Wonderful new article (free to read) in “Educational Research and Evaluation” this week by Rachael Ruegg.  It examines the IELTS test and the in-house language test of a certain New Zealand university, and explores how well scores from those tests can predict academic success at the undergraduate level.  The article suggests that the predictive ability of reading, listening and speaking scores from both tests are equal.  But writing scores? Well, the author notes:  “IELTS writing scores demonstrated a non-significant negative effect on academic achievement, while EPT writing scores were strongly significantly predictive of academic achievement.”

Check out the article for a detailed comparison of the writing tasks on the IELTS and those on the in-house test.  The author suggests that the in-house test requires writing that is more challenging and requires more critical thinking.  They note:

“In the EPT writing test, both tasks require longer and more complex writing than the IELTS versions. This may contribute to their performance in university study, which usually involves producing written assignments that are significantly longer than the IELTS minimum length of 250 words (for the essay task) or 150 words (for the data writing task). Rather than specifying a word limit, students who sit the EPT writing tests are encouraged to write as much as they can within a 45-minute time frame for each essay, but with an emphasis on quality over quantity.”

The author suggests that the IELTS could be improved by increasing the length of its writing section:

“Suggested changes to the IELTS academic writing test include extending the time allowed and required length of both writing tasks, requiring greater complexity in written texts and demonstration of critical thinking skills in English, all of which are likely to provide more robust evidence of sufficient language proficiency for university study.”

That’s quite a suggestion in a world where English proficiency tests seem to be going in the opposite direction – embracing shorter and shorter writing tasks.

I’m reminded of how many international students at Columbia University are required to take a two-hour writing test before their studies begin (on top of the university’s TOEFL/IELTS/DET requirement). Someone ought to study the usefulness of that test.

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