The research presented focuses on the role of content in learning and assessing reading comprehension in EFL contexts with specific references to the Israeli matriculation exam (the Bagrut). The underlying premise of the research is the importance of content in the language learning process and its subsequent reflection in the assessment procedures.
Seeing that efficient language learning comprises various aspects such as structure, vocabulary and comprehension, content is perceived an essential component in the process of EFL teaching and learning. This view is reflected in recent content-based approaches to language teaching which integrate content and language to create meaningful and authentic learning experiences. However, contrary to such approaches, there is an evident gap between the teaching learning process and the assessment conducted, in the sense that what is taught and learnt, in most cases, is not what is assessed. This is apparent in the reading section of the EFL matriculation exam where students are presented with unseen passages about diverse topics which they have not studied previously. In other words, students have no specific material to study beforehand unlike the other language tests in Arabic and Hebrew. This impacts teaching and learning as well as performance on the exam.
Hence, this research focuses on the content, or rather lack of content, in the EFL Bagrut specifically on the reading comprehension section which comprises a high percentage of the current EFL Bagrut exam at all levels. The assumption underlying our thesis is that assessing students on content-based material, as is the case in Hebrew and Arabic, enhances the teaching learning process and allows for more valid assessment. The research question posed was: What is the relevance of the content-less EFL Bagrut Exam with regard to students’ perceptions and to teachers’ beliefs.
Our research was conducted among speakers of Arabic for whom English is the third language. The research design used both qualitative and quantitative research methods. A questionnaire was administered to students in grade 11 (n=107) and a semi-structured interview was conducted with three recently graduated students and three EFL high school teachers.