IELTS teachers' questions answered

IELTS teachers' questions answered

British Council IELTS experts answer your questions about the administration and content of the IELTS test.

Q: What is the weighting of the four papers?

A: The overall band is the average of the four individual band scores (Reading, Listening, Writing and Speaking) – they all have equal weighting.

Q: How does IELTS compare to other exams and what is unique about IELTS?

A: IELTS is designed to assess English language skills at all levels - you cannot fail an IELTS test, as it is not designed to test at a particular level . Test takers receive IELTS scores based on each for the four skills on a scale of 1 – 9, as well as an overall band score. You can score whole (e.g. 5.0, 6.0, 7.0) or half (e.g. 5.5., 6.5, 7.5) bands in each part of the test. 

The test is pen and paper-based and the Speaking component is face-to-face with a certified Examiner.

IELTS does not test one particular version of English, such as British or American – it is a test of international English, reflecting the variety of sources that learners have access to and the range of English varieties to which they are exposed. 

Q: What are the differences between IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training? Which should I recommend to my students?

IELTS Academic is designed for test takers who want to study at university at undergraduate or postgraduate level, or who want to join a professional organisation in an English-speaking country. IELTS General Training is for test takers who want to train or study at a lower level than a degree, work or do work-related training in an English-speaking country or emigrate to an English-speaking country.

Neither  version of the test is easier or more difficult than the other – your students should decide which version to take based on their individual aims. If an IELTS test is required by an organisation, immigration authority, professional body or academic institution, they will state explicitly which of the two they require and at what band level (each skill and overall). Always advise your students to first enquire exactly what it is required, then they can start preparing for one or the other. If they simply wish to test their English at an international standard, they should choose the version more suitable to their previous experience - if they are students, IELTS Academic would be more appropriate. It’s really up to you and them to decide.

Q: Can my students register to take the test with any IELTS test centre in any country?

A: Yes, any student can register with any IELTS test centre worldwide.

Q: Is IELTS getting more difficult?

A: Our partners at Cambridge English Language Assessment have a rigorous process for designing IELTS test items that ensures the level of difficulty is consistent – IELTS is not getting harder or easier.

Q: Are there quotas for each IELTS band score?

A: There are no quotas for any IELTS band scores – each candidate is assessed purely on their individual performance in the test.                                       

Q: Are all of your examiners native speakers of English?

A: IELTS does not discriminate between native and non-native English speakers, for either test takers or Examiners. All our Examiners undergo a rigorous process of application, interview, training, certification and monitoring, and need to be expert users of English with a fully operational command of the language.

Q: How can I become an IELTS examiner? Will I then still be able to teach IELTS to my students?

A: Please check with your local British Council office. Each local office recruits and trains their examiners based on local needs and following the global standards. After becoming an examiner you will still be able to teach IELTS, but you will not be able to give IELTS bands to any of your students’ work, examine your own students or use the fact that you are an examiner as a promotional message to attract IELTS students.

Q: How sure can my students be that their level of English is objectively reflected after being interviewed by one of your examiners? Will the assessment not differ from one examiner to another?

A: There is a system in place to make sure all candidates are assessed in an objective way, regardless of which examiner does this. Firstly, all the IELTS examiners are selected, trained, certified and monitored following the same standards and have to retrain and re-certify every two years. Secondly, they all follow the same criteria when marking writing papers or when interviewing for speaking, and all candidates are evaluated against these criteria, not compared with each other or against the examiner’s subjective criteria. Thirdly, the examiners’ activity is regularly monitored to ensure they are rating to standard in both speaking and writing.                 

Q: How can I become a better IELTS teacher?

A: This is the main aim of this portal - to help you to better help your students. In addition, local British Council offices run IELTS teacher training programmes – contact your nearest office to see what is available. If a group of teachers from your school or from your region are keen to brush up their IELTS teaching skills, your British Council office may well be able to help.

Q: How can I help my students if they did not get the score they needed?

A: The IELTS assessment criteria give a detailed summary of what students need to do to achieve particular band scores in each skill. You can also buy the IELTS Scores Explained DVD, which is available from most British Council offices, and you can take part in training courses organised by the British Council locally.

Q: What books can I use to prepare my students for IELTS?

A: We cannot recommend any particular book because we want to be impartial, but all large international publishers, as well as regional ones, have a variety of good IELTS books on offer. Take a look at several and see which one(s) suit your needs best. You should consider how long your course is, how much time your students have until their test date and the balance your students need between improving their general English (always the best way of improving their IELTS score) and learning about the exam itself. You can also get in touch with the local British Council and see what resources they have available.

Q: How long will it take my students to improve their IELTS score by, say, one band?

A: Students often ask this question, but there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer – every student is different. It will depend on, among other things, their initial English level, how many hours a week they study, where they are studying, their individual motivation and whether they have taken IELTS before. The bottom line, as always, is that the more study they put in, the better they will do!

Q: Can students with different levels of English participate in the same IELTS preparation course?

A: In principle, yes – the techniques and question types they will be studying will be the same regardless of their level. However, like any language class, if the range of levels in your class is wide, you will have to work hard to ensure the lower-level students can keep up while the more advanced ones are kept motivated. 

Q: How easy is it to prepare my students for IELTS?

A: The best way for students to get a good mark in IELTS is for them to improve their general English ability, so in that respect, you are already an expert in IELTS preparation! You will also need to familiarise yourself with the different question types in the different parts of the exam so you can help your students to do the same. Try taking a practice IELTS test yourself – there’s no better way to understand what your students will need to know.

Q: Can I see my students’ test papers or listen to their speaking interviews to assess what they need to improve?

A: It is not possible to have access to any test materials – there are confidentiality aspects that differentiate IELTS from other exams and no live papers are publicly available.

Q: Should I give band scores to my students’ work?

A: The IELTS assessment criteria are publicly available, but we do not recommend that you give definitive band scores to your students. Students will usually put a great deal of trust in their teacher, and if you give them band scores that are not reflected in their eventual IELTS test results, you may well build up unrealistic expectations and, ultimately, disappointment for your students . Focus instead on recommending ways that your students can improve in the different skills – that is a much more useful way to help them to improve their language ability and, therefore, their test results.

Q: I have a new student who asked for advice because he has scored 6.5 twice in Academic Writing, but he needs a 7.0 for entry to the course he has chosen. What do you suggest?

A: You can help your student by using the IELTS Writing assessment criteria. These can provide guidance on how to:

Task 1

  • summarize and describe as appropriate;
  • find the key points (the purpose of the graph, what the diagram shows exactly, the years involved etc.); give information about the most striking differences in the diagrams (the biggest/smallest/most significant change etc.); give an overview of all the information;
  • add data from the diagram to support their statements;
  • write at least 150 words.

Task 2:

  • answer all parts of the question (it usually says something like "Discuss both these points and give your opinion");
  • give a clear opinion if one is required;
  • write at least 250 words.

For both tasks:

  • use as wide a range of vocabulary and grammatical structures as possible – both range and accuracy are assessed;
  • write in clear paragraphs with a distinct topic for each paragraph;
  • Include a short clear conclusion.                                           

Q: Some of my students have a strong local accent. Will that affect their IELTS Speaking result?

A: An accent in itself will not affect the Speaking score – we all have an accent, after all! What is important is that your students can be easily understood – clarity of pronunciation is what matters.

Q: What is the weighting of the four speaking test assessment criteria?

A: The overall band is the average of the four individual assessment criteria scores (Fluency & Coherence, Lexical Resource, Grammatical Range & Accuracy, and Pronunciation) – they all have equal weighting.                                              

Q: What is the weighting of the four writing test assessment criteria?

A: The overall band is the average of the four individual assessment criteria scores (Task Achievement/Response, Coherence & Cohesion, Lexical Resource, and Grammatical Range & Accuracy) – they all have equal weighting.

Q: Can my students use their own personal experience in their Writing answers?

A: Yes - Writing Task 2 asks test takers to include relevant examples from their own knowledge or experience. Some of your students may have been trained not to do this in academic writing, so may need some practice in doing this for the IELTS test.

Q: Does it matter if my students write their answers in upper case (capitals) rather than lower case?

A: No – as long as their writing is legible.                              

Q: I understand that the Reading texts, as well as some of the Writing questions, are based on different subject areas (arts, economics, geography, science, etc.). If my students are not specialists in these areas, will they be at a disadvantage?

A: IELTS does not test subject knowledge, so your students do not need specialist knowledge of any of these areas. Although the Reading texts will be based on a specific topic, it is reading skills that are being tested, and a knowledge of technical vocabulary is not required – it is, in fact, perfectly possible to have the right answer to a question without understanding exactly what it means! With the Writing test, it is important that your students know how to structure suitable answers to the different possible question types, but again no specialist knowledge is needed.

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