The test consists of seventy-six words, although some of the words are repeated. The pronunciation of each word or the substitution of another word is noted during the test. In On Early English Pronunciation, A.J. Ellis distinguished forty-two different dialects in England and the Scottish Lowlands.
In A Grammar of the Dialect of Windhill, Joseph Wright said of Ellis' work, "If his rendering of the dialect test of other dialect speeches is as inaccurate as that of the Windhill dialect, the value of these tests for phonetic and philological purposes is not very great." Peter Anderson argued that the small differences between Wright's and Ellis's descriptions of the Windhill dialect were likely to be matters of "transcriptional style", as also occurred between different fieldworkers in the Survey of English Dialects.
The test was used to illustrate different dialects in a series of gramophone records produced by the British Drama League in the early 20th Century.