At Highway IELTS, people often ask us why students need IELTS. It seems unnecessary, so the argument goes, to make young people who have just graduated from high school sit yet another exam. This is all the more pointless for those whose high school education was English-medium. In this post we will clear up some misconceptions and describe the value of IELTS for institutions and the students who seek to enter them.
Which Universities Accept IELTS?
In today’s world, the English language is the sine qua non of higher education and commerce. Institutions of higher learning all around the world accept IELTS scores as evidence of English language ability. We discussed the full extent of this global reach here. Anecdotally, there is a common misconception that IELTS is not relevant for students seeking to study in the United States, but this is in fact the opposite of the truth.
Universities the world over are experiencing continually increasing demand. In addition, the amount of international travel for study purposes is growing rapidly. While these conditions provide huge opportunities for universities and the countries that host them, they also create the need to vet applicants more and more stringently. Universities in some countries seem to have made it rather too easy. English language proficiency is one of the criteria that these institutions use in order to regulate admissions, because a student who can communicate in English is more likely to succeed in a globalizing world of work.
“It’s Just an English Test”
Another common misapprehension that people have is that they don’t need to prepare or research before taking the IELTS exam. We’ve discussed the financial dimensions of this question here, and the other risks here. This attitude is generally even more common among recent high school graduates, especially if their language of instruction is English. They can be forgiven for thinking this, but unfortunately, it can result in test-day catastrophes.
In an important sense, it is true that IELTS is just an English test. It does not measure your knowledge in any particular field and it is value-neutral. However, IELTS Academic in particular is a demanding test. If this weren’t the case, institutions wouldn’t use it as a vetting mechanism. All four components (Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing) presume a high degree of mastery of the English language. The test is also sensitive to your ability to read and follow instructions in minute detail, and the writing test frustrates people who don’t prepare adequately. You can get an idea of how people from your country of origin perform here.
But English is my First Language!
As we discussed here, having an advanced education does not, in itself, guarantee that you will excel at IELTS. Neither does having English as your first language, although this obviously helps, particularly in the speaking and listening test. Think about it: if IELTS simply gauged who was and was not a first language speaker of English, it would be nothing but an expensive waste of time, and an unfair one at that. In truth, IELTS, particular the academic test, measures your ability to use English at a very high level, both in speech and on paper. It’s essential that you prepare in advance so that you don’t join the large cohort of people who fall short of their IELTS goals.
So Where Should Students Start?
If you are planning to travel abroad to study, and IELTS is required by the institution you wish to enter, plan accordingly. Even if IELTS isn’t a requirement, a solid IELTS certificate will open doors that you might not have anticipated. This is particularly true in the context of increasing competition for limited seats.
An IELTS certificate is valid for two years. This means that you should only take IELTS if you plan to make an application within the next two years. IELTS test centers are not hard to come by, but a booking might be. This is because millions of people take IELTS every year to advance their careers. If you live within range of a center that offers the computer-based version of the exam, you will have a shorter waiting time.
Finally, IELTS costs a fair amount of money. This is because, unlike some of its competitors, it is human-based. A real human examiner assesses your efforts on all four of the sub-tests, which ensures that IELTS remains focused on measuring natural, communicative ability, rather than an artificial construct. In light of this, you need to prepare thoroughly before you attempt the test. Falling short in just one of the four tests will mean having to book the entire exam again. To avoid this, plan ahead, be diligent and put your best foot forward, so that you can move on with your big plans for the future.