It seems like every IELTS teacher and every IELTS course has a different tip or strategy to teach students. So, how do you know which ones work and which ones don’t? Simple. Think about it in a logical way. Instead of taking the students position, take the position of the IELTS exam. What is the purpose of the academic IELTS exam? Well of course, the goal is to test your ability to communicate using English in a UNIVERSITY SITUATION. Ah ha, so logically the next question is, “What is a typical university situation?” Now this is where the answer gets a little bit more complicated because different universities and subjects have different expectations. However, clearly there is a level of language such as vocabulary and grammar which is a minimum for understanding information in classes and textbooks as well as producing well articulated language to convey ideas clearly to others using written or spoken form. But, this is not all. Western universities do tend to have one other important common concept, the ability to think critically. This means that students need to be able to use systematic and rational thinking to comprehend, interpret and use new information effectively regardless of whether they are international or native English students. So then, the goal of the academic IELTS is to test a level of language and a type of thinking, critical thinking. And, very importantly, to do this testing in a valid and reliable way.
All standardized tests, exams which are used frequently to evaluate some skills of test-takers, as in the case of IELTS for university English communication, they must be valid and reliable; otherwise, they are a useless waste of time and money. In order for a test to be considered valid, it must measure what it is intended to measure. An example of this would be ‘distance’ which is correctly measured by meters, kilometers but not time. So, it is invalid to say, “I live five minutes from downtown” as this could vary by mode of transportation such as car, bike or walking. It is valid to say, “I live two and a half kilometers from downtown” since this measure will stay the same no matter the means of travel. Similarly, for IELTS, validity means that the questions accurately measure the true English ability of the test-taker. Therefore, any ‘tip, strategy or trick’ which does not use the true English ability of the test-taker or student will NOT work. A good example of this is skimming and scanning for the reading section of the IELTS. Matching words from question to a passage does not reflect the true reading comprehension ability of the student; therefore, this popular tip is NOT effective, at least not for students who need a score over six. The science of test engineering which ensures that this is true is called, psychometrics or quantifiable measurement of human thinking. Certain special questions like True/False/Not Given, are designed to eliminate this ‘strategy’ of skimming and scanning. After all, how can you scan for ‘Not Given’ information without reading the whole article? Another way test engineers block skimming is by paraphrasing between the passage and questions. You may see the word, “education” in the question but the passage uses “teaching”, so you will never find “education” and this will just lead to frustration after a while. So then, what strategies do work to get over six? Well, strategies which maximize the effectiveness of your TRUE English level.
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