How the Versant Testing System Works
The Versant testing system scores both the content and the manner of speech in our Versant Speaking tests. It uses speech processing technology that was built to handle the different rhythms and varied pronunciations used by native and non-native English speakers. In addition to recognizing the words spoken, the system also aligns the speech signal, i.e., it locates the part of the signal containing relevant segments, syllables, and words to the hypothesized response. This allows the system to assign independent scores based on the content of what is spoken and on the manner in which it is said. Thus, the system is able to generate scores based on the words used in the spoken responses ("content"), as well as the pace, fluency, and pronunciation of those words in phrases and sentences ("manner").
Base measures are then derived from the linguistic units (segments, syllables, words), based on statistical models built from the performance of native and non-native speakers. The base measures are combined into four diagnostic subscores using advanced statistical modeling techniques. Two of the diagnostic subscores are based on the content of what is spoken, and two are based on the manner in which the responses are spoken. An Overall Score is calculated as a weighted combination of the diagnostic subscores.
Versant Writing tests are scored within minutes by advanced automated scoring systems including the Knowledge Analysis Technologies™ (KAT) engine which evaluates the meaning of text by examining whole written passages. The KAT engine is based on Pearson's unique implementation of Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA), an approach that generates semantic similarity of words and passages by analyzing large bodies of relevant text. LSA can then "understand" the meaning of text much the same as a human reader.
Scored Item Tasks
The Versant testing system automatically scores responses to many different item tasks. In the Versant Speaking tests, these may include: reading aloud, repeating sentences, building sentences, giving short answers to questions, retelling brief stories, response selection, conversations, and passage comprehension. In the Versant Writing test, item tasks include: typing, completing sentences, dictation, reconstructing passages, and writing e-mails. For some tasks, such as Reading and Repeats, there is exactly one correct word sequence expected for each response. In other tasks, items can have multiple correct answers. All test items have undergone extensive pre-testing on diverse samples of native and non-native speakers at a wide range of ability levels.