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The Language Files - Everybody wants IELTS!

Maggio 2014
L’International English Language Testing System (IELTS) è al momento la certificazione di inglese più richiesta in tutto il mondo. La preparazione  non è da prendere sotto gamba, e per ottenere un punteggio dignitoso occorre prepararsi al meglio. Vediamo come.

di Rachel Roberts

Rachel Roberts
Rachel Roberts

In recent years many people have abandoned Cambridge exams, such as First Certificate and Cambridge Advanced English, in favour of IELTS. As candidates of all levels sit the same test, IELTS is sometimes regarded as an “umbrella” exam which can substitute all the others.  
This idea is mistaken. An IELTS course usually provides a lot of tips and strategies for passing the test. It does not, however, provide a gradual development of language starting from the basics.
If you do need IELTS because you  are moving to an English-speaking country for work or study, or if it is a specified requirement of your university, then an IELTS preparation course can be a good idea.
IELTS is big business these days and there are many courses on offer, so it’s important to choose a reputable school.


As a high or low result in the IELTS exam can have enormous consequences for the candidates, constant research is conducted into improving the test and making it as fair as possible. All kinds of aspects are taken into consideration: whether the exam is easier for younger or older candidates, whether university students have an advantage over people who haven’t studied for a while, which types of intelligence respond better to the skills required by the test format, and so on. For this reason the exam procedure is frequently modified and adapted.


One interesting piece of research, published on the IELTS.org website, investigates the relationship between intensive English language study and improvement in scores. The research was based on a survey of 112 students from non English-speaking backgrounds enrolled in intensive courses, lasting 10 to 12 weeks, in Australia and New Zealand. The students were tested before and after the course.


Considering that participants were surrounded by native speakers of English, the conclusions were a little disappointing.
Participants who improved the most were at the lower end of the band scale (band 5.5 or below). Many of these candidates managed to improve by half a band, a small number even went up by a band. However, their result was still too low for university enrolment. Very few candidates who started at a higher band made significant improvement.


The fact is that it’s very difficult to score a band 7 or above. To reach this level you need a sophisticated understanding of grammar, good pronunciation and a rich and idiomatic vocabulary – not something you can pick up in 12 weeks. So a preparation course might be a waste of money if you think you are currently a band 5 or below.


So what can you do to make that step towards a more idiomatic and polished English? Learning a language is similar to learning a sport or a musical instrument – practice and motivation are essential. It’s not enough to watch a few films in English or work through hundreds of past papers. You should be surrounding yourself with the language.  
Remember that the IELTS test is taken all over the world and subject matter is carefully selected to be appropriate in all countries. You won’t be asked questions about religion, the death penalty or gay marriage, but more neutral topics, such as the environment, education and health, are commonplace.


The BBC website is a great place to find articles related to these issues and if you click on the iPlayer you can listen to a huge range of radio programmes organised according to category. The British Council Learn English website is also a rich source of material. Their video series “Britain is Great” is full of interesting topics complete with transcripts.


Above all you need to produce English, so practise speaking and writing at every opportunity. The more you interact with English mother tongue speakers, the more authentic your own English will become and that is the key to success at IELTS. Of course good exam strategies are essential, and next month we’ll be giving you some tips for the Listening Test. (to be continued

The British Council deals with everything concerning IELTS in Italy. If you want to have an idea of your current level of English, try their online level test  wwwbritishcouncil.org/it/italy-exams-test-livello-inglese-esame-cambridge-ielts-online.htm
You can take the IELTS exam throughout the year and you can enrol just two weeks before the actual test date. The results will be ready 13 days later.


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