A multi-dimensional examination of strategic competence in the lexico-grammar test performance of Chinese EFL university students

Nick Zhiwei Bi

PhD thesis, conferred 2015

Despite the importance of strategic competence theory in language assessment, only a few studies have set out to validate it using empirical data. Phakiti (2007) points out that while human cognitive processing is subtle and highly dependent on context, little is known about the influence of strategic competence on test performance over time. This thesis reports on two empirical studies to address these issues. Study One is a large scale cross-sectional study (N=416) and Study Two a longitudinal one in which three lexico-grammatical tests and various sets of strategy use questionnaires were given to Chinese EFL students over 3 months (1-month interval; N=519). The cross-sectional study aimed to reveal the nature of strategic competence and provide a baseline model, while the longitudinal investigation aimed to assess and evaluate issues of ‘performance consistency’ (Chapelle, 1998), including both lexico-grammatical and strategic abilities, over time through a multi-trait multi-method (MTMM) approach (Campbell & Fiske, 1959), using structural equation modeling (SEM). Study One found that the nature of strategic competence is highly complex. Strategic competence was found to be a metacognitive function of human cognition associated with general strategic awareness and online strategic processing. Metacognitive awareness as a long-term mental process in L2 test-takers’ mind constantly manages and regulates their use of language in test-taking. Also, strategic competence does not directly contribute to language test performance since it acts as a cluster of strategic processing, which individually has a direct/indirect positive effect on test performance. The results of Study Two suggested that test-takers’ cognitive strategic processing used in tests became more stable and automatic, ie. test-takers might transition from being conscious to being unconscious of their mental processing. Additionally, strategic behaviours accounted for more when test-takers faced unfamiliar and difficult test tasks. However, even when the difficulty of the test tasks was similar, after test-takers’ strategic processing became automatic the impact of strategic thinking and behaviour accounted for less or little in their actual performances.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Aek Phakiti