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The IELTS Exam – Gaining in Popularity

In this globalizing world, foreign language competency is emerging as an essential skill alongside numeracy and literacy in your native language. Currently the language of choice is English, although other languages are likely to become equally important, if not on a global basis – at least on a regional basis. If you are a non-native English speaker you may need to “prove” your level of English competency to get that job you want, gain entry to your university of choice, or to be allowed to immigrate to a new land. So, how should you go about proving your English level? Answer, the IELTS test.

Many methods are being used to establish an individual’s level of English including interviews, written exams, and computer based exams. The TOEFL is probably the most widely known English test and it is available as both a written or computer based test. It is definitely the exam of choice of most North American organizations. The IELTS exam, or International English Testing System, is more popular in Europe and Oceania, with over Over 1.4 million candidates taking the exam every year. The popularity of this exam is now spreading to Canada and the USA, where over 2,000 educational institutions now accept the exam.

But why is the IELTS exam gaining in popularity amongst educational institutions and why it is a good choice for a language learner. Well, the main reason is the focus of the exam – on communication. Whereas exams like the TOEFL have a focus on multi-choice selection of correct grammatical elements or correct choices of vocabulary; the focus on the IELTS is a more natural communicative approach. In the speaking section candidates engage in a 10-14 minute interview with a real live examiner, communication, not just selection of A,B,C, or D! In the General Writing Test, candidates write a letter for a specified communicative purpose – a task that a person is really likely to encounter.

It seems that if the purpose of an English test is to assess a person’s ability to communicate in English, whether it is verbally or in written form, the IELTS test provides a much better reflection of this. If you are an English learner and you are investing your time to learn the language, then surely it makes sense to take an exam that more accurately reflects your level of achievement and also that motivates you to learn the language in a meaningful way that results in communicative ability. Preparing for exams like the TOEFL, motivate you to spend endless hours trying to learn lists of vocabulary and grammatical points, which don’t necessarily lead to significant benefits in being able to hold down a conversation or write a college essay.