Scoring System for the IELTS
The IELTS reading and listening papers are entirely built on multiple choice, matching, and other exercise types for which there is no room for grader interpretation. All answers to these questions are either correct or incorrect, and assessment can therefore be undertaken with complete objectivity. As noted elsewhere, there is some slight variation across IELTS administrations in the connection between the percentage of correct answers and converted band scores, but this has no effect on the answers themselves. IELTS states that all reading and listening questions are awarded "one mark" each, which indicates that they all have the same value. Because the conversion formula is a secret, however, it is difficult for the general public to know if the score adjustments are applied at the question level or to the section as a whole.
IELTS writing paper tasks for the academic and general training tests are scored in four content areas: task response or achievement, coherence and cohesion, lexical resource, and grammatical range and accuracy. The IELTS grading rubric includes detailed descriptions of each band score in all four areas for all included writing tasks. Although a full summary of these descriptions is impractical here, some specific examples will help test-takers understand how IELTS graders assess their work. A task achievement band score of 7 on writing task 1, for instance, "covers the requirements of the task" and "clearly presents key features/bullet points but could be more fully extended." A task 1 band score of 8 in the area of coherence and cohesion "sequences information and ideas logically." A perfect score of 9 for lexical resource on writing task 2 "uses a wide range of vocabulary with very natural and sophisticated control of lexical features." Conversely, students who receive a band score of 5 on task 2's grammatical range and accuracy use "only a limited range of structures" and "may make frequent grammatical errors." Descriptions of scoring criteria are very similar for both tests and writing tasks. Only the task achievement area for writing task 1 includes some differences in the guidelines for the academic and general training tests.
The structure of the grading rubric for the IELTS speaking paper is similar, with band score descriptors for four areas of assessment: fluency and coherence, lexical resource, grammatical range and accuracy, and pronunciation. For a score of 9 in fluency and coherence, students must speak "fluently with only rare repetition and self-correction" and "develop topics fully and appropriately." If a test-taker "uses vocabulary with full flexibility and precision in all topics" and "uses idiomatic language naturally and accurately," he or she will earn a score of 9 in the area of lexical resource. Perfect grammatical range and accuracy is described as "natural," "appropriate," and "characteristic of native speaker speech," while perfect-scoring pronunciation is "effortless to understand." This grading rubric applies to all three tasks on the IELTS speaking paper (there are no separate criteria for the individual parts).
About 80% of IELTS test-takers opt for the academic test, while the remaining 20% take the general training test. The mean total score for all IETLS test-takers is approximately 6. Average performance on the general training test is somewhat higher (6.2) than the academic test (5.9). With respect to language of origin, high average academic test scores are achieved by native speakers of European languages such as German (7.4), Polish (7.0), Greek (6.8), and French (6.7). Native speakers of non-European languages such as Arabic (mean of 5.3), Chinese (5.8), Japanese (5.8), and Thai (5.9) often have more difficulty with the IELTS academic test.
IELTS papers are created by professional language specialists from the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, United States, and Canada. IELTS test developers consider a full range of relevant factors while devising new exercises for all four papers of the exam. They strive to present test-takers with questions at several levels of difficulty and exercises that are intended to assess several different language skills. Also included are a variety of different cultural perspectives on all sections and a number of distinct accents on speaking paper tasks. Balance with respect to task types, topics, and genres is another important goal for test writers. Before they appear on IELTS exams, new exercises are tested on groups of students from around the world, and revised as necessary. According to IELTS, the objective is to "develop IELTS content so it reflects real-life situations around the world and is unbiased and fair to all test takers, whatever their background."