COVID-19: Advice on alternative assessments for reading comprehension

Toolkit for hiring managers

Table of contents


The Public Service Commission (PSC) is taking steps to provide departments and agencies with additional flexibility to staff bilingual positions while the situation related to COVID-19 is ongoing. Among other measures, deputy heads are temporarily exempted from the requirement to use the PSC’s Second Language Evaluation (SLE) tests when assessing second language proficiency (reading, writing and oral) for appointments to bilingual positions. For more information, please consult the Information for human resources specialists: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

To support hiring managers, the PSC has developed this toolkit. It explains how to develop a reading test to determine whether or not a candidate meets the requirements for the level being assessed (A, B or C). Since A-level positions are rather rare, the examples and tips focus primarily on the assessment of levels B and C.

In this toolkit, we provide suggestions based on a relatively simple approach where a candidate is instructed to read a text and then asked questions orally to confirm their comprehension. This serves to illustrate the basics of how to evaluate reading ability and is provided for reference only. There are many other equally legitimate ways to evaluate reading ability.

This toolkit includes the following:

Throughout we have tried to provide practical advice and sample materials that may be easily adapted to organizational needs. You may use other approaches as well, perhaps basing yourself on the requirements of the position (e.g., ask candidates to read a text and then write a summary).

How to develop a reading test

Suggestions for developing the content

  1. Determine what level you need to assess.
  2. Review the Qualification Standards in Relation to Official Languages (henceforth the Standards).
    • Read the descriptions and the examples for all of the levels (A, B and C). This will help you to distinguish the level you are assessing from the other levels.
  3. Consult the Standards and determine what kinds of texts candidates at the required level of proficiency should be able to read and understand. Using this information, develop your reading task. It should include a text, questions based on the text, and your rating criteria.
    • At the B level, candidates should understand descriptive or factual material on work-related topics. They will:
      • grasp the main idea of most work-related texts;
      • identify specific details from the text;
      • distinguish the main idea from secondary ideas.
      Candidates will have difficulty reading texts that use complex grammar or less common vocabulary.  
    • At the C level, candidates should understand texts dealing with a wide variety of work-related topics. They will:
      • understand most complex details, inferences and fine points of meaning;
      • understand material that is specialized or unfamiliar.
      Candidates may have difficulty with very complex grammatical structures and may not understand some seldom-used expressions.
  4. Try out the test material before using it.
    • Ask another person to review your reading task and the rating criteria.
    • Make sure the quality is comparable in both official languages, if applicable.
    • Ask someone whose second official language is the language being assessed to take the test. Then use the criteria you established to rate their response.
    • Confirm that everything works as expected.

Suggestions for the test instructions and language of testing

Reading task

Consider using a reading task similar to the following example. For this task, candidates are asked to read a text about an upcoming learning event, which is a common workplace topic. They are also asked to answer questions pertaining to the text. These questions are to determine whether candidates can grasp the main idea or identify specific details about the text, both key elements in the Standards.
This is to remind you of an upcoming learning event about (…). As you may know, (…).



Choosing the right text


Asking the right questions


Rating criteria

How to conduct the assessment

You will need to decide how to conduct the assessment. We suggest doing the following:

Before the assessment

During the assessment

Administering the test

Evaluating the response

After the assessment

Sample Rating Sheet

Candidate: Key F = Fully met expectation
P = Partially met  
N = Not / Rarely met 
Criteria Question Expected Answer F/P/N Notes and Examples
Grasp the main idea Q1: What is this email about? Please provide a summary. It is about (…)    
Identify specific details Q2: According to the text, why (…)? It is because …    
Identify specific details Q3: According to the text, (…)? (…)    
General Comments:  



Final Result

Required Level:


B ☐
C ☐

Meets the requirements of the required level (Pass)
Does not meet the requirements of the required level  (Fail)
Rationale and Notes



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