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IELTS Test Evaluation
Since the beginning of globalization and multiculturalism English language became an international mean of communication all over the world. Nowadays, as these processes are escalated, the knowledge of English became not only important, but inevitable in all spheres of life, from social to political. However, proper knowledge is not enough to be a professional specialist. In the majority of cases the best proof of relevant English language skills is the proper certificate. There are several international examinations and tests aimed to determine the real language proficiency of each individual.
International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is designed to determine language proficiency among individuals who speak English as their second language. IELTS tests are developed to examine person’s reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills which enables to evaluate one’s proficiency in all ways. The test is divided into sections, two of which last for sixty minutes (Reading and Writing), Listening section lasts for forty minutes, and Speaking interview takes around eleven to fourteen minutes. The sections are designed in the form of written exercises or interview for the speaking examination. After the test the examiner evaluate the examinee according to the general scores presented by Overall Score Band and his or her results in each of the section. The examiners who conduct the interview are certified accordingly to be able to estimate the examinee properly. After the examination, each individual obtains a certificate with the overall scores and test results in each section. Since its elaboration in 1980, its design has changed several times to improve its evaluation system and authenticity of the certificate itself by adding examinee’s picture and specific number for each form. (Davies, 2008) Since 2005 the developers added new assessment criteria for the Writing section of the test. In 2013 almost two million people took the test. As statistics report, each year the number of examinees grows rapidly.
As it was mentioned before, the test has four sections divided according to the examining skills. Each of the sections has instructions except the speaking test where examinee has the conversation with the examiner. All instructions are presented in the form of several sentences explaining the purpose of the unit and brief information about the content of the section and/or exercise. The language of the instructions is precise and clear to convey the idea of each unit and explain the examinee the goal of each test. To determine the proficiency of the language the developers included relevant amount of well known words into the instructions. There are no unknown words in the instructions to avoid misunderstanding of the exercise by the examinee. The instructions contain examples of the supposed answers where it is needed to give a better explanation for the contestant of the assignment.
In the previous paragraphs it was determined that each unit has its own timing. Reading and Writing examination last for an hour, when Listening section proceeds for forty minutes and Speaking testing can continue from eleven to fourteen minutes depending on the decision of the interviewer. Reviewing each unit, it is possible to admit that the timing given for each unit is enough for completing each exercise. However, the period of time provided for the Speaking examination is too short to determine objectively the proficiency of this particular skill. Usually, the interview contains two sections of questions dedicated to two separate topics of the general nature. This unit does not have the questions of any specific character making it impossible to determine if the examinee is familiar with more difficult topics. As the IELTS test is aimed to define the level of language proficiency, it should contain both general and narrowly directed questions. The purpose of each unit is clear to the respondents and the test itself is divided accordingly to determine all language skills.
Each section of the test has particular content relevant to its purpose. Writing unit is divided into two sections proposing to write two essays on different topics. The first exercise usually has easier task, while the following assignment is of more difficult level enabling to determine if the contestant can perform more complicated tasks. Reading Unit usually consists of a passage on a specific subject containing both general and specific vocabulary on the presented topic. The purpose of this practice is to evaluate more sufficiently the reading skills of the examinees. It is important to notice that presented design of the test corresponds with the purpose of the assignment of defining the level of reading skill of the contestants. Listening unit is elaborated to determine how the respondents perceive the information by hearing. The exercises can be designed in the form of a conversation between two people to determine if the respondent can recognize the information presented by different persons. Speaking section is usually dedicated to two different topics; the content of the questions in the majority of cases refers to everyday situations.
The content of each unit usually covers casual or formal styles where it is appropriate, the Speaking section in some cases contains the questions aimed to determine personal point of view of the respondent. Despite its primary purpose, Reading unit usually has the goal to define the respondent’s ability to comprehend and respond to multiple topics and to have knowledge in the wide range of the subjects. It is also important to notice that as IELTS tests are directed to examine individuals all over the world, the developers put the content which would not confuse people from different cultures and backgrounds. However, some researchers admit that knowing the background of the information given in the tests benefit the respondents of the Reading unit. “The results indicated that background knowledge had an increasing effect on performance as the proficiency levels of the examinees increased.” (Hossein, 2012) In addition, one has to mention that it is crucial to design the content which would be able to reflect contemporary reality and to be up-to-date. The tests are developed taking into account the present days. The examination is designed in the way not to advantage certain group of respondents omitting specific historical and cultural peculiarities.
Item Format and Layout of the Assessment Instrument
The layout of the test is developed to determine particular language skills. Each of the exercise has its own length according to its purpose. For example, Reading unit is elaborated in the way to give time for the respondents to read the text and to answer following questions. The aim of the examiner is to assess if the contestant perceived the information. Reviewing the tests, it is possible to admit that the assessment instrument of Speaking unit is too small which do not grant the ability to evaluate the examinee properly. The assessment instrument of the other sections corresponds with the purpose of the unit. Reading the instructions and content of the unit one can state that it is possible to answer the questions. There are certain exercises that can e easy to answer, while the others have more difficult level to determine if the respondent has particular skills.
There are exercises when the examinees have to answer two or multiple choice questions. The developers of the tests designed it to omit the possibility of guessing the correct answer. Each of such units has relevant amount of specific questions designed appropriately to cover direct purpose of the unit. The overall structure of the tests corresponds with its goal. The layout of the test designed so the contestants can easily follow the instructions and show necessary skills. The instructions of the exercises are easy to follow and there are no confusing or distracting items within the structure of the tests. As IELTS is aimed to examine non-native speakers, the design of the tests was developed to omit possible confusions with the instructions and the content of the material. Usually, the examinations do not contain any illustrations or photos as it does not correspond with the purpose of the tests. The spacing between the items is appropriate.
As it was mentioned before, the examiners are certified to evaluate the respondents. The assessment of the examinees is performed on the basis of their overall performance and the results in each of the sections. The units which have questions with two or multiple choice answers are estimated with the help of the sheets with correct answers. Speaking skills are evaluated based on the ability of the respondent to understand the questions and give complete answers demonstrating copious vocabulary and appropriate pronunciation skills. Each unit is assessed with the respective scoring. Each unit is scored by the points from 1 to 9, where 1 is the lowest mark and 9 is the highest possible score. The scores have to reflect the objective level of the English language skills of each examinee. Each of the units has equal impact on the general score as all skills are considered relevant. Usually, the examiner has the specific instructions on how to interpret the scores of the respondents. The units usually contain the material of two or more levels of difficulty to define if the respondents have the ability to complete the tests of each level. It enables the examiners to determine what level of language proficiency the respondent has of each of the skills.
Concluding the information presented in the evaluation, one can admit that the overall structure of IELTS tests is appropriate and corresponds with the goal of the examination. The only weak point in the test is the Speaking unit as it lasts for a considerably shorter period of time and contains the questions of general knowledge, not including more complicated vocabulary which can help in determining revenant level of speaking abilities of the respondents. The examinations are elaborated in the way to omit possible confusions and discrepancies with the content and instructions.
Davies, A. (2008). Assessing Academic English: Testing English Proficiency, 1950–1989 — the IELTS solution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hossein, K. (2012). The Relative Impact of Persons, Items, Subtests, and Academic Background on Performance on Language Proficiency Test. Psychological Test and Assessment Modelling, 54(3), 211-223.