By Tony Rusinak, IELTS Expert
Did you know more than 11,000 places around the world use IELTS as their official language test? IELTS is used for salary pay scales, employment prerequisites, academic acceptance, and all sorts of other interesting reasons where English is required. One of the most important uses for IELTS is for immigration applications. In English-speaking countries like Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Canada, IELTS is seen as a way to ensure that those who are immigrating are able to function in their societies. Along with education, age, job skills, family and other criteria, the ability to speak English is seen as an advantageous life skill.
Immigration departments in the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand want applicants with strong English skills for many reasons. Think about some examples. If an immigrant can read well in English, they’ll be able to understand written laws and follow their home rental agreement. If they can write well, they can email their local city councillor to ask about sidewalks, and draft a cover letter for a job. If they have good listening skills, they can understand the weather report on the radio and run to the neighbour’s child who is calling for help. If their speaking skills are good, they’ll be able to explain an illness to their doctor, or give a lecture at a university.
Many immigrants do live well without being able to speak English when they move to an English-speaking country. They may have a large community around them that speaks their mother tongue. And with advances in technology for translating, it isn’t that hard to use a mobile app to translate. However, as we see above, the chances of having a better life and being active in society are higher with good English skills.
So, when governments decide that those with strong English will be selected faster than those who don’t, how do they measure these language skills? How can the immigration officer know if one person’s English is better than another’s? There are 1000s of English tests in the world, but IELTS is considered the best by governments for three main reasons: It’s fair. It’s trusted. And it has very high-quality standards.
Governments often want to show the public that they are fair. If an English test shows different results for people of the same language level, then there may be complaints. IELTS has designed the test so that all cultures, genders, and nationalities can feel comfortable taking the test. IELTS also makes sure that the grading system is extremely accurate for all four skills. One way they do this is to choose topics that everyone in the world can speak about. For example, imagine that your test topics are ice hockey, country music, and snowstorms. If you were from Boston, USA, these might be easy topics to speak about. However, if you’re from Indonesia where hockey, snowstorms, and country music are not common, these would be difficult to speak and write about. So, IELTS topics are something everyone can speak about. Some examples are the weather, your friends, snacks, and being on time. Do you know anyone who couldn’t talk about those?
A second major reason IELTS is used for immigration is security. If a test is not secure, people cheat. To begin with, IELTS only hires people they can trust. The IELTS testing team are very well-trained, well-supervised, and well-supported. Everyone from the registration desk staff, to the test administrators, to the examiners, to the data-entry team, follow very strict rules and processes. This ensures that every test in every city around the world is run the same way. IELTS also has very high security with their computer systems, with their identity checks, and strict rules on exam day. Research and reviews regularly show these measures work and ensure IELTS ratings are authentic and safe.
Finally, IELTS has very high grading standards. The tests are designed, developed, and trialed by some of the top language assessment experts in the world. For the writing and speaking exams, examiners are required to have English language expertise. This includes teaching experience, language teacher training, a university degree, and very sharp language analysis skills. Examiners are also regularly supervised to make sure they are grading the tests 100% the same, every time. This means if an examiner in Beijing rates an essay a B7, a different examiner in Sao Paulo will rate the same test a B7 for the same reasons. Some tests are also double-marked. The double marking ensures that the examiners are always doing their job and rating each candidate fairly while following the IELTS grading system.
Many other English tests have some of these features that IELTS has. However, because IELTS has proven this for decades all around the world, we can trust it will give the fairest, highest-quality, reliable test that we can share across international borders.