Sunday, October 10, 2010

IELTS - not the entire test is a real test of English language skills

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is a test of English for speakers of other languages who want to study or take up employment in English-speaking countries. The test has the following modules:
  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking
However, I definitely feel that this type of test is a test of memory, concentration, reasoning, and being familiar in set piece situations. The listening module requires candidates to listen and reproduce or match the words in the tape scripts. I work with many native speakers and never find understanding them tough. I have grown up listening to commentary of various sports - cricket, wrestling, motor racing, horse racing, football, and rugby. I have also watched major English TV channels right from National Geographic, BBC News, BBC Prime, CNN, through ESPN. I don't find accents a problem unless the speaker is non-native and has a bad voice or if the audio is bad. So the IELTS listening module test does not actually test your English ... rather it tests if you remember what was spoken. Yes you need to remember what was spoken but in which context in real life do we have to paraphrase word by word? I think answers that mean the same should also be counted as correct. Maybe one section alone should use the current format.

The reading test again tests reasoning abilities. I think this module should have some grammar questions, comprehension by rewriting, maybe a bit of editing, and test of vocabulary or spelling. I like the part where candidates have to place the question to the relevant paragraph or match a heading to text.

The writing test is fine but should provide more choice: candidates could choose to write a letter or story, opinion essay or film/book review. Might be a good idea to have some grammar tests here too.

The speaking test is a bit silly. I would allow a candidate to be nervous ... I am not sure if they differentiate between exam nerves or stage fright and stammering. Moreover, as long as the answers are in correct English and pronunciation is fine, I would say okay. I think they should stop looking for answers as in the preparation materials. The whole test looks like a rehearsal for a short movie :)

The test is a bit long as well. I know that the test is a bit tough due to competition but they should make it a proper test of English.

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