IELTS – frequently asked questions from researchers

IELTS offers two test variants, Academic and General Training (GT). These two variants are
designed to meet the needs of differing candidate populations and differing stakeholder
groups using the test scores.

What is the difference between the Academic and General Training variants?
All IELTS candidates take four skill-focused modules (or subtests) in Reading, Writing,
Listening and Speaking. Candidates have the option to choose one of two possible variants
for the Reading and Writing modules.
An Academic Reading and an Academic Writing module are available for those candidates
intending to study in English at undergraduate or postgraduate level, or for those seeking
professional registration in an English-speaking country (e.g. health professionals).
A General Training Reading and a General Training Writing module are available for
candidates who are going to an English-speaking country to work or train at below
undergraduate level, such as vocational training courses or work experience. GT is also used
for immigration purposes to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.
In relation to Reading, the Academic and GT modules are differentiated in terms of
􀂃 the choice of texts (topic, genre, length, number, etc);
􀂃 the level of difficulty of the 40 test items as determined by calibration and item
banking through pretesting.
The Academic and GT texts and items are pitched at different levels of difficulty. General
Training typically contains a higher proportion of easier items because of the nature of the
reading texts used.
Both Academic and GT reading tests operationalise a common reading construct and cover
the same difficulty/ability continuum within an item banking approach. This common reading
construct is operationalised through differentiated texts and tasks across the two tests for the
reasons explained above. The reading materials in the two modes come from the same item
banking pool and the item difficulties overlap across the two ranges of ability. The values in
the scale date back to the period between 1989 and 1995 when the IELTS went through its
first revision and the original anchoring exercises took place.
Targeting of reading item/task difficulty to level of candidate ability is important in achieving
response validity. For example, the Academic Reading module has more items pitched at
bands 5-8 whereas the GT has more items pitched at bands 3-6. The GT scale has a lower
SEM at ranges below Bands 5-6, whereas Academic has a lower SEM at Bands 5-8. This is a
reflection of the different demands of Academic and GT discourse for language learners.
Academically oriented discourse is suitable for testing higher levels of proficiency; however it
is more demanding for learners below band 5 and this partly explains why academic
institutions typically require a minimum proficiency at band 6 and above in the Academic
Research exercises are carried out to monitor the levels on both modes (bands 4-6) using
vertical anchoring techniques that ensure the scale does not drift overtime. Common anchors
are used in these exercises as a measure to determine the relative difficulty.
Khalifa and Weir (forthcoming) are currently writing a volume on assessing second language
reading which addresses in detail some of the issues concerned with targeting texts and tasks
at different proficiency levels.
For Writing, the Academic and GT modules are differentiated in terms of
􀂃 the content and nature of the two writing tasks;
􀂃 the cognitive demands of the tasks;
􀂃 the contextual parameters of the tasks.
In a recent volume on assessing second language writing, Shaw and Weir (2007) discuss in
considerable depth the many different parameters involved in writing tests and how these can
be manipulated to achieve differentiation across proficiency levels and domains.
Despite the clear differentiation described above between the Academic and General Training
modules for reading and writing, there are some common features across the two variants:
􀂃 the time allocation
􀂃 the number of reading items and writing tasks
􀂃 the length of written responses
􀂃 the writing assessment criteria.
In addition, both modules report scores on a scale from 1-9, with half-bands. However, given
the level of differentiation described above, this clearly does not mean that the scores across
Academic and GT Reading or Writing modules are interchangeable.
All IELTS candidates take the same Listening and Speaking modules; separate Academic
and GT modules are not available for Listening and Speaking. This reflects both the historical
legacy of the test and also the fact that a distinction between 'academic' and 'general' literacy
has traditionally been seen as most marked in relation to reading and writing skills.
However, the common Listening module does contain some material and tasks relevant to an
academic study context. It is also true that the more socially-oriented language skills which
are tested in the common IELTS Listening and Speaking tests are equally important in an
academic study or professional context.
Alan Davies' recently published book on the historical development of various tests designed
to assess academic English proficiency offers a helpful discussion on the complex issues in
this area (Davies 2008), and research studies which have informed the development of the
Speaking and Writing modules can be found in Taylor and Falvey (2007).

How are the reporting scales for Academic and GT related?
Both Academic and GT modules report scores on the same scale from 1-9, with half-bands.
When it was introduced in 1989, IELTS followed the example of its predecessor ELTS and
reported the overall band score for the whole test on a 9-band scale. Subscores for the
Listening, Speaking, Academic Reading and Academic Writing modules were also reported
on a 9-band scale. At that time, however, subscores on General Training Reading and
Writing, however, stopped at Band 6.
In 1995 IELTS was revised to ensure that it would remain a valuable and reliable assessment
instrument and that it would continue to meet the needs of all stakeholders, both test-takers
and score users. Amongst other changes to the GT Reading and Writing modules, the length
of the band scale for these was increased from 6 to 9 bands, in line with the scale used to
report scores on the other modules. This removed the Band 6 ceiling for the GT Reading and
Writing modules, thus allowing higher-scoring candidates to be credited rather than penalised.
It also allowed for a more balanced contribution of the GT Reading and Writing band scores
to the overall band score, which is computed and reported from the four band scores for
reading, writing, listening and speaking.
This means that both test variants - Academic and GT - are now able to reflect the full range
of ability from non-user to expert user on a reporting scale of 0-9 (0 for those who did not
attempt the test, 9 for the most proficient users).
Once again, however, it is important to recognise that neither the individual Reading and
Writing module scores nor the overall IELTS band score are interchangeable for the
Academic and GT variants given the different content and task demands they make in the
reading and writing components (see above).

How do you know if a candidate took the Academic or GT variant?
The IELTS Test Report Form (TRF) shows test score users whether the candidate took the
Academic or General Training modules for Reading and Writing. The online TRF Verification
service also makes this clear.
Studies in Language Testing (SiLT):
Davies, A (2008) Assessing Academic English: Testing English proficiency 1950-1989 - the
IELTS solution. Cambridge: UCLES/Cambridge University Press.
Khalifa, H and Weir, C J (forthcoming) Examining Reading: Research and practice in
assessing second language reading. Cambridge: UCLES/Cambridge University Press.
Shaw, S D and Weir, C J (2007) Examining Writing: Research and practice in assessing
second language writing. Cambridge: UCLES/Cambridge University Press.
Taylor, L and Falvey, P (Eds) (2007) IELTS Collected Papers: Research in speaking and
writing assessment. Cambridge: UCLES/Cambridge University Press.
Research Reports:
Rao, C, McPherson, K, Chand, R and Khan, V (2003) Assessing the impact of IELTS
preparation programs on candidates’ performance on the General Training reading and
writing test modules. IELTS Research Reports, Volume 5.
Smith, H and Haslett, S (2008) Use of the IELTS General Training module in technical and
vocational tertiary institutions: A case study from Aotearoa New Zealand. IELTS Research
Reports, Volume 8.
Research Notes:
Smith, J (2004) IELTS impact: A study on the accessibility of IELTS GT modules to 16-17
year old candidates. Research Notes 18, November: pp. 6-8.
Taylor, L (2004) Issues of test comparability. Research Notes 15, February: pp. 2-5.
O’Sullivan, B. (2002) Investigating variability in a test of second language writing ability.
Research Notes 7, February: pp. 14-17.
Search for Research Notes articles here:
A list of all publications appearing in Research Reports 1-8:
Link to Studies in Language Testing abstracts:`
Link to The IELTS Writing assessment revision project:
Issue 1: January 2008
Authors: Stuart Shaw and Peter Falvey
The IELTS Writing assessment revision project: Towards a revised rating scale.


How are the Academic and GT variants mapped to the CEFR?
As several writers in the field have pointed out, the mapping of any test to a framework such
as the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) or the Canadian Language
Benchmarks (CLB) is a complex and long-term endeavour involving the collection of evidence
from a variety of sources, including logical argument and content analysis, as well as
empirical validation and benchmarking studies. Work to align IELTS band scores (overall and
modular) with the CEFR levels began some years ago and continues as part of a long-term
research agenda for IELTS. Some of this work on alignment has already been reported and
discussed (see Reference list below).
Is it possible to have both IELTS scores on the same scale as the CEFR?
The answer to this question depends very much on what we mean by 'having both IELTS
scores on the same scale of the CEFR'. We would need to take into account not just the fact
that IELTS has both Academic and General Training variants but also that IELTS scores are
reported as overall band scores and as individual skill-based modular scores (i.e. for
Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking). For these reasons we need to know what we
mean by placing any of these scores on the CEFR scale, taking into account that the
CEFR itself also operates a number of differentiated though supposedly related scales.

What is the relationship between IELTS and other proficiency tests, such as the other Cambridge tests or TOEFL?
It is clearly not straightforward to demonstrate ‘equivalence’ between tests (especially tests as
different in their content and approach as FCE/CAE/CPE and TOEFL) and no recent studies
have been conducted to establish the relationship between TOEFL and the Cambridge
The only piece of specific TOEFL/IELTS comparative research we are aware of was
conducted by Hill, Storch and Lynch (1999). It is reported in Volume 2 of the IELTS Australia
Research Reports (go to the IELTS website: for more details); however, it is
important to be aware that this research was based on the old-style pencil-and-paper TOEFL.
Another information source which might be useful is the list of TOEFL/IELTS scores which are
accepted as 'equivalent' by test users based on their experience - see also
We are working to clarify the relationship between IELTS band scores and levels of
achievement in the other Cambridge exams, and all Cambridge tests are now located within
the Council of Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) to aid users in
their interpretation of test scores. A helpful statement is available on the IELTS website. Our
recent work to align the Cambridge tests within the CEFR suggests that a CAE pass and
IELTS Bands 6.5/7.0 are located at Level C1 of the Framework. This is a difficult question
because of the differences (as well as the similarities) between the tests (see the article on
issues in test comparability by Dr Lynda Taylor in Research Notes 15).
In 1998 and 1999 a research project examined the relationship between IELTS and the
Cambridge Main Suite Examinations, specifically CAE (C1 level, Common European
Framework) and FCE (B2 level). Under examination conditions, candidates took both IELTS
and tests containing CAE or FCE items. Although the study was limited in scope, the results
indicated that a candidate who achieves an overall Band 6 or 6.5 in IELTS would be likely to
pass CAE. (It should be noted that CAE passing candidates cover a range of ability on the
Cambridge scale, as manifested by the award of three passing grades, A, B, C).
Further research to link IELTS and the Cambridge Main Suite Examinations/ALTE levels was
conducted in 2000 as part of the ALTE Can Do Project. Can-do responses by IELTS
candidates were collected over the year and matched to grades, enabling Can-do self-ratings
of IELTS and Main Suite candidates to be compared. The results, in terms of mean "can-do
self-ratings", supported the findings from the earlier work.
Both these studies support the placing of IELTS Band 6 to 6.5 at NQF Level 2 along with
Further research into the written language of IELTS candidates has been comparing the
writing produced by IELTS candidates with the writing produced by candidates taking other
Cambridge exams. This forms part of the Common Scale for Writing Project which is a longterm
project which has been in progress since the mid-90s (see Hawkey and Barker 2004).
Intuition and the limited empirical findings would suggest an applicant with a C-grade or
above at FCE would achieve a score within the 5 band on IELTS. However, it is important to
bear in mind that FCE candidates represent a broad ability range. It is also worth
remembering that the profile of a C-grade FCE candidate could mean a relatively low score
on at least one skill (eg Writing) but we may not know where the strengths and weaknesses in
performance are. A key advantage of IELTS is that the test report form carries the profile
scores for the 4 skills as well as the overall band score.
Hawkey, R and Barker, F (2004) Developing a common scale for the assessment of
Writing, Assessing Writing 9 (2), 122-159.
Research Notes:
Taylor, L (2004) IELTS, Cambridge ESOL examinations and the Common European
Framework. Research Notes 18, November: pp 2-3.
Taylor, L (2004) Issues of test comparability. Research Notes 15, February: pp. 2-5.
Search for Research Notes articles here:


How is IELTS used in the context of immigration?
Since 1989, IELTS has been used (as was ELTS before it) for purposes of migration, to assist
people wishing to move from one country to another, whether for study, or training or work,
sometimes for a short time, sometimes for much longer periods.
The Academic variant has been used for nearly 20 years by students, both graduate and
postgraduate, wishing to access international higher education opportunities; in recent years,
it has also been used by those who migrate and wish to practise their profession (e.g.
medicine) in the country of their choice.
Although the General Training modules were originally developed to meet the needs of those
pursuing vocational courses (i.e. non-academic courses outside the university system)
primarily in the Australian context, that original 'construct' remains relevant today. Today's
immigration population taking GT still includes a significant number of people who fall into this
category (i.e. vocational) so it remains appropriate from that perspective. However, the GT
candidature has also greatly increased and broadened over the past 20 years to embrace
other groups such as unskilled applicants, family dependents, and young people such as
teenagers to name a few.
For example, the IELTS GT can be taken by young people in the 16-18 year-old category (i.e.
teenagers) who are entering higher secondary education or foundation programmes that may
lead them on into higher education. This use is consistent with the original design purpose of
IELTS GT which was to provide English language proficiency assessment at below
undergraduate level.
Other countries beyond Australia have experienced a massive growth in people movement for
a wide variety of reasons. The impact of mass migration has greatly contributed to this
increased candidature since 1995 when the IELTS General Training was adopted as a
screening device by first the New Zealand Immigration service and later the Australian
Department of Immigration, and more recently by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and
the UK Home Office.
The IELTS test (both Academic and GT) has been kept under review in light of the evolving
candidatures worldwide. Following extensive consultation with stakeholders in New Zealand,
Australia, Canada and the UK, the GT Reading test from May 2009 will feature work-place
settings more prominently. This latest change reflects the continuing evolution of the IELTS
test in our constantly changing world.
Studies in Language Testing (SiLT):
Davies, A (2008) Assessing Academic English: Testing English proficiency 1950-1989 - the
IELTS solution. Cambridge: UCLES/Cambridge University Press.
Research Reports:
Merrylees, B (2003) An impact study of the two IELTS user groups: Candidates who sit the
test for immigration purposes and candidates who sit the test for secondary education
purposes. IELTS Research Reports, Volume 4.
Research Notes:
Smith, J (2004) IELTS impact: A study on the accessibility of IELTS GT modules to 16-17
year old candidates. Research Notes 18, November: pp. 6-8.
Taylor, L (2004) Issues of test comparability. Research Notes 15, February: pp. 2-5.

Why does an IELTS Test Report Form have a recommended 2-year validity period?
The IELTS Handbook recommends that a Test Report Form which is more than two years old
should only be accepted as evidence of present level of language ability if it is accompanied by
proof that a candidate has actively maintained or tried to improve their English language
proficiency. This recommendation is based upon what we know about the phenomenon of
second language loss or ‘attrition’, a topic which is well-researched and documented in the
The level of second language competence gained and the extent of opportunity for subsequent
practice both affect how much language is retained or lost over a period of time. Research
points to two types of attrition. At lower proficiency levels, rapid language e loss occurs soon
after the end of language training/exposure (for approximately two years) and then levels off
leaving a residual competency (Bahrick 1984; Weltens 1989); at higher proficiency levels the
reverse pattern can be observed (Weltens and Cohen 1989) – a few years of non-attrition (an
‘initial plateau’) followed by steady loss. It appears that a critical period exists after disuse;
although the nature of this may differ for high and low proficiency users, a two-year limit has
been selected as a reasonable ‘safe period’.
The two-year period also parallels ETS recommendations for the use of TOEFL scores (used in
a similar way to IELTS): ETS suggests that non-native speakers who have taken the TOEFL test
within the past two years and who have successfully pursued academic work in an Englishspeaking
country for a specified minimum period of time (generally two years) with English as
the language of instruction may be exempted from providing TOEFL test scores.
Why can’t the IELTS modules be taken as separate tests?
IELTS is designed to assess a candidate’s overall English language proficiency within a
specified time-frame. This is achieved by asking candidates to provide evidence of their reading,
listening, writing and speaking abilities at a certain point in time: the Listening, Reading and
Writing modules are administered on the same day; for logistical reasons the Speaking module
can be administered up to 7 days before or after the other components. The four component
modules are not offered as separate tests to be taken at different times; in this sense IELTS is
not a modular test.
Performance in the four skill areas is combined to provide a maximally reliable composite
assessment of a candidate’s overall language proficiency at a given point in time. Scores on the
four component modules are computed to provide an overall band score; the four component
scores are also reported separately for their diagnostic value, to indicate a candidate’s relative
strengths and weaknesses.

In what ways can the IELTS test be described as ‘integrated’?
The term ‘integrated’ is sometimes used to refer to different features or qualities of testing
procedures or test tasks, e.g. cloze tasks have been described as ‘integrative’ as opposed to
A more common approach today is to talk about testing ‘integrated skills’; this usually means
that completion of a test task involves using more than one macro-skill, e.g. a speaking or
writing task depends upon the test-taker processing some associated reading and/or listening
input. The term ‘integrated’ may also be used to suggest that test tasks bear a close
resemblance to ‘real-life’ language activities, i.e. the content is based on authentic language
(however defined), and the task mirrors features of everyday ‘communicative’ language use
which the test-taker would carry out in a non-test context. An extension of this idea is that
because such tasks are ‘integrated’, they can provide a realistic and useful measure of how
well people will communicate in a particular setting (e.g. workplace, academic); a further claim
is sometimes made that a test which reflects an ‘integrated approach’ will help test-takers
prepare appropriately for future success in that particular setting – though predictive validity
studies have shown that ‘future success’ can depend on many different factors in addition to
language proficiency.
IELTS (and ELTS before it) has always been a test to which the term ‘integrated’ could be
applied on various counts. For example, IELTS has always included testing of the four skills –
Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking; profile scores on the four modules are reported
separately and also contribute equally to an overall band score. Furthermore, although each
module focuses on a particular skill, test tasks often entail the use of other skills and are thus
‘integrated’ to some degree. This is most apparent in the Writing and Speaking modules
where information which is read or heard helps shape the candidate’s own production.
For example, Task 1 of the Academic Writing Module gives candidates some visual input (a
diagram or table) and asks them to present the information in their own words. Task 1 of the
General Training module involves reading a short prompt about a particular problem and
using the information it contains to write an appropriate letter of response. Task 2 for both
modules presents a point of view, argument or problem which candidates must read and
respond to in their writing. All tasks contain some indication of audience and purpose for
The face-to-face Speaking module clearly involves listening skills as well as speaking ability;
the examiner frame constrains the listening input to make it fair and accessible for all
candidates. In Part 2 candidates are given a prompt to read on a card; they are also given
one minute of preparation time and invited to make written notes if they wish. All these task
features reflect a degree of ‘integratedness’.
Tasks in the Writing and Speaking modules are designed to achieve a careful balance
between two factors: on one hand, providing adequate support for the test-taker in terms of
task content and level of language needed to access the task (level of input is constrained at
the test-writing stage); and on the other hand, the opportunity for the test-taker to ‘engage’
with the task by drawing on their personal experience, opinions, creativity, etc. in
demonstrating their language proficiency. This is another way of defining the notion of
Tasks in the Reading and Listening modules can involve note taking, labelling, classification,
and table/ flowchart completion. What is important is that any task (or test items) should be
consistent with a likely focus for reading/listening to the text(s) and should encourage testtakers
to engage in appropriate cognitive processes. Once again, we could argue that such
tasks are ‘integrated’ in terms of the relationship between the input and the cognitive
processes they elicit. Validation studies help to confirm the match between task input,
cognitive processing, and task output.
While IELTS tasks are designed to reflect certain features of university-level tasks, they do
not set out to ‘simulate’ tasks which students will need to do in their university studies.
Constraints of time are one reason for this: an IELTS reading test lasts only 1 hour – a typical
university task normally takes much longer. More importantly, IELTS assumes readiness to
enter a particular domain; it does not assume that mastery of study skills has already been
achieved (see further discussion below). Test tasks are designed to balance the requirements
of validity, reliability, impact and practicality, the four essential qualities which underpin the
Cambridge ESOL approach.
As Davies et al (1999) point out, ‘integration’ can have its limitations; scores derived from
tasks which combine different aspects of ability may be difficult to interpret – does this task

measure writing, reading, or something called reading/writing? 

Some of the problems
associated with a strongly integrated-skills approach are discussed in the next section.

Why isn’t there a link between the Reading and Writing modules?
Until 1995, a strong thematic link existed between the Reading and Writing modules (for both
Academic and General Training). This link was removed in the 1995 IELTS Revision Project
because it increased the potential for confusing assessment of writing ability with assessment
of reading ability (Charge and Taylor 1997).
Monitoring of candidates’ writing performance suggested that the extent to which they
exploited the reading input varied considerably. Some candidates drew heavily on the written
content of the reading texts, apparently treating the writing task as a measure of their reading
ability; as a result many risked masking their actual writing ability. Other candidates chose to
articulate their own ideas on the topic, making very little reference to the reading input or
forging artificial connections for the sake of the
task. In some cases, cultural background meant that candidates were confused about
whether to articulate their personal point of view on a topic or to reflect the more ‘authoritative’
view expressed in the reading text(s).
Such variation in response to the linked reading/writing task made the achievement of fair
assessment at the marking stage very difficult. Removal of the link between the IELTS
Reading and Writing modules resulted in a more equitable form of task design. It also made it
easier to control comparability of task difficulty across the many different test versions which
need to be produced each year to meet the demands of candidature volume and security. (An
earlier link between the field-specific Reading/Writing modules and the Speaking module had
been removed as part of the ELTS/IELTS Revision Project in 1989 for reasons explained in
Alderson and Clapham 1993, Clapham and Alderson 1997).
Why aren’t the IELTS Academic Reading and Writing tasks more like university-level
IELTS is designed to test readiness to enter the world of university level study in the English
language and the ability to cope with the demands of that context immediately after entry. It
does not assume that test-takers have already mastered (or even partially acquired) the
range of university-level reading or writing skills which they are likely to need; in fact, they will
probably need to develop many of these skills during their course of study, often in ways that
are specific to a particular academic domain. The implication of this is that IELTS Academic
Reading and Writing tasks cannot simulate the sort of university-level tasks which test-takers
will encounter in their studies. It would be unreasonable to define the ‘authenticity’ of IELTS
Academic Reading and Writing tasks purely in terms of ‘simulated university-level tasks’ and
then to judge them against that criterion.
Instead, tasks are designed to be accessible to a wide range of test-takers (irrespective of
their academic discipline) and to reflect features of writing activities that are already familiar to
candidates from previous study experience as well as some general features of writing they
may encounter in subsequent study. An essay format is used for Writing Task 2 precisely
because it is a written genre widely used in both secondary and higher education contexts.
Moore and Morton (1999) describe the essay as the predominant written genre used in
university study and their study demonstrated empirically that IELTS Academic Writing Task 2
does share features in common with this format.

Is IELTS culturally biased?
All the texts and tasks in the IELTS modules are designed to be widely accessible and to
accommodate as far as possible candidates’ prior linguistic, cultural and educational
experience irrespective of nationality or first language. Removal in 1995 of the thematic link
between the Reading and Writing modules was in part for this reason (see above). Topics or
contexts of language use which might introduce a bias against any group of candidates of a
particular background (e.g. due to gender, ethnic origin) are avoided at the materials
writing/editing stage. Pre-testing procedures prior to live test construction monitor feedback
on texts and topics and so provide another safeguard in this regard. An external study by
Mayor, Hewings, North and Swann (2000)

  which investigated the written performance of different L1 groups found no evidence of significant cultural bias due to task.?
Is there a risk of gender bias in the IELTS Speaking Test?
O’Loughlin (2000) used the IELTS Oral Interview to investigate the potential impact of gender
in oral proficiency assessment and found no evidence that the test was a strongly gender
differentiated event. He concluded that IELTS interviewers and candidates ‘generally adopted
a more collaborative, co-operative and supportive communicative style irrespective of their
gender or the gender of their interlocutor’ (p 20). Furthermore, he found no empirical evidence
of significant bias due to rater/candidate gender with regard to the rating process and the
scores awarded. The introduction of the revised IELTS Speaking Test in 2001 was partly to
minimise even further any potential for examiner language or behaviour during the test to be a
source of bias.
Is IELTS suitable for younger students below the age of 18?
ELTS/IELTS was originally designed as an English language proficiency test for students who
had already completed their secondary education and who wished to undertake further
academic study in an English-speaking country, at first degree or post-graduate level. In this
sense it was targeted at adults, i.e. those in their late teens or above. This is particularly true
for the Academic modules (Reading and Writing) which tend to assume a level of cognitive
maturity normally not achieved until early adulthood.
The cognitive demands of the Academic Reading and Writing tasks were demonstrated
during a series of native speaker trialling studies conducted in 1993/1994 as part of the 1995
IELTS Revision Project. One study involved administering IELTS subtests to 148 English
native-speaker students at sixth-form colleges, universities and technical colleges in the UK
and Australia; this sample population included both 16–17 year olds (pre-university) and 18–
21 year olds (undergraduate). Results showed that the tests were able to discriminate
effectively within the native speaker population: the Listening subtest attracted generally high
raw scores – with a mean of Band 8/9; however, the spread of scores for the Academic
Reading and Writing modules showed that native speakers responded with varying degrees
of success, depending in part on their age and experience.
The IELTS General Training (GT) modules, however, were developed to suit the needs of a
slightly different population – those wishing to undertake further study/training of a nonacademic,
vocational nature, or as a bridge between school and university. Post-test analysis
shows that significant numbers of candidates in the younger (16–18 year old) age group take
IELTS GT each year; no significant problems have been noted in terms of content or difficulty
and analysis of live test performance by age indicates that 16 and 17 year olds perform better
than some other age groups (e.g. candidates aged between 18 and 21). This also appears
true for Academic candidates and is a phenomenon observed with other Cambridge ESOL
exams. One possible explanation is that 16 and 17 years olds are still in full time education so
are well used to the demands of studying and test-taking.
A study under the IELTS grant-funded program investigated the performance and attitudes of
a specific group of 15–17 year old candidates on IELTS General Training. Merrylees (2003)
found that most students in the study coped reasonably well with the demands of the subtests
in terms of mean scores achieved; students reported finding Listening sections 3 and 4,
and Reading section 3 most challenging. An impact study conducted in Australia in 2003 (see
Jan Smith’s article in this issue) confirmed the accessibility of the IELTS General Training
module content to the 16–17 year old population.
The available evidence suggests that IELTS – particularly General Training – is suitable for
use with students below 18.

How well does IELTS predict academic success?
Findings from predictive validity studies (which seek to measure the relationship between
language proficiency test scores and academic outcomes) are often very mixed, suggesting
that the relationship between English language proficiency and subsequent academic
success is an extremely complex one. (See the IELTS website for details of IELTS-related
studies.) Correlations are often relatively weak, mainly because academic performance is
affected by so many other factors, e.g. academic ability/knowledge, the amount of insessional
English language tuition received, motivation, cultural adjustment, and
circumstances relating to welfare.
It is vital for users of IELTS test scores to set responsible admissions criteria and to have a
clear understanding of the contribution that IELTS scores can make in determining an
applicant’s suitability for entry, including the relative importance of scores in the four modules
for particular academic courses. The IELTS partners are working to help University
admissions departments and other test users improve their understanding of the relationship
between students’ English language proficiency and subsequent performance; this includes
building awareness of key influences on academic outcomes and of other factors which need
to be taken into consideration, e.g. provision of ongoing language and study skills support for
international students, as well as academic and acculturation programs, including appropriate
pastoral care.
References and further reading
Alderson, J C and Clapham, C (1993) (Eds) Examining the ELTS Test:
An Account of the First Stage of the ELTS Revision Project, IELTS Research Report 2,
Cambridge: UCLES, British Council and IDP.
Bahrick, H P (1984) Fifty years of second language attrition: Implications for programmatic
research, Modern Language Journal, 68, 105–118.
Charge, N and Taylor, L (1997) Recent developments in IELTS, ELT
Journal, 51/4, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 374–380.
Clapham, C and Alderson, J C (1997) (Eds) Constructing and Trialling the IELTS Test, IELTS
Research Report 3, Cambridge: UCLES, British Council and IDP.
Davies, A, Brown, A, Elder, C, Hill, K, Lumley, T and McNamara, T (1999) Dictionary of
language testing, Cambridge: UCLES/Cambridge University Press.
Green, A (2003) Test Impact and English for Academic Purposes:
A Comparative Study in Backwash between IELTS Preparation and University Presessional
Courses, unpublished PhD dissertation,
University of Roehampton, Surrey (UK).
—(2004) Making the grade: score gains on the IELTS Writing Test,
Research Notes 16, 9–13.
Mayor, B, Hewings, A, North, S and Swann, J (2000) A linguistic analysis of Chinese and
Greek L1 scripts for IELTS Academic Writing Task 2. Report from study conducted under the
IELTS joint-funded research program.
Merrylees, B (2003) An Impact Study of Two IELTS User Groups:
Candidates who sit the Test for Immigration Purposes and Candidates who sit the Test for
Secondary Education Purposes, in IELTS Research Reports Volume 4, Canberra: IDP: IELTS
Moore, T and Morton, J (1999) Authenticity in the IELTS Academic Module Writing Test: A
Comparative Study of Task 2 Items and
University Assignments, in IELTS Research Reports Volume 2, Canberra:
IELTS Australia
O’Loughlin, K (2000) The Impact of Gender in the IELTS Oral Interview,
in IELTS Research Reports Volume 3, Canberra: IELTS Australia
Weltens, B (1989) The attrition of French as a Foreign Language, Dordrecht/Providence:
Foris Publications.
Weltens, B and Cohen, A D (1989) Language attrition research. An introduction, Studies in
Second Language Acquisition, 11/2 127–133.

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2009 copyright IELTS FREE REVIEW All Rights Reserved 2009