Deconstructing The IELTS Exam

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There comes a point in all our lives when we have to write an exam. It might be a driving learner’s license, a spelling bee, or a university exam. Our learners have to write these exams too, but they probably also have to write English language exams to show proof of their English proficiency. One very popular such test is the IELTS exam.

Why do EFL learners need English exams?

There are a few reasons our English as a Foreign Language learners may need to write an English exam. Most often, English exams are used to supplement a person’s application to a university or for immigration purposes. Learners need to be able to prove that their English level is high enough to be able to study in an English-speaking environment. They need to prove they are able to cope with living and working in an English-speaking country.

There are a number of different tests of English as a Foreign Language our learners can take, but the IELTS is a very popular one. This is possibly due to it being accepted by universities in many English-speaking countries and also by government agencies in countries like the UK, the USA, Canada, and Australia.

Read more: Understanding Cambridge Exams for Adults

What is the IELTS exam?

IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. There are two different IELTS exams – the IELTS General Training exam and the IELTS Academic exam. Which exam your students will be taking depends on their needs. If they are looking to study at an English-medium university, then they will need a certain score in the IELTS Academic exam. If they need an IELTS score for work or for immigration, then they will need to take the IELTS General Training exam.

There is no pass or fail in the IELTS exam. Rather, learners are scored in bands, according to their ability in the test. The bands range from 0 (did not attempt the test) and 1 (non-user) to 9 (expert user). If you relate this to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) a score of 4 equates approximately to an A2 and a 9 to a C2.

The General and the Academic exams are similar but slightly different. The IELTS exam is made up of four parts – Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. Listening and Speaking exams are the same for both General and Academic, but the Reading and Writing exams are different.

The IELTS General Training exam

Because this exam is to assess whether or not a person will be able to cope with living and/or working in an English-speaking environment, the materials in this exam reflect this. The Reading texts are job advertisements, company memoranda, community notices, rules and regulations, and so on.

The Writing exam has two tasks. The first is a letter, usually asking for information, complaining to your landlord, or a letter of invitation to an event. The second is an opinion essay on a topical issue.

The IELTS Academic exam

Similarly, the Academic exam focuses on academic reading and writing. The Reading texts are extracts from textbooks, while the Writing tasks are a description of a graph, table or diagram, and an academic essay.

The Listening and Speaking exams

The Listening exam has four parts. Each part is an extract of a monologue or a conversation between two or more people. They are a mix of everyday conversation e.g. signing up for the gym, and academic situations e.g. a lecture.

The Speaking exam takes place individually. The examiner takes the candidate through three sections. First, there are a few questions about their personal lives. In the second part, the candidate must speak for a minute or two on a given topic, which is discussed further in part three.

Read more: Preparing Our EFL Students for Speaking Exams

Preparing for exam

How can we prepare our learners for the IELTS exam?

A large part of IELTS preparation is introducing your students to the exam format. There is quite a tight time limit on the different exams! If students are not aware of what is expected of them, it is highly unlikely that they will finish the test.

This knowledge of the exam also has a dramatic effect on students’ nerves, which can have disastrous consequences on test day if they are not kept in check.

Read more: How To Make EFL Exams Not So Scary for Your Students

Of course, you cannot teach for the exam, but you will look for similar texts and do similar task types in your lessons to prepare your students and get them comfortable with the exam question types. These exams reflect real life. Therefore, the skills you need to teach them to do well in the exam mimic the skills needed in real life. So not only are they preparing for an exam but they are preparing to study or live surrounded by English.

Read more: Key IELTS Exam Skills

There are many coursebooks that relate to either IELTS exam and it’s also possible to find practice tests, either in books or online. Be careful, though. You don’t want your exam classes to be boring! Even though these classes are more serious in nature than your other classes, this doesn’t mean they have to be dry and dull. They can be just as interesting as any other lesson, albeit with a serious side to them.

And in a nutshell, that’s the IELTS exam.

If you are ever required to teach an IELTS preparation course, think of it as a golden opportunity to expand your skillset. Hundreds of thousands of people take the IELTS exams every year, so IELTS preparation courses are very popular. If you are experienced in teaching an IELTS class, you can be sure that you will have students hounding you for lessons every season of the year. What’s more, teaching one exam class will open you up to the possibility of teaching any of the exam classes – and it’ll look great on your CV!

For more tips, tricks, and help with the IELTS exam be sure to check out the official IELTS website, as well as the British Council Take IELTS website.


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