Paradigm Language Institute

Feedback on IELTS test performance

Friday, January 3, 2014

Cristina, a nurse in the Philippines, needs to get band score 7 in speaking with an overall score of at least 6.5 in IELTS (International English Language Testing System). She wrote this:

“I took IELTS twice in the last few weeks, and I managed to improve my writing score from 6.5 to 7.0. Sadly, however, I got 6.5 for speaking both times.

“Can the test centre give me feedback on specific aspects in the ielts speaking test?”

Here’s my reply: There’s no doubt that you need well-developed English skills to get band 7 in any skill area (listening, reading, writing and speaking).

However, as you’ve found, it’s particularly challenging to get a high band score in the ielts speaking test. That’s partly because it’s a productive skill and not a receptive skill.

Productive and receptive skills

The productive skills in any language are writing and speaking. They’re also known as active skills. These skills require a person to produce language.

The receptive skills (sometimes known as passive skills) are listening and reading. People do not need to produce language to do these; instead, they receive and understand the language.

Generally speaking, it’s more difficult to get a high score for productive skills, like speaking, than receptive skills.

It’s therefore very possible to get a low score for the speaking or writing module even if your ability to listen or read in English is good (i.e., at band 7 level).

Advice on test performance

Unfortunately, the administrative staff at the centre where you took the tests are not able to reassess or explain your original speaking test results.

The staff simply cannot give you any detailed comments about your personal performance, such as exactly why you got a particular score.

Similarly, the administrative staff cannot explain your personal results for any other module: listening, reading or writing.

Test re-scoring

Candidates who are unhappy with their test results can always apply to have one or more of the four modules re-graded. A standard, and quite substantial, fee is charged for this service.

An application for a re-score can be made at the centre where the test was taken. The same fee is payable whether one or more of the four exam modules are re-scored.

Depending on where you did the tests, re-scores are processed by the head office of the British Council in the UK or IELTS Australia in Australia. In other words, the re-scoring is not done by the same people who gave you the original mark.

There’s also a delay of six to eight weeks before you find out the reassessment results. It’s important to note that your original test results are frozen by IELTS and can’t be used during this period.

However, if you do request a re-grading of your speaking test, you’ll only be told whether the speaking test score will remain the same or be changed. No other information will be given to you, such as exactly why you got the original score.

It is possible to have only the speaking test re-assessed, if that’s what you wish. However, I always advise people to have the whole exam (i.e., the listening, reading, writing and speaking modules) rescored. It costs no more to do so, and there’ll be an automatic and full refund of the fee for reassessing the exam if the score for any of the four modules is increased.

If your score for any module is increased, a new Test Report Form showing the revised band scores will be issued.

My advice

Given that you’ve received the same speaking test score in two recent tests, my suggestion is that you simply accept the results and retake the test.

Before the next test, however, I strongly recommend that you receive some counselling from someone who understands the finer points of the speaking test scoring system.

There are language schools that employ native speakers who specialise in IELTS, and some of the schools also have IELTS examiners on staff.

IELTS specialists understand the scoring system, and they can tell you exactly how your speaking needs to be improved. There may be a small charge for this service.

Personal tuition

You can also consider doing some hours of one-on-one speaking test instruction (as opposed to class instruction) if that service is available from the language school.

While it may appear to be an expensive option, personal tuition is usually the fastest and most cost-effective way of improving speaking test performance, especially when a high score is needed.

For a candidate like you, who has already gained band 7.0 in some of the modules, I always recommend personal tuition with someone who is an expert in IELTS.

This article was written by David Park, a highly experienced IELTS teacher. Ajarn David teaches at Paradigm Language Institute.

If you have any questions about IELTS that you would like Ajarn David to answer,
or if you wish to do an IELTS preparation course, write to:

IELTS is owned by Cambridge ESOL, the British Council and IDP: IELTS Australia.


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