This study investigated the current theory and practice of assessing writing at lower levels and the potential effects of the recently published extended CEFR descriptors. A mixed-methods design was applied that consisted of three main parts. First, a review of literature was conducted. Then, 45 sample tasks at A1, A2 or comparable low levels from 21 writing exams by 10 international test providers were collected and analysed. An online survey was conducted to collect information about the current practices of small-scale test development, practitioners’ perceptions of and experiences with assessing low-level writing and the role of the CEFR.

The survey of the research literature conducted for this study, both seminal and recent, revealed that little guidance is currently offered for the development of low-level writing tasks, despite the practical need for assessing writing at this level. Results from the task analysis and the online survey showed that test developers face a number of challenges when assessing low-level writing. In particular, it was found that a clear differentiation between A1 and A2 tasks is often missing, that there are large differences in what is required of test-takers within the same level, and that existing task types and scales may be considered inadequate for assessing A-level writing.

It is suggested that the extended CEFR descriptors may provide more guidance for differentiating between the levels and for developing additional, authentic task types for writing at low levels.