IELTS: A bridge too far?




I confess.

Today, I have decided to flog a dead horse and tell you what IELTS is. I can almost hear you exclaiming, "For goodness sake, Samit! Hasn't it been written about umpteen times and then some more?" Umm, I'm afraid so, dear reader. But you must admit that it is a rather clever ploy to write a blog when, even after much head-scratching, one is simply not able to come up with a provocative topic. The first week of a New Year is never conducive to profound thinking, you know.

However, I have made it as compact as I could, and liberally sprinkled this piece with interesting bits of statistics. Further, there is a section on how the IELTS exam preparation can help you, even if you do not harbour the slightest wish to wing your way to foreign shores.

Yes, most definitely IELTS is bridge worth crossing. Because it leads you on to uncharted territories and launches an exciting saga of discovery and exploration, both of the self and of a new life in another country.

So, with your permission, I begin. . .

A Brief Background


IELTS - short for the International English Language Testing System - is one of the several English Proficiency Tests that is conducted to evaluate the English-speaking ability of those who aspire to either study abroad or to migrate to foreign shores. Specifically to countries that are English speaking: the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. And now, increasingly, in the USA, a country that for long had considered TOEFL as the only fit English Language Proficiency test.


Why Take IELTS ?

That's because you wish to go on a foreign jaunt, with the fervent hope that it will turn into a permanent stay. 3.5 million people took the IELTS test in 2019. The number has been growing for more than 18 years in a row, and there is no reason to believe that it is going to go down in the near future. So, you are not going to be the only passenger in the bus.

Every year, thousands of students and working professionals take this test . Many of them try several times in the course of a year, just to realize their dreams of a better life in a country far, far away across the seven seas. A land of plenty, a society that offers boundless opportunity and consequent prosperity for those willing to take the initiative, and where impossibility is just a word.

But all talks of shortlisting of universities, applying for foreign jobs, or exciting plans to migrate and start a new chapter come to a nought if, unfortunately, you have not been able to clear the IELTS test. In other words, you have not managed to secure your desired/required score. One of my students- a General Training candidate - took the test 8 times straight. Luckily, he proved to be 9th-time lucky. The dear boy was shocked that he actually cleared. He was most disinterested to see the result that morning.

The Reach

According to the official website, www.ielts.org, an IELTS test score is recognized by more than 11,000 "employers, universities, schools, and immigration bodies in the countries mentioned above. Significantly, this includes "3400 institutions in the USA."

The organizations accept a non-native candidate's IELTS score as "a reliable indication of [her] English language competencies. How much is actually required varies with countries, education as well as professional institutions, and individual companies/recruiters.


IELTS: A Snapshot

  • Test can be taken in two ways. It can either be pen-paper based or computer-based. Nothing really changes, except the mode of delivery. If you are not short of time, then, before coming to a definite decision, you should find out which one suits you more. Yes, for various reasons, the computer-based test is being promoted aggressively. But don't start thinking, like many of my students and prospects, that it is 'easier to crack'. Disabuse yourself of that notion right now.

  • Test dates are available throughout the year. 48 dates for the pen paper based version of the test. Computer-delivered IELTS boasts even more: nearly every day of the week and up to 3 sessions a day. Unless, of course, COVID-19 and its ilk, decide to play spoilsport. Somehow, Delta, Omicron, and some other kinds of WMD, don't take kindly to IELTS.

  • IELTS comes 2 flavours - Academic and General Training. The former is to be taken in order to pursue higher studies in a country where English is the first language. Also for professional registration purposes. The need for licensing kicks in here and requires you to take the Academic version of the test. General Training is what you should choose if, "you plan to study in secondary education (in an English-speaking high school), enrol in vocational training (to be a chef or an electrician, for example), move abroad for work or migrate to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK or the USA". (IELTS Academic or General Training – Which test do I take? | IDP IELTS)

  • Both the versions of IELTS test you on all the 4 aspects of the English language - Speaking, Listening, Reading, and Writing. Of these, the Speaking test is allotted a separate day, if you are taking the pen paper based IELTS. In such a scenario, the Speaking test is scheduled to be held either 5 days before or after the main (LRW) test date. IELTS on computer, on the other hand, is a one-day affair. Everything happens on a single day, and you are done with it.

  • For detailed information on the Test Format of IELTS, do consult Test format (ielts.org). All relevant information will be available here. From here you can navigate to IELTS – Achieve your work, study and migration goals | IDP IELTS, British Council | Take IELTS, Cambridge English

And finally,

  • Test result is declared 13 days after the main test. This is, in case you have taken the pen-paper based version of IELTS. Results of computer-delivered variant are declared much quicker: it is supposed to be within a week. But don't be surprised if you receive it within 72 hours. Whether you are elated at -or dreading - the prospect, will depend on whether you aced the test, or messed it up. :)

A Hidden Significance

Something usually ignored by the general public. Or, it could be that you haven't given much thought to this particular aspect of IELTS. You see, simply preparing for the test is an effective way to develop one’s own English proficiency for purposes other than going to study/settle abroad.

True, the majority of my students learn IELTS to take the test. Happily, the number of those who pursue it to simply develop their overall English skills is on the rise. And hopefully, this trend will continue. True, most of us are somewhat familiar with English and can understand what is being said. However, we suffer from ‘hesitation’, especially when faced with people who converse in that language quite fluently.

Learning ‘Spoken English’, as it has been often described, is woefully inadequate. . Surprisingly, correcting obvious deficiencies - 'grammatical errors' and 'incorrect pronunciation' - is not the way forward. And quite expectedly, at the end of a couple of months, the solution remains elusive. The result? A deep-seated lack of confidence. In the long term, this can become a debilitating handicap, preventing an individual from achieving her fullest potential.

Learning IELTS - practicing all 4 aspects of a language - leads to a person’s holistic development. If you listen well, it positively contributes to your speaking skill and vice versa. When we attempt to master the Reading module, new sentence structures and words/phrases become familiar and eventually become a part of our everyday vocabulary. Finally, when you write well - always relevant and comprehensive, avoiding repetitions, and aiming for precision and clarity - your study projects, office reports, and presentations are bound to stand out from the crowd. Confidence develops. Personality flowers. You come into your own.

And then, who knows what wonderful things may happen?