drawn from writing scores. The findings provide clear guidance on prompt characteristics that should be controlled to help ensure that prompts present an equivalent challenge and opportunity to test takers to demonstrate their writing proficiency. This thesis makes an original contribution to the second language writing assessment literature in the detailed understanding of the relationships between specific prompt characteristics and textual features of the response.