The current study draws on the findings of Tavakoli, Nakatsuhara and Hunter’s (2017) quantitative study which failed to identify any statistically significant differences between various fluency features in speech produced by B2 and C1 level candidates in the Aptis Speaking test. This study set out to examine whether there were differences between other aspects of the speakers’ performance at these two levels, in terms of lexical and syntactic complexity, accuracy and use of metadiscourse markers, that distinguish the two levels. In order to understand the relationship between fluency and these other aspects of performance, the study employed a mixed-methods approach to analysing the data.
The quantitative analysis included descriptive statistics, t-tests and correlational analyses of the various linguistic measures. For the qualitative analysis, we used a discourse analysis approach to examining the pausing behaviour of the speakers in the context the pauses occurred in their speech.
The results indicated that the two proficiency levels were statistically different on measures of accuracy (weighted clause ratio) and lexical diversity (TTR and D), with the C1 level producing more accurate and lexically diverse output. The correlation analyses showed speed fluency was correlated positively with weighted clause ratio and negatively with length of clause. Speed fluency was also positively related to lexical diversity, but negatively linked with lexical errors. As for pauses, frequency of end-clause pauses was positively linked with length of AS-units. Mid-clause pauses also positively correlated with lexical diversity and use of discourse markers. Repair fluency correlated positively with length of clause, and negatively with weighted clause ratio. Repair measures were also negatively linked with number of errors per 100 words and metadiscourse marker type.
The qualitative analyses suggested that the pauses mainly occurred:
a) to facilitate access and retrieval of lexical and structural units
b) to reformulate units already produced
c) to improve communicative effectiveness.
A number of speech excerpts are presented to illustrate these examples.
It is hoped that the findings of this research offer a better understanding of the construct measured at B2 and C1 levels of the Aptis Speaking test, inform possible refinements of the Aptis Speaking rating scales, and enhance its rater training program for the two highest levels of the test.