Introduction to the IELTS test ( Part 1 )

Part 1: About the IELTS test

Not only has English become an international language, it is used by more and more people around the world as a medium of post-school study. To help universities and colleges select students with sufficient English skills to succeed in their courses, the IELTS test was introduced in 1989 to assess “whether candidates are ready to study or train in the medium of English”. It is now used for this purpose around the globe.

Depending on the course of study that students plan to take, students must elect to sit either the Academic IELTS test or the General Training IELTS test. This choice must be made when applying to sit the test. The Academic IELTS test is necessary for students who plan to study at university (undergraduate or postgraduate courses), and will test the student’s ability both to understand and to use complex academic language. The General Training IELTS test is required by other institutions, such as colleges and high schools, for courses that require less complex language skills, and is also used as a general test of English proficiency e.g. for immigration purposes in Australia and New Zealand.

The Test Format

There are four subtests, or modules, to the IELTS test: Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. Students must sit all four subtests. While all students take the same Listening and Speaking tests, they sit different Reading and Writing tests, depending on whether they have selected the Academic IELTS test or the General Training IELTS test.

On the day of the test, the four subsections will be taken in the following order:

The Speaking test may even take place a day or two later at some test centres.

The Listening test lasts for about 30 minutes. It consists of four sections, played on cassette tape, in order of increasing difficulty. Each section might be a dialogue or a monologue. The test is played once only, and the questions for each section must be answered while listening, although time is given for students to check their answers. Unit 2 of this book contains five practice Listening tests, recorded on the accompanying cassette tape.

The Reading test lasts for 60 minutes. Students are given either an Academic Reading test, or a General Training Reading test. Both tests consist of three sections, and in both tests different question types are used to assess students’ comprehension. In both tests the sections are in order of increasing difficulty. Unit 3 of this book contains five Reading practice tests.

The Writing test also lasts for 60 minutes. Again, students take either an Academic test, or a General Training test. Students must perform two writing tasks, which require different styles of writing. There is no choice of question topics. For more detail and Writing practice tests, turn to Unit 4 of this book.

The Speaking test consists of a one-to-one interview with a specially trained examiner. The examiner will lead the candidate through the three parts of the test: an introduction and interview, an individual long turn where the candidate speaks for one to two minutes on a particular topic, and a two-way discussion thematically linked to the individual long turn. This interview will last for approximately 11-14 minutes. For more detail, turn to Unit 5 of this book.

How the test is marked

Each module is marked on a scale from 1 up to 9. These bands are given according to highly detailed marking guidelines. These marking guidelines are not made public, but correspond roughly to the following descriptions:

1          Non User

2          Intermittent User

3          Extremely Limited User

4          Limited User

5          Modest User

6          Competent User

7          Good User

8          Very Good User

9          Expert User

The test results form will show the mark for each module as well as an average (overall) band score.

What do the band scores mean?

There is no pass or fail mark in the IELTS test. The marks, or bands, that a student receives show their ability to use and understand English. However, it is up to each university and college to decide what bands will be acceptable for entry into each course. This will usually depend on the language requirements for the course, that is, how difficult is the level of language that students are required to use and understand in each course.

The advantages of the IELTS test

The IELTS test is very comprehensive. It rates a student’s ability to use English in the four major language skill areas: Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. Each module contains a variety of question types, and all of them are designed to simulate the language tasks that are needed in real life academic and training situations. Thus the scores that a student achieves in the IELTS test will give the student and the institution to which they have applied a clear idea of the student’s ability to use English and whether their language skills are strong enough for them to study their desired course, or to fit more easily into the English-speaking community.

The interval between tests

Students may take the IELTS test as many times as they like, but after sitting an IELTS test, they must wait for  THREE MONTHS before they can take it again. This is an official rule, but in any case it is unlikely that a student’s score will improve in less than three months.

Introduction to the IELTS test ( Part 1 )
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