>12 frequently asked questions about IELTS

>As a former IELTS examiner I have been asked many questions about the test. Here are some answers:

1. “I HAVE A DOUBT, CAN WE UNDERLINE THE TEXT, WHAT WE WANT IN THE READING PARAGRAPHS. IS IT ALLOWED? OR NOT? I THOUGHT IT IS NOT ALLOWED. PLEASE CLEAR THIS.”

Yes, you can mark on the reading and listening test booklets or make notes on the writing task sheet, underline, anything you want. All this material is destroyed after the test and will not be used again.

2. “DO THE EXAMINERS COUNT HOW MANY ERRORS YOU MAKE [ON THE READING OR LISTENING TEST] AND THEN DIVIDE BY A NUMBER TO GET YOUR SCORE?”

Everyone tries to figure out the mathematical formula for converting correct answers on tests into band scores.

Some students want to take a practice test in some book and then convert the number right into a score so you can know how you would do on the test. However, the practice tests in IELTS books are not real IELTS questions (called ‘items’ by test designers). The number of easy and difficult questions is tremendously important in the design of an evaluation test like IELTS. There is a huge amount of research involved in designing and then testing the individual items and then the completed test.

However, many book authors will make up these questions in one afternoon. These practice tests are not designed to give you an evaluation of your English ability. They are only practice in how the test works. You cannot convert your correct answer score into an accurate band score because these are not the real tests.

Every IELTS test is slightly different. They cannot make them all the exact same level of difficulty. So the correct answer to band score conversion table is different on different tests. It is not always the same and it is not a constant mathematical formula which is the same from test to test.

3. “I’VE NOTICED SINCE I JOINED THE GROUP THAT MOST PEOPLE GOT THE LEAST BAND FOR READING ABILITY! THIS ABILITY IS ONE I WAS NOT WORRIED ABOUT AT ALL, BUT AFTER FEW FELLOWS’ RESULTS IN THIS LIST I’D BETTER TO GIVE MORE ATTENTION TO IT!.”

Interesting observation. Are you sure about it? That could be interesting from a research standpoint as I don’t really see any reason for it. It seems that there should be no skill that is low on a regular basis.

One thing test takers need to be careful about is being overconfident.

This can cause you to lose your edge and not focus enough. You should be like tennis players. Even if they do something good or great they are always focused and totally fighting each point. When they make a great shot and the crowd cheers they never run around happily, smile, nothing.

Totally focused and fighting each step of the game. At the end, when they win, they are so relieved and only then do they accept the quality of their ability.

4. “I’ve got my results but I’m not happy with them because I belive that I did better job during exam. Do I have right to get access to my papers and see what I did correctly and what not?

Sorry, you will not be able to see your papers. You will not know how many things you got wrong or what you did wrong. They keep all of this secret. You can ask for your writing and speaking test to be checked again. You will have to pay for this. They will send your paper and tape to London where it will be checked by an IELTS expert.

5. “I NOTICED A TITLE FOR THE TASK2 ESSAY IN A PRACTICE BOOK. I COULDN’T EVEN FIND A START FOR THIS. CAN ANYONE HELP ME HOW TO APPROACH THIS? AS MOST POSTGRADUATE RESEARCH TODAY IS FUNDED BY INDUSTRY, THEN STUDENT GRANTS SHOULD ALSO COME FROM THE SAME SOURCE, REMEMBER TO INCLUDE EXAMPLES TO ILLUSTRATE YOUR IDEAS.”

This task does not seem authentic. It may have been made up by a book author who doesn’t know the test well. I suggest you practice with more authentic tasks that some students on this list mentioned or use some samples from Cambridge which has produced three practice test books.

6. “WHAT CAN AN IELTS TEACHER DO FOR ME?”

IELTS teachers can help you to improve your score by helping you understand the essential parts of the test and help you avoid making some mistakes. In my opinion, a good IELTS training course may help your score by as much as one band.

Two researchers had a group of students take an IELTS test before the students began an IELTS training program in several different schools in two English speaking countries. After three months of training the students took the IELTS test again. On average their scores improved by half a band. Interestingly there were a couple scores that were one band less after the training.

Why the lower score? Well I don’t believe that the teachers made them stupider. Actually, the IELTS testing is not a super accurate process.

Even things like your mood or level of nervousness can affect the outcome. Also the examiner may not score exactly. He has a range of levels that he can score in and not lose his job. Further, candidates are probably not exactly 5’s or 6’s or 7’s in the speaking/ writing test. They are probably 5.8 or 6.3 or 7.5. But examiners cannot give such scores and they are actually hard for a person to detect. So you may be something like a 7.7 and one examiner would give you an 8 and another one would give you a 7.

As we can see, the IELTS teacher can only help you a little. If you need a lot of help then you need a good English teacher. This, of course, is best for you as the teacher will help you improve your English which has much more benefits for you.

Once you have taken an IELTS course and fail to get the score you want you do not need to take it again. The IELTS training teaches some specific test taking skills and understanding. Once you have learned about those you have learned them. You probably need to improve your English if you failed the test after taking an IELTS course.

The best English course for those who want to take the IELTS test is the New Interchange and Passages series published by Cambridge. (More info about this below.) This course is not only excellent for the way it teaches the student, in the task-based communicative approach, but it’s also excellent in that the subject matter of the activities are subjects similar to the IELTS test (i.e.: talking about pollution, writing a letter to thank someone, etc.) Some schools claim that after attending their course you can get a Band 6 or a Band 7. The way the school usually does this is by only accepting students who are near or at those band levels already. They will not accept someone who is at Band 5 and guarantee him a Band 7. As I pointed out, a careful study of a couple of good schools showed they could only help students about half a band. If a school is going to guarantee a student at any level a score, then the school will have to be prepared to put a student through several levels of English training and some students’ training will be longer than others.

So I would say IELTS training is fast and can help a little. English training takes longer and helps a lot.

7. “INTERESTINGLY, THE EXAMINER IS CURIOUS ENOUGH TO OBSERVE YOUR HANDS AS YOUR EXPLANATIONS PROGRESS. PROBABLY HE MAY BE OBSERVING YOUR BODY LANGUAGE. FOR HEAVENS SAKE, DAVE PLEASE TELL ME WHAT DOES THAT MEAN TO OUR SCORES. AS I MENTIONED IN MY PREVIOUS MAIL, THE EXAMINER WILL SWITCH ON THE TAPE RECORDER AND WILL MAKE SURE THAT IT IS FUNCTIONING NORMAL.

ONE MORE POINT ABOUT THE EXAMINER, HE WAS NOT A FOREIGNER. HIS ACCENT IS SIMILAR TO MINE. ABSOLUTELY NO PROBLEM IN UNDERSTANDING THE QUESTIONS.”

a. Body language is not considered in your score.

b. Examiners do not have to be native English speakers. They do need to be experienced English teachers with qualifications and be at the level of a native English speaker.

8. “I ASKED THIS QUESTION TO AN EXAMINER. I WONDERED WHETHER THEY HAD OBTAINED OBJECTIVE CRITERIA FOR EVALUATION OF THE SPEAKING PART. AS I LEARNED FROM HER, THERE ARE CERTAIN DOCUMENTED CRITERIA. ADDITIONALLY, THE RECORD IS USED TO RE-LISTEN AND MARKING, AS WELL AS AN EVENT IF THE CANDIDATE CLAIMS THAT HE/SHE WAS SCORED UNFAIRLY IN SPEAKING TEST.”

The speaking test (as well as the writing) is always subjective, not objective. It is always a matter of interpretation. The examiner has a nine-level band descriptor that he uses to help him determine your band level. It has little comments on it such as: “range of vocabulary is limited” or “faulty use of cohesive devices” and things like that at different levels. The examiner is trained how to interpret those to determine your score. He gets retraining from time to time to make sure he is doing a good job.

But such testing, due to it being subjective, may only be about 75% accurate. That means that you may not get as high a score you deserve (or you may get a higher score than you deserve.) If your writing or speaking score is two bands different than your reading and listening score the testing center may automatically decide to have your writing and speaking tests ‘remarked’. They will have another examiner at the center check the writing and listen to the tape again and give you scores. These will be your final scores. Sometimes this ‘remarking’ delays your results being issued by a couple days.

When you receive your results, if you feel the score is incorrect, you may request that your test be rescored again. In this case, you must pay something and your writing and speaking tests will be sent to London to be checked by an expert IELTS examiner. One of my candidates did this though and got a lower score than I had given him.

9. “I HAVE A STRANGE PROBLEM, I MAKE A PRACTICE FROM IELTS 1 AND IELTS 2. AND NOTICE THAT MY SCORE IN READING AND LISTENING DID NOT INCREASED, IT IS BETWWEN 3 DEGREE RANGE UP AND DOWN. I LOOK TO MY ERRORS AND I TRY TO LEARN FROM THEM, BUT ALSO NO INCREASE IN MY SCORE. PLEASE ANY ADVICE WILL BE VERY GRATEFUL.”

There are a couple reasons why this may happen:

1. The practice tests do not have the true qualities for evaluation of the real IELTS test. The real IELTS test is especially designed with an exact balance of easy and more difficult questions.

2. It’s easy for your score to go up and down. It can be affected by the subject matter of the test, how well you guess the questions you don’t know, how you feel, etc.

In one research project candidates were given the test and then they studied for three months and tested again. Many made a 0.5 Band improvement but a couple even did worse on the test after studying than before.

10. “ARE THE TESTS FROM IDP EASER THAN THE TESTS FROM THE BRITISH COUNCIL?”

There should be no difference in the scores received from the BC administered test and the IDP administered test. All the procedures and training for the examiners are standardized so that examiners around the world all give the same scores, in theory. All the tests are the same.

11. “I GAVE NO EXAMPLES AND I WROTE FEWER WORDS THAN 250, AS REQUESTED.

I WROTE ABOUT 220. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? WHAT SCORE CAN I GET IF THE ESSAY IS SHORTER (BUT QUITE GOOD ….)?”

On insufficient length: IELTS writing tasks actually receive 3 sub-scores. One of these sub-scores considers if there are enough ideas and supporting material to make your argument.

220 words is quite seriously under length. (A secret is that examiners will tolerate 240 but not 239.) It’s very hard for me to guess what the examiner did, but I’ll suggest he gave you a 4 on that sub-score because at 4 as I recall there is a task descriptor that describes insufficient support.

Suppose you wrote very well for the rest of the essay. Your English in your message looks nearly perfect.

If he gave you 8 for your other two sub-scores then 4+8+8=20/3=6.66 or Band 7 If he gave you 6 for your other two sub-scores then 4+6+6=16/3=5.33 or Band 5 You should always write Task 2 before Task 1 to be sure you are able to have the time to complete it. Task 2 carries more weight on the test and it is therefore more important that you do it well.

On examples: You mentioned you gave no ‘examples’. I’m not quite sure what you’re referring to. IELTS will not ask you to do something that would require presenting facts to support your argument; i.e.: population of a country, the name of a leader, the date of some event. That is because IELTS is focused on language ability and does not want the candidate to have to present factual knowledge of events. It is not a general knowledge test, it is a language test.

Perhaps what you meant was ‘evidence’. The before mentioned sub-score asks if the candidate successfully did the three things below.

ARGUMENT- a clear point of discussion which is the task itself (rephrased) and initiated in the first paragraph. This is the same as what some people call the ‘thesis statement’.

IDEAS – usually 3 but sometimes 2 or 4 main supports to the Argument.

These are perhaps best employed as ‘topic sentences’ at the beginning of the paragraphs.

EVIDENCE – the supports to the Ideas. These are information given in the body of the paragraph. Again, this doesn’t have to be facts or details but can simply be reasons to support the Idea.

A high score for Argument-Ideas-Evidence requires 1) enough information, and 2) relevant information. When I was examining and scoring papers sometimes a candidate was writing pretty well and on-topic and then all of a sudden included some off-topic information or a story. Sometimes this information was related but too focused on a small aspect of the argument. For example, in the task you described, if you began to tell a story about how an experience had a life changing effect on you.

The IELTS Task 2 works well with the universal 5-paragraph essay. Here is how it works. Lets say the task is if smoking should be made illegal, yes or no.

The Argument is should smoking be made illegal. This can be written as the introductory paragraph, paragraph 1.

Now we need 3 Ideas which we can generate through some brainstorming.

Here are 3 Ideas: smoking is bad for your personal health; illness from smoking causes a lot of financial loss to individuals, business and even the national economy; but people have a right to do things that do not harm others.

So now we will take one of those Ideas and write a Topic Sentence to start off our paragraph: “Smoking is very bad for people’s health.”

That’s the first sentence of the paragraph which we will follow with Evidence to make up the rest of the paragraph. “Doctors have proven that smoking can cause cancer. Cancer often .etc. etc.”

Now we have the second paragraph. Repeat this process twice using the Idea to make a Topic Sentence and supporting the Topic Sentence with Evidence to make a paragraph.

Finish it off with a conclusion or summary.

12. “THE STRANGE THING IS MY FIRST EXAM RESULTS WAS BETTER THAN SECOND ALTHOUGH I STUDIED 3 MONTHS FOR THIS EXAM. I WAS INTERMEDIATE LEVEL AT MY ENGLISH COURSE 10 MONTHS AGO FIRST EXAM RESULTS”

The truth is that the IELTS test is not perfect. IELTS examiners can be off by one band. You may have gotten too high of a score the first time. Or perhaps your score was too low the second time. Or perhaps you were more nervous or there was a task that was easier for you to write about.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under examiner, ielts, teach english

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s