Changes to the IELTS
Summary of IELTS Revisions
The most important addition to the IELTS group of assessments was the introduction of the Life Skills Test in 2015. The IELTS academic and general training tests were revised in 2001 and in 2005, but they have remained stable for the past several years. The governments of some countries have altered their visa policies with respect to the required IELTS scores, but test-takers should only concern themselves with the standards currently in place. The IELTS website is a good resource for information on the IELTS requirements of the countries that accept the test.
The IELTS Life Skills Test
The IELTS Life Skills Test is intended almost entirely for immigration purposes. Unlike the academic and general training exams, the IELTS Life Skills Test includes only two sections: speaking and listening. This test satisfies the language requirements for some types of immigration visas, specifically A1, A2, or B2 of the Common European Framework of References for Languages (CEFR). This test has a special format that includes two students and one examiner, and the main assessment criteria are conveying information, obtaining information, speaking to communicate, and engaging in discussion. On some exercises, the two test-takers speak to each other. The only two possible test results are "pass" and "below pass," the latter of which is equivalent to "fail." Test timing depends on the CEFR level sought, but the total ranges from 16 to 22 minutes.
2001 IELTS Speaking Paper Revisions
A new version of the IELTS speaking assessment was introduced in 2001, which was the culmination of an extensive review period that began in 1998. According to IELTS, the areas of focus for the new speaking test were the "developing of a clearer specification of tasks," "an examiner frame to standardize test management," and "revision of the rating scale." These led to revisions in the number of included speaking tasks (a reduction from five to three), use of examiner scripts to ensure consistency of speaking exercises, and the establishment of abstract scoring criteria, which are averaged to arrive at the band score for the speaking paper. Speaking test length (11-14 minutes) and test format (one-on-one conversations with the examiner) were left unchanged. Because the academic test and the general training test use the same speaking paper, these revisions apply to both versions of the test.
2005 IELTS Academic Writing Assessment Changes
The IELTS academic writing tasks were formerly evaluated according to three criteria: grammatical range and accuracy, task achievement, and lexical resource. In 2005, a fourth criterion, coherence and cohesion, was added, and test-takers are now assessed in these four areas. Research on the IELTS has shown that examiners find coherence and cohesion more difficult to quantify than the other criteria, but examiner scores in this area have shown some degree of consistency.
Effects of IELTS Revisions on Scores
The changes to the criteria for IELTS academic writing do not seem to have significantly affected test-taker performance. In 2007, the mean academic writing score was 5.56 for females and 5.38 for males. The 2015 average academic writing scores were essentially the same at 5.6 (females) and 5.4 (males). Between 2007 and 2015, average IELTS academic and general training speaking scores have increased for some categories of test-takers, but decreased or stayed the same for others. General training speaking scores for both males and females have improved from about 6.0 in 2007 to approximately 6.3 in 2015. Academic speaking scores for females were unchanged at 5.9 in both years, but scores for male test-takers increased slightly (from 5.7 in 2007 to 5.8 in 2015). Mean IELTS scoring appears to have remained consistent and largely unaffected by the introduction of new approaches to test content and test-taker evaluation.
Changes to the IELTS Test Report Form
In May of 2014, IELTS introduced a few changes to the Test Report Form. The validation stamp was updated, and the "University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations" logo was changed to a new design that reads "Cambridge English Language Assessment." Additionally, examiner identification numbers are no longer included on Test Report Forms.