IELTS for Teachers and Tutors

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Understand the test format, scoring and how to
prepare students for the test. IELTS for Teachers helps.

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) assesses the English language proficiency of people who want to study or work in English-speaking environments. It provides a fair, accurate and relevant assessment of language skills, based on well-established standards, and covers the full range of proficiency levels, from nonuser to expert user.

There are two main tests. Test takers can choose either Academic or General Training tests. Both tests consist of four separate sections, assessing the four language skills: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking.

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Teaching the four sections of the IELTS test

Test takers can choose between IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training, depending on their academic or professional aspirations, or visa requirements. The difference between the two tests is that the Reading and Writing sections of IELTS Academic have subject matter and tasks suitable for the test takers entering undergraduate or post graduate studies. The Listening and Speaking sections are the same.

IELTS Listening test
Listening: 30 minutes

Test takers listen to four recorded texts, monologues and conversations by a range of native speakers, and write their answers to a series of questions.

IELTS Reading test
Reading: 60 minutes

The Academic test includes three long texts which range from the descriptive and factual to the discursive and analytical. The texts are authentic and are taken from books, journals, magazines and newspapers and are on academic topics of general interest. All have been selected for a non-specialist audience.

The General Training test requires test takers to read extracts from newspapers, advertisements, instruction manuals and books. These are materials test takers could encounter on a daily basis in an English speaking country

IELTS Writing test
Writing 60 minutes

The Academic test includes two tasks. Topics are selected to be of general interest and suitable for test takers entering undergraduate or postgraduate studies or seeking professional registration.

Task 1

Test takers are presented with a graph, table, chart or diagram and are asked to describe, summarise or explain the information in their own words. They may be asked to describe and explain data, describe the stages of a process, how something works or describe an object or event.

Task 2

Test takers are asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem. Responses to both tasks must be written in an academic or semi-formal neutral style.

The General Training test also includes two tasks, and is based on topics of general interest.

Task 1

Test takers are presented with a situation and are asked to write a letter requesting information or explaining the situation. The letter may be personal, semi-formal or formal in style.

Task 2

Test takers are asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem. The essay can be slightly more personal in style than the Academic Writing Task 2 essay.

IELTS Speaking test
Speaking 11–14 minutes

The Speaking section assesses the test taker’s use of spoken English, and takes between 11 and 14 minutes to complete. Every test is digitally recorded and consists
of three parts:

Part 1

Test takers answer general questions about themselves and a range of familiar topics, such as their home, family, work, studies and interests. This part lasts between four and five minutes.

Part 2

Test takers are given a booklet which asks them to talk about a particular topic. They have one minute to prepare before speaking for up to two minutes. The examiner may ask one or two questions on the same topic to finish this part of the test.

Part 3

Test takers are asked further questions which are connected to the topic in Part 2. These questions give the test taker an opportunity to discuss more abstract issues and ideas. This part lasts between four and five minutes.

The format of the Speaking test is common across both the Academic and General Training tests. It is structured in such a way that does not allow test takers to rehearse set responses beforehand.

A test of four skills

IELTS is a task-based test covering the four language skills (Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking). IELTS test takers receive individual scores for each of the four test sections. The average of the four provides the overall band score. Each of the four sections is carefully designed to focus on one particular skill. This makes it easier to control task difficulty across the many different tests produced each year and results in a fairer test design when compared with tests that assess multiple skills simultaneously.

Organisations that rely on IELTS as proof of English language proficiency benefit from knowing that the score given for each section of the test is a clear and fair reflection of the test taker’s ability in that skill. This is particularly important in academic and professional settings where one skill is deemed to be more important than others. For example, in Canada nurses are required to achieve a higher band score in their IELTS Speaking and Writing tests, while teachers in Australia are required to achieve higher scores in their IELTS Speaking and Listening tests.

While IELTS focuses on testing the four skills individually, there is inevitably an element of integration in each section, in the same way that language skills are integrated in the real world. Test tasks often entail the use of other skills and are therefore ‘integrated’ to some degree. Take a look at the examples below:

Writing & Speaking
  • In the Writing and Speaking sections, information that is read or heard helps shape the test taker’s own production. However, this is carefully controlled to ensure that the test taker is not required to carry out extensive or complex reading and listening in order to respond to the task. This is particularly important because a score for each skill is being reported and it would be unfair to test takers if their performance in one skill area was compromised by their lack of proficiency in another.
Reading & Listening
  • Tasks in the Reading and Listening sections can involve note-taking, labelling and completion of tables or flow charts. Nonetheless, it is important that any task or test items should focus on reading or listening and should not require detailed writing.

IELTS: An International test of English

International consultation

IELTS has been developed in close consultation with academics, professional bodies and immigration authorities around the world.

International content

The IELTS approach is recognised by academics and admissions professionals as being fair, reliable and valid to all test takers, whatever their nationality, cultural background, gender or specific needs. The test questions are developed by item writers in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

International English

IELTS recognises both British and American English spelling, grammar and choice of words. It also incorporates a mix of native speaker accents from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and US in the Listening section. The number of people migrating and studying abroad has multiplied over the last 20 years. This has transformed life in educational institutions. In English-speaking countries, more and more universities recruit staff internationally, and this is matched by an increasing student intake of non-native speakers of English. Simultaneously, in non-English speaking countries, more organisations are using English as a common language of
communication, as well as employing rising numbers of staff from English-speaking countries. Consequently, more people are teaching, studying and working with others who speak different varieties of English.

Tips for teachers

Listening

Make sure that your students:

  • Think about the context before they listen and identify the type of information they will need to listen for
  • Read the questions before they hear the text and use the time between each section to prepare for the following section

Writing

Make sure that your students:

  • Analyse the question carefully and plan their answer before starting to write
  • Keep in mind the reader and the purpose when writing
  • Structure their writing logically and clearly
  • Decide on a position and use examples and evidence to support points they make in task 2
  • Are familiar with the assessment criteria

Speaking

Make sure that your students:

  • Feel confident and remind them to relax and enjoy the conversation with the examiner
  • Listen carefully to the questions
  • Use fillers and hesitation devices if they need ‘thinking time’ before answering
  • Realise it is their language level not their opinions which are being evaluated
  • Are familiar with the assessment criteria

Reading

Make sure that your students:

  • Use reading skills such as skimming and scanning – they will need to use these skills to answer all the questions in 1 hour
  • Know how best to approach each type of reading task
  • Answer the questions and transfer their answers to the answer sheet within the time allowed

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