By Tony Rusinak, IELTS Expert
When I was studying abroad at university, my classmate David told me he was flying from Beijing to Toronto to write the IELTS test. English was his second language, and he really needed a Band 7 to get into a master’s program. He tried IELTS three times at a centre in Beijing, but he‘d never scored above a 6.5. If he flew to Toronto, he could finally get his IELTS 7.0.
I was confused. Was he really flying to Toronto to get a higher IELTS rating? That is a 10,000km trip! This seemed very strange. I knew there were hundreds of IELTS tests every month in Beijing and thousands of tests in other cities around China. Couldn’t David just book in China?
He then told me why he was doing this. He claimed the IELTS test was easier in Canada - it was less strict and they gave higher ratings. He explained that test-takers had more time to do the questions; that the speaking examiners were friendlier, the readings were easier; and that you didn’t even need your passport. To David, although it would be an expensive flight to Canada, this would surely get him that 7.0 IELTS rating that seemed impossible before.
As you might guess, this conversation with David was shocking for me. At that time, I knew that any IELTS rating could be used anywhere in the world. I was really surprised that it would be easier in one country and more difficult in another. This didn’t seem fair.
I met David after his trip and asked him about his test. His face turned red. He told me because the test in Canada was “easy”, he didn’t prepare. He also stayed up to party late into the night before with some cousins who lived in Toronto. On test day, he visited the CN Tower beforehand, then was late to the IELTS centre. Needless to say, when the test began he was stressed out, very tired, and unprepared. Two weeks later he received his scores and rated lower at a 6.0. This was lower than his score in Beijing!
This story is from 15 years ago. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to work for IELTS for 14 of those years. I’ve worked in several different countries and have had several different roles with IELTS. I’ve also worked in international education, Canadian immigration, and ESL program design. All of these roles are connected to IELTS. Thus, I know that David was wrong.
I have kept in touch with my friend David. He actually sat the IELTS again in Beijing and rated a 7.5! With all of this experience and with knowing David’s story, I wanted to explain why people thought IELTS was easier in some places were wrong.
The Strict Global Standard
IELTS has very strict rules that every employee and that every centre must follow. These rules are the same in every country and every centre. Centres and employees must regularly do intensive training to ensure they are following the rules. They must also keep excellent records of every test, every employee, and every test-taker.
The people who grade the tests, examiners, have exactly the same training worldwide. In fact, it’s common for some examiners to conduct IELTS tests multinationally. How could examiners be working across different countries if the test and grading was different?
Aren’t IDP and British Council Different IELTS Tests?
You might know that two organizations give IELTS tests. One is the British Council from the UK, the other is IDP which is based in Australia. There are a few variations in how they manage, register, and advertise the tests but the exams are 100% the same on test day. So, if you think one is easier than the other, guess again!
True, There are Some Small Differences
People like to argue the small stuff. That said, I will agree that there are some small differences from centre to centre. However, this does not affect the test experience, nor will it affect your rating. But what are these differences? Here are a few. First, test-taker numbers. Some tests are quite large with more than 100 people in a classroom, while other tests are small with less than ten people. Second, computer-based tests and the in-person test. The test is exactly the same, but one uses a computer to enter answers, and the other uses pencil and paper. Third, video call speaking and in-person speaking. Both of these tests take place in a test centre. You still have to go into the centre and can’t do it from home. The only difference is that one uses a video call app. while the other is person-to-person.
Hopefully, this article has helped you understand how IELTS works. If you think changing centres or travelling to different countries will help you get a higher score, that will not work. Travelling for an easier test to London, Tokyo, Delhi, Dakar, or Detroit may seem smart, but they will all be exactly the same. My final tip, Don’t be a David! - focus your energy on improving your English, not changing your IELTS location. Best of luck on test day!