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Hui Wang

Test Review
Overview
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is a standardized test of the
English language for ESL/EFL/ESP learners throughout the world. It is provided in over 140
countries and is accepted by more than 9,000 institutes worldwide. There are two versions of the
IELTS test: the academic version and the general training version. The academic version is
designed for learners and medical professionals who intend to study or practice in Englishspeaking countries. The general training version is designed for learners who intend to work in or
immigrate to English-speaking countries. In this test review, I am going to evaluate the
academic version of the IELTS test. An extended description of the IELTS test (Academic
version) is provided below (see Table 2).
Table 1
General information of IELTS
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) [Academic Version]
Publisher

British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia, and Cambridge English

Publication Date
Website
Target Population

Language Assessment
1989
http://www.ielts.org/
Learners and medical professionals who intend to study or practice

Cost

in English-speaking countries
Ranges from USD $180-205

Table 2

Extended description for IELTS (Academic version)


Test purpose

The purpose of the academic version of the IELTS test is to assess the
language proficiency level of the English language learners who wish to
enter higher education institutes or participate in professions in the Englishspeaking countries. It covers all four language skills: listening, speaking,

Test structure

reading, and writing.


The IELTS test consists four parts: listening, speaking, reading, and
writing. The listening, speaking, and reading sections are paper-based and
are completed in one sitting. Whilst the speaking section maybe taken on
the same day or up to seven days before or after the other sections.
The listening section lasts 40 minutes of which 30 minutes are used for
test taking and 10 minutes are used for transferring the answers to the
answer sheet. Four subsections including audio clips conducted by native
English speakers of different accents are presented in different genres such
as conversation, speech, monologue, etc. It has 40 questions including
multiple choice, short answer questions, etc. Each subsection is about
everyday life, social, educational, and training situations respectively and
the texts will be read only once.
The reading section takes 60 minutes for test takers to complete three
sections that consists about 2,150-2,750 words. There are 40 questions in
this section, including multiple choice, identifying information
(True/False/Not given), matching, summary, etc. Texts are taken from
books, journals, magazines, newspapers and are written in different styles.
The writing section takes 60 minutes for test takers to finish two writing
tasks. The first writing task requires test takers to compose at least 150
words in 20 minutes to describe the information given in a graph, table,
chart, or diagram. The second writing task requires test takers to compose
an argument that is at least 250 words in 40 minutes.
The speaking section takes about 11-14 minutes to complete. It is a
face-to-face interview between a certificated IELTS examiner and a test
taker. It includes three subsections: 1) introduction and interview. It is a 4-5

minute introduction and identity confirmation section. 2) Long-turn. The


test taker will be given a task card about a particular topic and will be asked
to give answers to the related questions. This part last about 3-4 minutes. 3)
Discussion. This part lasts about 4-5 minutes in which the test taker will be
Scoring of the

asked with in-depth questions related to the topic in the previous subsection.
For each section of the IELTS test, it assesses the test takers on a nine-

test

band scale ranging from expert user (9) to did not attempt the test (0).
The average score of the four sections all produces the overall band score of
the test taker with a rounding convention.
The IELTS nine-band scale (IELTS, 2015b)
9 Expert user

Has fully operational command of the language:


appropriate, accurate and fluent with complete

8 Very good user

understanding.
Has fully operational command of the language
with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies
and inappropriacies. Misunderstandings may
occur in unfamiliar situations. Handles complex

7 Good user

detailed argumentation well.


Has operational command of the language, though
with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriacies and
misunderstandings in some situations. Generally
handles complex language well and understands

6 Competent user

detailed reasoning.
Has generally effective command of the language
despite some inaccuracies, inappropriacies and
misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly
complex language, particularly in familiar

5 Modest user

situations.
Has partial command of the language, coping with
overall meaning in most situations, though is
likely to make many mistakes. Should be able to

4 Limited user

handle basic communication in own field.


Basic competence is limited to familiar situations.

Has frequent problems in understanding and


expression. Is not able to use complex language.
Conveys and understands only general meaning in

3 Extremely
limited user

very familiar situations. Frequent breakdowns in

2 Intermittent user

communication occur.
No real communication is possible except for the
most basic information using isolated words or
short formulae in familiar situations and to meet
immediate needs. Has great difficulty

1 Non-user

understanding spoken and written English.


Essentially has no ability to use the language

0 Did not attempt

beyond possibly a few isolated words.


No assessable information provided.

the test

Statistical
distribution of

The mean, standard deviation and standard error or measurement of


listening and reading sections are shown in the chart below:

scores and

Module

Mean

SD

Alpha

SEM

standard error

Listening

6.1

1.3

0.909

0.391

of measurement

Academic

6.1

1.2

0.901

0.378

(SEM)
Evidence of

reading
(IELTS, 2015a)
The listening and reading sections of the IELTS test are both 40-item

reliability

tests. It uses the Cronbachs alpha to demonstrate its reliability. In 2014, the
average alpha across all academic and general training listening versions is
0.91. The average alpha across all academic reading versions is 0.93
(IELTS, 2015a).

The writing and speaking sections were not reported in the Cronbachs
alpha manner is due to the fact that they are not item-based. However, there
are few features that makes these two sections more reliable. First, the
writing section assigns two tasks rather than using only one piece of writing
sample to assess the test taker. Second, the test taker is assessed on several
Evidence of

speaking skills on one topic rather than just focusing on one aspect.
The IELTS test covers all four language skills suggests it has high

validity

content validity. Dooey and Oliver (2002) found evidence that suggests
that the reading module is the best predictor of academic success as it was
the only subtest of the four macro-skills to achieve a significant
correlation.
The fact that the IELTS test is accepted by more than 9,000 institutes
throughout the world implies that it is considered as a guideline to
demonstrate learners language proficiency, which increases its face
validity.

Discussion
After carefully reviewing and evaluating the purpose, structure, scoring system, statistic
data, and evidence of reliability and validity of the IELTS test, I would say that I will strongly
recommend those ESL/EFL learners who intend to study, live, or work in English-speaking
countries to take this test before they depart their home countries. First of all, the question types
provided by the IELTS test is quite ubiquitous and should be familiar to most of the second
language learners since they come in the form of multiple choice, short answers, etc. Moreover,
take the sequence of the listening and reading comprehension questions for example, they are
always arranged alongside with the sequence of the audio clip or paragraphs. This factor
increases the reliability of the assessment because it is given in a form that test takers are familiar
with, as well as, it is arranged in the sequence of how test takers comprehend the information
rather than assessing their memory by scrabbling the order of the questions. In addition, the
listening and reading sections of the IELTS test has solid data analysis to support its reliability
and validity such as the Cronbachs alpha. The listening and speaking sections also have higher
practicality since they are paper-based, which means that it does not rely on technology when

test takers are taking it, but the answer sheet makes it more convenient for markers to assess the
answers, too.
However, the most significant weakness is that its speaking and writing sections are not
item-based. But the good thing is, the IELTS test assesses the test takers in multiple aspects. For
instance, I was once an IELTS test taker when I was preparing and applying for universities in
the United States. My opinion on the speaking section of the IELTS test is that first the certified
examiner was very friendly and helpful and this helps to reduce the stress level of the test taker
so he or she can strive for a better speaking performance. Secondly, the speaking section is
completed in a one-on-one, face-to-face situation. This makes it a lot easier for the examiner to
pay attention to more details of how the test taker uses the target language and give a more
precise assessment. According to my experience, the questions given in the speaking section are
closely related yet are in an order which they are more developed in depth (from simple
introduction to complex statement of argument). But this form of assessment makes it not as
practical since it takes a longer time to speak to each test takers and it is not easy or cheap to
train a qualified examiner of the IELTS test. Thirdly, the writing section asks the test takers to
give two writing samples on different topics written in different genres prospectively, too.
Therefore, even if the speaking and writing sections are not item-based, I think they are still very
reliable and valid when it comes to assessing test takers language proficiency. In sum, I think the
IELTS test is a good form of assessment especially for those who intend to have in depth
experience in English-speaking counties but more information needs to be examined to increase
the validity and reliability of the IELTS test.
Reference:
Dooey, P., & Oliver, R. (2002). An investigation into the predictive validity of the IELTS Test as
an indicator of future academic success. Prospect. Vol. 17, No. 1.
IELTS. (2015). Researchers - Test performance 2014. Retrieved from
http://www.ielts.org/researchers/analysis_of_test_data/test_performance_2014.aspx
IELTS. (2015). Test Takers - My test score. Retrieved from
http://www.ielts.org/test_takers_information/getting_my_results/my_test_score.aspx