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IELTS: Practice is the key to success
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September 04, 2008

Practice is the key to good band-scores and Indian students should make frequent use of the English language to improve their communication skills, says British Council's IELTS head in India, Kevin McLaven, in an interview with RMS Atwal of BetterThink, a division of

McLaven is the First Secretary (Education Services), British Council Division, British High Commission, New Delhi [Images]. Excerpts from the interview:

Do you think the present system of testing English language skills is effective enough in view of the changing education scenario, with the coming in of the Internet?

The standards, marking and monitoring of IELTS have been formalised after extensive worldwide research. Research is continuous and ongoing and the partners invest heavily in ensuring that the test standards are effective in measuring the true-to-life English language proficiency of the candidate and suit the needs of receiving institutions.

The face-to-face speaking test, which sets IELTS apart from competitor tests, is widely recognised as the most effective indicator of an individual's oral communication ability.

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As the fastest growing test of English language competency in the world and with over a million people taking the test every year, the position of IELTS as market leader is testimony to its continued relevance. Today, more than 6,000 education institutions, faculties, government agencies and professional organisations around the world recognize IELTS scores as a trusted and valid indicator of ability to communicate in English.

Recognitions from the US institutions has mushroomed in recent years and today IELTS is recognised by over 1,700 US universities and professional bodies including all Ivy League institutions.

Candidates can take either the pen-and-paper or the computer-based version of the test depending on the version they are most comfortable with.

Are there plans to phase out the pen and paper methodology?

We plan to continue with the pen and paper version of the test for the foreseeable future.
There is a common misconception among test aspirants in India that the British Council exam is tougher as compared to that of IDP Australia [Images]. What do you have to say?

Globally there is just one IELTS test and there is no such thing as a "British Council IELTS" or "IDP IELTS". On a given test date, candidates write answers to the exact same question paper irrespective of whether the test is administered by British Council or IDP. The question paper is the same for all cities not only across India but across several other Asian countries. British Council and IDP are two of the three partners whose responsibility it is to manage or administer the test. The third partner is University of Cambridge. The administration, marking and examiner monitoring policies are the same globally.

Students are also of the belief that the British Council marking is strict.

The marking policy is the same globally and independent of whether the test is administered by British Council or IDP.  Monitoring of the results of Indian candidates by Cambridge ESOL has demonstrated that there is no statistically significant difference in the band scores of candidates taking the test with British Council and IDP.

Out of the four IELTS modules, the Indian students find Reading the toughest. How should they tackle it?

All the modules are set at a same level of difficulty. If a candidate finds a particular module or section difficult then one needs more practice in that section. The free preparatory material provided by British Council on registration should help in this regard.

What about the introduction of point five bands in Writing and Speaking modules? Students have a strong feeling that since the time this system has been introduced, not many students are able to meet the requirement of getting seven bands in each module.

The half band scoring in Writing and Speaking was introduced following feedback from receiving institutions that they would like a more accurate measure of a candidate's abilities in these areas. Analysis of candidates' results has shown that there has been no statistically significant change in candidates' scores after the introduction of the half bands in Writing and Speaking.
Sometimes a student has to appear many times to meet his requirement in each module, why not consider his previous result while preparing his new one?

Although currently, there is no facility for candidates to take modules independently of one another, it is up to the receiving institutions as to how they use the results. 
Is it possible to issue more than one TRF to students as sometimes they have to apply to more than one university?

British Council sends up to five Test Report Form (TRFs) free of cost to receiving institutions. A nominal charge is levied if candidates want to send the TRF to more than five universities or if they inform us of the names of the institutions after the test date.

How can Indian students improve their English language and communication skills?

Practice and frequent use of the language will help candidates in this regard. Taking classes (not just IELTS preparation but courses to improve their overall communication skills) at a reputable training institute will also be beneficial.

Do you have any message for Indian test aspirants?

Practice for the test but also aim to develop those skills where you are less strong. Think of your preparation not just as a means of getting the desired band score but as a life long investment to enable you to become a more effective communicator in English.

Top Careers & You has been preparing national and international candidates for high-end tests viz IELTS, CAT, XAT, JMET, SNAP, CET, FMS, IIFT and GMAT since 1998. Visit for FREE access to thousands for these tests.

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