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Evaluation Of Ielts Writing In Language Testing

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3439 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) has started its testing assessment business in 1989, and rapidly grown and be accepted by more and more people around the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. According to Terry (2003) “IELTS candidature had reached 212,000, and it is now expected to continue to grow up to a considerable rate.” In other words, the IELTS test is a well-known standardized and popular English-language testing assessment which provides certain levels-certificated admissions for working, living, studying in the specified countries. Terry (2003) points out that the candidates have various purposes for taking the IELTS test because that they need to reach different required language levels in order to achieve the requirements on the areas of educational, immigration and professional. The IETLS test combines all four language skills (Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing) and examines candidates’ abilities on linguistic and strategic competence, also in the listening and speaking test which have the same modules both for Academic and General Training, but in the writing and reading tests are separated according to different text types and level of complexity which as Terry (2003) states.

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In this paper, I am going to narrow down the IELTS test into analyzing the IELTS writing test. From the IELTS website (2009) and Uysal (2009) identifies that in the IELTS writing section, “It is divided into two tasks. Task 1 scripts in both general and academic writing, grading instruction focuses on task achievement, coherence, cohesion, lexical resource, and grammatical range and accuracy criteria. Task 2 focuses on task response (making arguments), lexical resource and grammatical range and accuracy criteria. The four criteria are equally weighted.”(see Appendix A) Moreover, in the beginning of the instruction of the IELTS writing test, it also shows the timing limitation on each task (see Appendix A), in this way, test takers could have a clear view about the time control. The purpose of this essay is to focus on the IELTS writing section, and discuss the format of the IELTS writing test which should be maintained or changed slightly in order to fulfill the validity and reliability all of these ideas into three sections. First, I will explore the factors which affect the IELTS writing and how the washback effect influences the language teaching and learning in IELTS writing test. Second, I will introduce that if it is appropriate to teach IELTS writing skills in class. Last, I will discuss some effective implications which could train the writing skills that may cover the IELTS writing test.

Factors Affect the IELTS Writing Test

In order to reach anticipations in scores of one of the large-scope international language tests, IELTS, most of the teachers may try to follow what the IELTS test examines, then they copy the certain format and teach students language skills in purpose, in this way, students could have sufficient skills in taking exams as well as deal with the test topics. Especially, in the IELTS writing test, because the IELTS writing test are divided into two tasks, different tasks have different patterns which could still be predicted by teachers. Therefore, the validity should be discussed detailed. The idea of preparing only for the tests that changes the validity and reliability of the IELTS writing test, and it misleads the motivations of learning languages which is like a shortcut on the learning process. In my following essay, I will introduce washback effect, validity and reliability of the IELTS writing test.

The Definition and Impact of Washback

As Green (2007) notes that washback (or backwash) is be broadly defined as the impact of a test on teaching as well as on learning which also brings with positive and negative effects but it depends on how far it encourages or discourages teaching and learning on tests. According to Green “washback is not limited to preparation for taking a test, but may include the effects on an individual of actually sitting the test, of feedback received and of decisions taken on the basis of test scores” (2007). I divide the scholars’ opinions in the following paper into three parts, positive, neutral and negative washback effect.

Positive Washback Effect

Scholars have different opinions about “washback” effect, some of them toward positive and others hold negative responses that washback may bring in. Cheng (2004) suggests that IELTS is providing positive washback because that some textbooks clearly concentrate on practice certain language skills and sub-skills which are required by IETLS, those materials could offer information about the test, and enhance the ability of taking tests. Therefore, Cheng (2004) believes that washback could bring positive effects on teaching and learning. If in class, teachers could provide some standard writing modules as same as the IELTS Academic Writing Module (AWM) which are required in colleges, it may reflect positive washback that as Green (2007) states. Even though many people concern that washback guides the teaching contents, it could be a direct link between teachers and students. Green (2007) illustrates that tests tend to have more positive influence on teaching and learning when conform to validity; However, washback is not a symbol of test validity; but on the other hand, a valid test could generate positive washback. Therefore, a valid test could control the feedback from washback. On an objective side, Green (2007) suggests again that test preparation practices focus on the test modes and contents which could improve the students’ expected scores in a short time efficiently.

Neutral Washback Effect

In addition, some of the scholars are still in the neutral position and evaluating the effect which washback brings in the tests. As Shohamy (2001) summarized that washback (or backwash) is a phenomenon that in normal teaching and learning situations, teachers and learners may not use washback particularly only if under the circumstances of preparing for certain tests. What’s more, Green (2007) notes that test takers are more likely to predict test anticipate due to the effect of washback. In brief, there are some scholars who associate washback with test exercises practicing rather than pay attention on the social impact of test use and continuous educational effects on each student. Teachers should choose the timing to use washback effect by them, when they consider writing exercises could help students complete writing tasks on tests, but it might not be an encouragement to the teachers use washback effect on all the teaching contents.

Negative Washback Effect

Washback becomes a mainstream in language teaching, and teachers in order to help students reach higher scores; they often adopt test contexts to teach students. It may result incorrect learning habits for students. Students learn language because of only for the tests. The negative effect clearly appears in IELTS writing test, students memorize certain writing formats and phrases; therefore, the IELTS writing test for test takers is likely to fill words in the blankets. The washback effect could have a harmful result on teaching, since it exists to affect the teaching style of teachers, and leads to abnormal learning habits for students which Barker (1989) clearly states. Moreover, Barker (1989) points out that the washback effect seems to encourage teachers to spend more time on preparing for the exercises of the tests. Hence, negative washback could damage the validity of the IELTS writing test.

Validity of the IELTS Writing Test

The definition of validity is the degree of a test which is intended to be measured, or for the purposes which are used successfully. Baker indicates that “The validity of a test is the extent to which confident decisions can be made on the basis of its results” (1989:12). For the IELTS writing test; there are two elements that are hardly to be measured. First, the cultural diverse could affect the validity of IELTS writing test. The main target for the IELTS test is to measure whether the candidates are qualified enough or reach certain levels to move on their next steps of lives. Candidates have different purposes to take the tests but still use the same tasks of the IELTS writing section. Therefore, one of the important concepts of the large-scope international language test is to using languages without too much obstacles, so the social interaction is equally vital. However, it is difficult to find out test texts to measure the part of cultural knowledge. McNamara and Roever discover that “The social nature of interaction is difficult to capture in a testing setting, and what can most reliably and practically be captured are isolated pieces of a much larger mosaic” (2006:78). The IELTS test indeed tries to avoid some sensitive topics; test contexts that make the test takers around the world feel comfortable when preceding the exams. According to Taylor, “IELTS corpus database should be used to find common features of argumentative writing that are used by all international test takers to describe the international argumentative writing construct” (2004). Uysal (2009) finds out that since the culturally diverse backgrounds of IELTS test takers, IELTS states that they are aware of the sensitive topics or contexts of language uses in order not to isolate particular group of test takers. However, many scholars discover that the topic controlling and selection is not an easy job, so determining a common knowledge topic which can be used all over the world is challenging.

IELTS writing test sets up standards and measures certain language skills while the candidates are taking the test. Because IELTS test takers are around the world, it could be a crucial issue that IELTS should consider cultural differences while in rater training and grading as mentioned by Uysal (2009). Uysal (2009) indicates again that IELTS Task 1 pay more emphasis on the target language use (TLU) content. On the other hand, IELTS Task 2 requires students to express their own personal opinions to a proposition. However, the IELTS writing tasks may not exactly match the academic genres which the university writing domain of TLU was based on. Especially the IELTS Task 2 is an opposite source information and based on prior knowledge.

Reliability of the IELTS Writing Test

Barker (1989) refers to that test takers spend a great amount of money for taking IELTS tests to fulfill the expected band scores, in contrast, the IELTS organization also depends on the fee-paying candidates to maintain the running of IELTS tests and cover all the costs to administrate the exam. Hence, there is no denying that all the candidates need is to receive reasonable and reliable scores which could reflect their language levels accurately. However, many scholars argue that the IELTS should take great responsibilities on monitoring the test assessment, and ensure the reliability of scoring on tests. Therefore, Hamp-Lyons (1990) highlights that single marking is not accurate to be accepted in a large-scope international language writing test, so it should be graded by multiple judgments in order to lead to a final grade which may have higher reliability to a true score than the original ones. The similar idea which are provided by Uysal “Although IELTS addresses that the IELTS writing score grading puts great effort on raters’ training but it is still hard to avoid the problem in grading writing tasks. The problem is that raters could not identify specific grammatical features to distinguish different performance levels of language use. Raters tend to scoring texts as a whole rather than individuals components” (2009).

Even though as Uysal (2009) suggests that the IELTS writing test should pay more attention to do deeper research in order to maintain and improve the validity of the test, Hall (2009) has different opinions about rating policy of the IELTS. Hall (2009) summarizes that the IELTS writing test contains high complexity, so IELTS ensure every two year the examiners will undergo the process of re-training and re-certification. Moreover, IELTS Writing assessment achieves the process of that selected centers around the world have to provide samples of examiner’s scored scripts that will be second-marked by the Senior-Examiners of IELTS. The team of Senior Examiners is responsible for the rating quality also return feedback to each center. Under the control of Senior Examiners, the sample rating data of writing modules reach to an average of 0.91. In other words, Hall (2009) has positive attitudes toward the supervising of IELTS and believes that IELTS has given monitoring to the writing rating system and kept improving the quality of IELTS writing modules.

Could IELTS Writing Skills be Taught in Class?

There is no test that is perfect, so teachers and learners should keep holding a questionable attitude toward the degree of reliability and validity of IELTS. IELTS writing test has been taken by over 212,000 people around the world (Terry 2003). However, there exist arguments about whether teachers should teach students the IELTS writing modules for passing the test easily or teach what the students normally have to learn. Dooey (1999) has a negative opinion on which IELTS could not be taken as an overall successful academic language test. Nevertheless, Uysal (2009) claims that it’s very complex to learn and assess writing skills, and it plays an important role at university level of academic areas. The writing skills should be learned step by step. Furthermore, Uysal (2009) mentions that the IELTS test stands for a guidance table for test takers to make academic or training choices for variety programs. IELTS encourages test takers to make uses of the band scores which depend on their personal experiences and local needs. Afterwards, test takers may always trace high scores rather than lose the true meaning of learning. Shohamy (2001) says that most of the teachers admit that the test indeed control their focus on the “tested” topic in order to maximum the students’ scores. Especially the large-scope IELTS test, when teachers pay too much attention on the test preparation, the validity of IELTS test may not be strong enough.

There are two tasks in the IELTS writing test, test takers should concern their own needs to reach band scores, but many of them may worry about the validity of the IETLS writing test and the reliability of the writing scores. The first task concentrates on the diagram analysis, but it may refer to some certain academic skills in order to solve the question. The second task focuses on argument debates and expresses personal view points. However, some scholars may think it is not necessarily important required at university studies. Therefore, the test could hardly examine the real language ability because students have already been taught how to take exams. Like Barker (1989) notes that in order to pass the exam, test takers may check carefully to the relevant examination contexts which also affect the ways of testing validity. According to Shohamy “A test can influence teaching and learning: what teachers teach, how teachers teach, what learners learn, how learners learn, the rate and sequence of learning, and attitude to the content and methods of teaching and learning” (2001:48).

Implications for Learning and Teaching IETLS Writing

The main purpose for IELTS writing test is to examine students’ language writing ability more precisely. In order to solve the difficulties during the teaching and learning process, teachers may also want their students to performance well on the tests. However, some scholars still disapprove that IELTS writing test misleads the direction of learning. McNamara and Roever (2006) states that there is no denying that design examinations for specific populations of language learners, but maybe it is not necessary to make testing of pragmatics become a part of mainstream of language testing. Terry (2003) and Green (2007) also note that if students only take passing the IELTS test as the priority goal to study English; it will be a pity that students may be limited not to receive general benefits from language learning. If test takers always follow the certain samples which the large-scope tests provide, it may mistaken the directions that candidates should prepare for the tests.

On the contrary, other scholars agree that teachers should mix IELTS writing exercise practice in parts of teaching. Mehrens (1989) clarifies that if teachers always teach students what exams need, they may spend more time on teaching test-taking skills. These skills may help students perform well on the exams if they work hard enough on the skills. However, taking a test should be practiced many times in order to familiar with the certain format; otherwise even knowledgeable students may answer unexpectedly during the tests. After all, students should take responsibility on their own learning rather than always expect acquire knowledge from teachers. As Gibson and Rusek (1992) suggest that although there are no studies could strongly prove that passing exams are equal to have English proficiency, language learners still should predict academic success through language skills. For example, in Taiwanese universities, teachers put much emphasis on teaching language skills and sub-skills also give students suggestions in learning languages, so teachers develop students’ writing ability step by step but not only teach students how to trace high scores in tests.


IELTS writing test is separated into two tasks that could measure the different ability from test takers. In order to achieve the more fair test validity, reliability and the unity grading quality on IELTS writing test, IELTS has tried to improve little by littel. Moreover, washback is an important effect that affects teaching and learning. Although scholars hold different opinions about the effect, the value of washback effect depends on whether the test is valid or not. Like As Shohamy (2001) mentions that under the pressures of examinations, students are motivated by the tests. Therefore, teaching for preparing tests should not always be taken as a negative thing, but pay too much attention on teaching tests, students may not produce compositions of individual ideas as Green (2007) points out. It could be a proper way to develop language writing skills and acquire as much as knowledge by students themselves.

Appendix A

The Academic Writing test is 60 minutes long. It has two writing tasks of 150 words and 250 words. Below are samples of Task 1 and Task 2. (Note that candidates for the Academic module do a different Writing test to the General Training module.)

Writing Task 1

You should spend about 20 minutes on this task

The graph below shows the different modes of transport used to travel to and from work in one European city in 1960, 1980 and 2000.

Summarize the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant.

Write at least 150 words.

Writing Task 2

You should spend about 40 minutes on this task.

Write about the following topic:

It is inevitable that as technology develops so traditional cultures must be lost. Technology and tradition are incompatible – you cannot have both together.

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

Write at least 250 words.

Appendix B

Using IELTS Test Scores

Available from: http://www.ielts.org/pdf/IELTS%20Guide%20for%20Stakeholders%20March%202009.pdf [Accessed 4 February 2010]

IELTS provides a profile of a candidate’s ability to use English.

Results are reported as band scores, on a scale from 1 (the lowest) to 9 (the highest), as shown.

Available from: http://www.ielts.org/pdf/IELTS%20Guide%20for%20Stakeholders%20March%202009.pdf [Accessed 4 February 2010]


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