The IELTS Test
A The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) was launched worldwide in 1989. The tests are produced by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES), and jointly managed by the British Council and IDP Australia. There are over 250 test centres in 105 countries around the world, figures which are increasing almost monthly as the IELTS test continues to become more popular. From 1999 to 2001, the number of candidates sitting the test increased dramatically from just over one hundred thousand to well over two hundred thousand. In 2006 there were around 700,000 test-takers throughout the world.
B IELTS has two formats. One is the general test, which is taken mostly by people looking for residency in English speaking countries; the other is the academic test, preferred by nearly 80% of candidates as the results determine whether candidates can join academic courses conducted in English or become affiliated to professional bodies such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Although there is no standardised score for tertiary or high school entry, students looking to join a foundation course at university are often aiming for a score of 5.5, and those looking to complete a Bachelor degree course of study generally need 6.0 or more. In the USA , for example, over 1000 universities accept students with a suitable IELTS score.
C The Academic IELTS test has four sections testing the four skills – reading, writing, listening and speaking. The reading test has three passages totalling between 2,000 and 2,750 words. The texts are taken from magazines, journals, books and newspapers, and are specifically chosen to be of ‘general’ interest. That is, no specialist knowledge is required to understand, although they are aimed at an academic level and require a good standard of vocabulary. There are a number of topics, such as the environment or social issues, around which IELTS readings often revolve. You have one hour to complete the test, which comprises 40 questions based on the reading texts (generally between 12 and 18 questions per text). The questions may come before or after the reading and there will not necessarily be every type of question. You have to write your answers on the answer sheet during the test as there is no additional time to transfer your answers.
D The writing test consists of two parts – Task I and Task II. Again, this section of the test is aimed at an academic level and requires a good standard of vocabulary and is based on the same possible topics as the reading. You have one hour in which to complete both tasks with the recommendation that you spend 20 minutes writing the 150 words required for Task I and 40 minutes completing the 250-word Task II. In Task I, you will have to describe information given in a chart, graph or illustration, and in Task II you will have to give opinions or make recommendations about a topic.
E The listening test has four parts and takes around 25-30 minutes. This is the only section of the test in which you are given additional time to transfer the answers from your question paper to the answer booklet; 10 minutes’ transfer time is allocated. The format of each part of the listening is different, becoming more difficult as the test progresses. There are a variety of question types, most of which are the same as the reading. Perhaps the most important fact about the listening test is that, apart from the example you are given at the beginning of each part of the test, you will only hear the recording once.
F Finally comes the speaking. There are three parts to the speaking test. In Part One, the examiner will ask a number of questions about you, your family your plans or your background. In Part Two you are given a card and have one minute to prepare a talk of up to two minutes. This leads to Part Three, where the examiner will ask you questions related to what you have said in Part Two. In total, the test can take up to 14 minutes. Testing centres differ in when the speaking test is held. Sometimes it is before other sections of the test, sometimes later in the day and on rare occasions even a day or more later.