Education is one of the industries for which countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada offer visas. Teachers with adequate experience will find a range of prospective employers in their target countries. Teachers with additional or specialized experience, especially in remedial or therapeutic domains, will have even more options.
However, most of these countries require high IELTS scores from teachers, usually on the Academic test. This is understandable; teaching is a popular occupation, particular in service-oriented economies. It’s also important for teachers to be able to use language with a high level of proficiency. In this post we will discuss the challenges that teachers face in clearing IELTS.
Isn’t it Just an English Test?
We’ve discussed this misconception here and here, but it bears repeating. Unfortunately, many people only find out too late (on their IELTS exam day) that they should have prepared in advance. In one important sense, it’s true that IELTS is just an English test. It will test only your ability to use the English language in a communicative way. It will not test your world knowledge, your expertise in a particular field, or any other skill. However, it’s essential that you approach the test with understanding and awareness. This is especially true of the Academic test, which is the version of the test that most teachers will have to take. Remember to ask your migration agent about which IELTS test you will need, as well as the band score you will require. If you do not currently have an agent, contact us.
But I’m an English Teacher!
As we discussed here, people of every educational level and background find IELTS challenging. In our experience, when teachers have to re-take IELTS, it’s usually due to the writing test or the reading test. Understandably, this causes teachers some consternation, particularly those who teach English for a living. However, if you are a teacher and you fell short of the band score you were looking for, it’s important that you understand why. This will enable you to plan your next attempt and increase your chances of success. The good news is that the strict standardization of the IELTS exam rubrics is what makes it possible for you to improve your score. You need to get familiar with these rubrics so that you can adapt your performance accordingly. If you’re reading this, you’re already in the right place.
Highway IELTS is well-placed to help teachers, in part because some of our academic staff are teachers themselves. We understand the challenges, as well as the amazing opportunities, that IELTS offers teachers.
So Why did I Fail?
Before we explore this question, let’s clarify what we mean by “fail”. There is no pass/fail grade in IELTS. Everything depends on what band score you require. Your band score is a number out of 9, derived from your scores in each of the four sub-tests of IELTS: speaking, listening, reading and writing. So, if your agent or sponsor demands a band 7, then 7 is your benchmark. For teachers, the requirement is usually a combination of 7 and 8, and there are several reasons why people frequently fall short.
IELTS for Teachers: Writing Style
Firstly, IELTS will require you to write in a style and genre that might differ significantly from what you’re used to. The first task in the Academic test is a data analysis. You will see a set of data and you will have to write (or type) 150 words describing the information. You have to do this in a concise manner and you have to select data wisely. Common mistakes that teachers tend to make in this task include:
- Interpreting the data: you should only write about what you see. You are not asked to speculate about why or how this is the case
- Wordiness: you need to show that you have a broad vocabulary, but you should avoid being flowery
- Overly long sentences: sentences lose coherence when they get too long. Instead of a long list of conjunctions or commas, write shorter, more concise sentences that are easy to understand
Any one of these three errors can significantly reduce your band score. Frequently, we see teachers doing all three. This is probably because the style of communication that teachers use in their workplaces is more relational and personal. Medical and scientific professionals have the opposite problem when it comes to task 2, which we will discuss below.
IELTS for Teachers: Being Direct
The second task in the Academic writing test (as well as the General Training writing test) is an essay. Teachers generally feel more comfortable with this task, because it allows more space (250 words) and it’s a more familiar genre. The test will present you with an idea and ask you to take a position and justify it. Usually, you will be told that you can draw on your own experiences. So far, so good. However, there are some very common pitfalls here, too, and teachers often stumble into them. They include:
- Not taking a clear stand: you should avoid sitting on the fence, even if it’s a topic you don’t feel very strongly about. Present a point of view and justify it
- Wordiness: as we discussed above, being wordy for its own sake will diminish, rather than improve, the efficacy of your writing
- Unsubstantiated generalization: while you are never judged on the content of what you say (the IELTS exam is value-neutral), if you make overly broad generalizations, without motivating them, this will give the impression that you have a limited grasp of the language
You will find detailed discussions of these and other aspects of the IELTS writing test here, here and here. Another often-overlooked aspect of writing competency is punctuation, which we explored, on Viking longships, here. However, if you are consistently falling short of the score you need, consider the Highway IELTS Writing Development Course. This is a blended learning program that combines extensive preparation materials with over three decades of experience in IELTS writing.
IELTS for Teachers: the Reading Test
The IELTS Academic Reading test is a formidable challenge. It consists of three texts, each one around 700 words long. The texts are academic in nature and deal with a wide range of topics. One of them could be relevant to your own field of expertise, but there is no guarantee that this will be the case. There are 11 question types, each one requiring a different set of reading sub-skills. If you are a very proficient reader, the reading module in the Highway IELTS Workshop will give you an adequate grounding. If, however, you reading skills need work, then you may need to develop them.
Crucially, it is not plausible for most people to read each text, word for word, before attempting the questions. This is because you only have one hour in which to complete 40 questions. You need to approach this test with the right strategies to maximize your efficiency and accuracy, to avoid disappointment. In general, teachers will need an 8 on reading for a skilled visa, so getting a high band score on this leg of the IELTS exam is important for your overall IELTS profile.