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The IELTS – International English Language Testing System – is four decades old, with a global presence that keeps expanding every year. Recognized as a gold standard test, it is accepted worldwide by universities, governments, corporate organizations, and many more. It is a testing system that has become popular mainly because of its unique structure, which is both robust and relevant. Whether it is a student hoping to enrol in a university, or a potential employee from a non-English speaking country applying for a job; this is a test that is favoured widely. The background The need for standardized testing, especially in language, emerged as a growing need, when ‘communication’ started being recognized as a distinct element, and not as part of language. As the concept of “Communicative English” started gaining ascendancy, it became evident that it was not enough to know about the classics in English or know the rules of grammar either. Employers were looking for good communicators and not for language experts. They wanted their employees to be able to reach out to various stakeholders groups so that their business interests would be strengthened and furthered. In the education sector, the need was slightly different. There were more students leaving non-English speaking countries to study in the west. The universities and colleges giving them admission, had a huge task in evaluating the ability of these students to absorb and assimilate all that would be taught as part of the course. It was also their intention to confirm that these students would not feel too alienated in the country they relocated to, merely because of language. They needed to know what levels of language application these students were capable of.
It was to cater to these needs that the IELTS came into existence. In 1980, when it was launched, it was by far one of the few tests available that could give a clear evaluation of the test-taker’s ability in the four key areas: Listening, Speaking, Reading & Writing. What was even more vital was the need for a test that would be regularly evaluated and revised, based on current trends and practices in the world of English language usage. Today this test is administered and quality-assured jointly by Cambridge English Language Assessment, the British Council and the International Development Program of Australian Universities and Colleges. Modules, mode & scoring To cater to varied groups of students, the IELTS is offered in two modules: the Academic Module and the General Training Module. The first one is meant for those who wish to enrol in universities or colleges, or higher-ed institutes. The second one is meant for those who wish to work in an English-speaking country. The second one is also used for immigration purposes and is recognized by governments, worldwide. The four key skills of Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing are addressed and each of the skills has a specific format of testing. The total time taken for the IELTS is 2 hours and 45 minutes. The student takes the Listening, Reading, and Writing components at one sitting and the Speaking component can be done on the same day or on a designated day.
What sets the IELTS apart from other tests is its updated content that reflects the trends and inclusions that the English language largeheartedly welcomes. Since this is a language that has been heavily influenced by a number of other languages, it is important for a speaker to be conversant with these influences and know the right way to use them in speech and writing. The test focuses on helping every student to become a good communicator and not just a person who knows a collection of fancy words. This is one of the main reasons why the IELTS has become a widely accepted tool that evaluates English knowledge and the speaking ability of a non-native speaker. The scoring pattern of this test is quite unique. A student receives a score for each of the components of the test. This is then averaged to present an Overall Band Score. The uniqueness of the scoring pattern is in the rubrics that are used to measure the scores. These are so well-designed that it is able to cater to any possible level of capability that is exhibited by a test-taker. It would be interesting to note that the IELTS does not have a pass or fail threshold. Instead, it places the taker on a nine-band scale. Each of the bands indicates an increasing competency in every element of the English language, clearly specifying the proficiency in communication of the taker. A person with a high band score is considered worthy of admission into educational institutions or work places, as the case may be. However, the test needs to be not more than two years old for it to be relevant and acceptable.
Availability In most countries, the IELTS is conducted at least two to three times in a month. Today, there are countless number of institutes across the worlds that coach students on mastering the test and emerging with high scores. In the Middle East and Qatar, the IELTS is a recognized benchmarking test that is accepted by employers and universities alike. With English having established its rightful place as the global means of communication, there are more and more test-takers across the world who aspire to obtain top scores in this test. Employees with high band scores are valued across the world and are able to attract high salaries and positions in top-notch corporate organizations. Though the IELTS is an accepted indicator of language and communication prowess, it has achieved greater recognition because of the parity it has with the CEFR – the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. The CEFR has specific grade levels that indicate the proficiency of the taker; the IELTS band scores have been aligned to this framework, making it a more robust and standardized form of testing worldwide.