How is the IELTS used?

IELTS special – El Gazette (Interview)

Entries for the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) have almost doubled in the last three years. In 2007 nearly a million candidates sat the test.

IELTS is run by an international partnership of the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations (Cambridge ESOL).

Christine Nuttall is Director, Communications and Stakeholder Relations at Cambridge ESOL. We talk to Christine about why IELTS has seen such success in recent years.

To what do you attribute the growth of IELTS in recent years?

English is now a global language and wherever you go in the world a good knowledge of the language gives you a distinct advantage. Therefore you need to be able to prove your language ability to educational institutions, immigrations authorities and potential employers. IELTS is a way to do this.

We have seen particularly strong growth in the USA as an increasing number of universities accept an IELTS score. More than 1,400 institutions now recognise IELTS including many Ivy League institutions like Harvard, Princeton and Yale. It is also recognised by almost all higher education institutions in the UK including Oxford and Cambridge University. This makes it a very attractive option for students who wish to study in an English-speaking country.

Of course there are other factors in the success of IELTS. Organisations all over the world recognise IELTS or use it as part of their candidate application process, including some of the world’s major professional associations. The UK’s General Medical Council, the International Commission on Healthcare Professionals in the USA and Engineers Australia all use and accept the test.

Many governments use the test for immigration purposes and for assessing student visas. An IELTS score is required by immigration authorities in Australia, and is also obligatory for migration to New Zealand and Canada. IELTS has also recently received approval from the UK Home Office for use in the new points-based immigration system. Non-EU nationals who wish to settle permanently in the UK can now use an IELTS score towards their application. This will most likely mean even more growth for the IELTS test over the next few years.

Why do Universities and institutions recognise or use the IELTS test?

IELTS evaluates language ability in a way which provides a realistic picture of a candidate’s abilities. This is what institutions look for in an English language test. IELTS doesn’t just test grammar and vocabulary. It tests all four language skills, set in realistic contexts to make sure that candidates can understand and use the language effectively. The speaking module is face-to-face and performed by a certificated examiner. This is an accurate and realistic way of assessing how candidates can actually use English in the real world, and many institutions prefer this method of testing.

We also provide individual scores for each of the four skills as well as an overall score so if one skill is more important than another an institution can have that information available to them when making a decision about what scores to accept.

How do you support institutions?

We give unrivalled support to recognising bodies through our international support network of partners. The IELTS partners go to great lengths to ensure that stakeholders are able to use the tests effectively and understand what scores mean.

We employ a range of security measures, including requiring photographic evidence for anyone sitting the test. It is also very easy for institutions to verify an IELTS score online using the Test Report Form Verification Service. These things, along with our security enhanced paper means that recognising bodies really can be sure that a candidate has the score stated. We also provide a range of support materials from DVD’s to regular seminars and downloads.

What do students like about the exam?

The fact that IELTS tests all four skills means that students know they are practicing what they will be doing in the real world. IELTS is also really flexible as it is available up to 48 times a year in over 300 locations in 130 countries worldwide. This helps candidates to fit the test around their individual needs and lifestyle. If they subsequently need to re-take the test they can do so at the next available opportunity. Results are also available just 13 days after the test is taken, ideal for those candidates who need their results quickly. Candidates also choose IELTS because of its unrivalled recognition by universities and employers and its reputation around the world. A student can use one score for immigrations purposes, entering university or finding a job.

What growth most surprised you?

We have been pleasantly surprised by the growth in the USA given that IELTS is an international English test rather than an American English test. However, we do see this as one of IELTS strengths in a global market. It is apparent that more and more people realise that if you have a good level of international English, you can work almost anywhere in the world.

Where do you see future growth?

Immigration is likely to be a big area of growth for IELTS as entrance requirements tighten and more people want to live in English-speaking countries. Growing economies are also an area of growth for IELTS both in the academic and business arenas. For example in 2005-2006, more students from India went to study in the USA than from any other nation.

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