HomeAssessmentSecrets To Effective Assessment: FREE Word Lists!

Secrets To Effective Assessment: FREE Word Lists!




Students preparing for an assessmentWhen we create assessments, why is it important to make sure vocabulary is at a particular level?

When we create tests, we have to know that learners have sufficient vocabulary to engage with the reading and listening materials. If the level is too high, the texts will not be accessible and the test will be too difficult. Alternatively, if the vocabulary is too basic, the test may be too easy. Consequently, when we develop reading and listening materials for Oxford University Press, we have to make sure that the materials are challenging for test-takers, but not too difficult. To do this, we’ve created special word lists.

The Oxford 5000 is a list of the most important words for learners to acquire as they progress from A1-C2 of the CEFR. The list includes basic function words, common verbs, everyday nouns and adjectives. Corpus analysis shows that about 80% of almost any English text is made up of the 2,000 most frequent words. Therefore, knowledge of the 3,000 most frequent words in English gives learners a very high coverage of the words they are likely to see and hear.

How do we do this using the Oxford 5000 for the Oxford Test of English?

Oxford University Press uses the Oxford 3000 and Oxford 5000 word lists to help produce content for the Oxford Test of English. Text developers can refer to the word lists and Text Checker on the dictionaries site.

For example, when writing an item for level A2 of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), you can consult the list of available A2 words and see if particular words are suitable for that level. If a word is above level, it can be swapped for an alternative. Sentences may be rewritten to make them appropriate. The Text Checker also identifies word class, which can affect CEFR level. For example, the word ‘book’ as a noun is A1 but ‘book’, as a verb (i.e. ‘to reserve’), is A2.

We asked some of our item writers how they used resources such as the Oxford 3000, 5000 and the Text Checker when writing content for the Oxford Test of English. Here’s what they had to say:

Item writer 1:

I use quite a lot of online support during the writing process, to the extent that when there has been an Internet outage once or twice, I’ve been completely unable to continue the work! I’ll have the Oxford 5000, also a general thesaurus – I find that invaluable when I am trying to reword something to fit the level. Occasionally I’ll look at the British National Corpus too if I want to double-check how a word is used, but as the source material is a bit old now, I may also just end up googling phrases. Generally, I like to check my intuition about language use in one way or another.

Dealing with reading/listening texts:

Before I decide whether to use a text or not, I’ll check the key vocabulary in the Oxford 5000 first. There have been a few times where I’ve been writing at A2 and not been able to use several words that formed the main idea of the text, and I’ve got myself into a complete tangle trying to get around it. Now I know that I’ve got to check the vocabulary is there before I can proceed to the test-making stage.

Item writer 2:

I check specific words there if they’re borderline. When I have to do B2, I have my own list of specific B2 words and I try to get as many of them in as possible, or it ends up coming out too low. The most challenging aspect of item writing is finding something fairly new, but that’s still accessible. It’s easy to repeat the same old thing.

Dealing with reading/listening texts:

Creating a text to make it level appropriate depends on the level. At B2, it’s all about getting it high enough, but not odd. At A2, it’s all about making it natural and trying to do something different with very limited and repetitive words. There’s no one feature that makes a successful item. It’s a balance between a lot of complex parts.

Top tips for creating your own assessment materials using the Oxford 3000 and 5000 word lists and the Oxford Text Checker

Below is some guidance on how to create good reading and listening materials for your own context.

  1. You don’t have to start with a blank page. It’s OK to start with a text that you have found online, and then adapt it for your own purposes. It doesn’t matter if the text is too short or too long, too easy or too hard, it can be adapted. You can use tools like the Oxford Text Checker, Oxford 3000 and Oxford 5000 word lists to look up individual words in your text, to see if they can remain, or need to be changed.
  2. Not all words need to be at the CEFR level, however. If we write a text for an A2 task, it is acceptable to have A1 and some B1 language in the text. However, the proportion of B1 words should not exceed 5% of the total. Many common words which are used every day are A1 level, so it is not possible to create a coherent text without A1 language. Texts should always contain a variety of vocabulary to ensure that they are representative of the kinds of texts that students are likely to encounter in their studies.
  3. Finally, remember that test difficulty is about more than vocabulary. This is important, but also important is the ideas in the text. It is possible to have a text with fairly basic vocabulary, but quite abstract ideas. Also, writing good questions is very important. Nonetheless, if you have used the tools cited here to create a text which is suitable for your learners, you are well on your way to creating great assessments.

You can find out more information about the Oxford 3000 and Oxford 5000 below, and make sure to check out our Text Checker! You can also download our free position paper on the Oxford 3000 & Oxford 5000.

Visit the Oxford 3000 website

Thank you to everyone who joined us for our Facebook Live event: ‘Secrets to Effective Assessment: Free Word Lists’ with Nathaniel Owen and Diana Lea! If you missed it or would like to re-watch at a time that suits you, you can find the recording here.

Learn more about the only proficiency test certified by the University of Oxford on our website at www.oxfordtestofenglish.com.


Nathaniel Owen is a Senior Research and Validation Manager at OUP. He joined OUP in February 2020. He holds a PhD in language testing from the University of Leicester and has published articles and book chapters on subjects including language testing, research methods in education and widening participation in higher education. He has also experience of teaching English as a foreign language in Spain, the UK and Australia, with expertise in teaching EAP and exam preparation courses.



  1. Thank you so much! It is very helpful when creating assignments to make sure that these assignments are really appropriate for the level of knowledge of the student.

  2. Oxford 3000 and Oxford 5000 word lists are great tools especially when you combine them with The Oxford Phrase List.

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