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What is IELTS and why should you care?

2014/06/03

Are you familiar with the International English Language Testing System called IELTS?
It has been the scrappy up-and-coming contender for the ESL testing crown
since it's founding in 1989, and has been steadily gaining ground on it's predecessor and rival TOEFL, which has reigned since 1964. It's no scrappy upstart any longer, but may be the future of English testing systems.

Recently in Japan IELTS has garnered a novel, or modern caché. There is a strong contrast in Japan between early adopters and conservatives. With schools generally sticking to their conservative traditions, and businesses pushing-the-envelope to keep up with the latest developments from around the world (or at least a lip service to it).

IELTS has become increasingly popular with University students hoping to land a prized company position or to study abroad. Whereas High School and Universities themselves are sticking with the time-tested TOEFL incumbent.

So if you are a Business English or University English teacher, knowing about IELTS is pretty important, and having some kind of training or experience with it will help you shine on job applications, because it has been growing steadily, and may reflect changing trends in English education at every level. In 2007, IELTS tested over a million candidates in a single 12-month period for the first time ever, making it the world's most popular English language test for higher education and immigration. In 2009, 1.4 million candidates took the IELTS in over 130 countries, in 2011 there were 1.7 million candidates, and in 2012, 2 million candidates were tested. It's clear that big things are happening for IELTS.

So let's review a few of the basics. IELTS comes in two forms, the Academic module, and the General Training module. The Academic one is for university applicants. With tens of thousands of institutions accepting IELTS scores from all around the world. Meanwhile the General Training version is for anyone who wants professional development in English, or proficiency accreditation, maybe even to emigrate to an English speaking country. As IELTS can fulfill immigration requirements for Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

IELTS doesn't offer a pass or fail scoring system like TOEFL but instead has rated 'bands' of expertise which thoroughly describes English expertise from 'band 1' (non-users of English) to 'band 9' (expert users of English). There are a number of progressive ideas integrated into the IELTS ideology. Not the least of which is this intuitive but thorough 'band' system (think rubrics) describing each language sub-skill (Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking). It also attempts to minimize any linguistic bias by presenting tests in a variety of accents and writing styles which better reflect the dynamic real-world setting. But there is also a focus on the speaking module, which is conducted as a one-to-one interview with the examiner. Recorded for monitoring as well as re-marking in case of an appeal against the banding given.

It even has very impressive online tools to assist teachers and students in their learning efforts, and free online sample tests and materials. So it's easy to see why things all around the world are coming up IELTS.

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