I was doing some IELTS tutoring earlier this week and I figured it would be fun to write a “review” of one of the numbered IELTS practice test books.  This is, I guess, a review of “IELTS 17” but it could be used as a review of any of the books… they are all pretty much the same (but new editions more closely match the current style of the test).

Any review must begin by thanking Cambridge for cranking out one of these books every year. Thanks to these books, people preparing for the IELTS have a ton of material to work with. The books keep pace with changes to the test, even though those changes are pretty minor.  As of the writing of this review, there are 18 such books.

Each book contains:

  1. A short introduction that describes the format of the test and how it is scored.
  2. Four practice tests with audio provided via QR codes
  3. Transcripts of the audio portions.
  4. Answer keys.
  5. Sample answer sheets
  6. Sample essays

There is also a single use code that will grant you access to a “resource bank” online that mostly duplicates the stuff available via the QR codes.

Speaking of the QR codes, it pleases me greatly that Cambridge provides access to the necessary audio without a limited-use code. That means that library patrons and second-hand shoppers can use the books. That compares favorably to the most recent official TOEFL prep material. Those books are useless for library patrons as the audio files can only be downloaded four times.

My only quibble is that the books are pretty expensive considering their slim size.

A few notes for teachers and students:

  1. There are 18 editions of this book as of the writing of this review. Each edition has different tests.
  2. Editions 13 and above are generally considered to be the most accurate books, as they match slight changes to the end of the listening section.
  3. That said, editions 6-12 are pretty darn close to the real test.
  4. Editions 1-5 should be avoided as they are quite out of date.

The folks behind IELTS recently published a white paper encouraging institutions to think carefully about the language tests they accept. The paper seems, in part, like an effort to push back at the use of AI and automated scoring in language tests.

It says:

“In order to effectively address each element of the socio-cognitive framework and to ensure all aspects of a language skill are elicited, it is vital to move beyond simple multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank questions to incorporate more diverse tasks that activate the skills and abilities expected of students by higher education institutions.”

Regarding the use of AI and “algorithmic scoring” in language testing, the authors note:

“…unlike algorithmic scoring… the IELTS Speaking test cannot be ‘hacked’ using gaming techniques that can trick mechanical evaluators into mistakenly evaluating speech as high quality when it is not.”

It notes that algorithmic scoring “requires students to generate predictable patterns of speech in response to fixed tasks,” unlike the IELTS speaking section which “gives the student the best opportunity to be assessed on their communicative proficiency.”

Of writing assessment, the paper notes:

“Given the nature of writing and its importance to learning new knowledge and communicating ideas, there are few shortcuts that can provide the same level of evaluation as an expert trained in writing assessment.”

The paper includes a side-by-side comparison of the two IELTS writing tasks and five “algorithmic scoring” tasks. Weirdly, the authors couldn’t name the test containing those five tasks.

Also included is an infographic about claimed shortcomings of AI-generated reading tasks and a note about the challenge of assessing reading skills “in a truncated period of time.”

The paper has some stuff about listening, but I think you get the point. Beyond singing the praises of IELTS, it really seems like BC and IDP are pushing back at recent trends in the testing industry. And at their competitors.

The closing remarks (which are highly recommended reading) include this:

“While there may be assessments on the market that promise quicker results, more entertaining formats, or easier pathways, the question institutions and students alike must ask is: at what cost?”

There are also a few words about “inherent duty.”

I’m not informed enough to know if the above criticisms are valid, but it is good when testing companies justify their existence and their products. It is also good for tests to be quite different from each other. The last thing we need is a blob of samey tests used for all possible purposes.

Will this make a difference? Well, I haven’t seen any evidence that institutions actually read this sort of stuff. University leaders seem to pay scant attention to the details of the tests they accept – it’s hard enough to get them to adjust scores to match new concordance tables or to stop “accepting” tests that ceased to exist years ago. But things could change.

I read in a press release that ApplyBoard will partner with the British Council “to help bridge the gap between the testing and application phases of the international education experience.” It says that people taking the IELTS through the British Council “will receive personalised study-abroad matching through ApplyBoard.”

I don’t know exactly what that means, but it sounds fun. And is probably a great opportunity for ApplyBoard to further expand beyond its traditional niche of putting people in Canadian schools.

I like that the British Council is partnering with ApplyBoard, even though that firm is a direct competitor to their close pals at IDP Education.

I also appreciate that ApplyBoard is linking up with the IELTS, despite being owned, in part, by the folks behind the TOEFL.

Once, a very long time ago, I wrote a bunch of articles about the TOEFL for a partnership between Applyboard and that test. But the project was canceled and most of my articles are (presumably) still sitting in a virtual filing cabinet somewhere in southern Ontario. They were pretty good articles.

The paper-based IELTS has been suspended in Iran since August 1. Some test-takers have been told that the suspension is due to concerns about cheating at test centers. The computer based version (also delivered at test centers) is still available, and registrants for the paper version can switch for free.

People in Iran are frustrated, as testing has been a real challenge in their country for some time. As I wrote in March, seemingly hundreds of individuals who took the TOEFL iBT Test in Iran faced unexpected cancellations of their scores. Some received notice of the cancellations months after taking the test, and lost offers of admission to prestigious schools abroad.

It is worth digging into the documents (here and here) released by the Australian Department of Home Affairs re: the REOI for English language tests for visa applications. A few things stand out.

  1. While the process for selecting tests for Australian visas is well documented, the process for selecting tests for Canada’s SDS remains a mystery. Later today I’ll pay $5 and ask Canada to send me everything they’ve got.


  1. The Australian requirements seem to value customer experience and nudge testing firms towards being better versions of themselves. That’s nice. It also mandates that ample research into the validity of the tests be published. I counted 45 requirements stated by the department, most of which are really useful. I’m particularly impressed by the request (with some caveats) that concordance studies have more than 1000 participants. I’m also pleased that currently-accepted tests have to go through the same comprehensive procedure.


  1. Wholly at-home tests will not be considered. However, the government will “consider accepting an English language test that includes only one test component delivered remote-proctored online, noting this one component need not necessarily be conducted in a test centre.” That’s interesting. I am certain that all firms would love to give test-takers the option of doing R/L/W at a test center, while doing all of the speaking at home.


  1. One of the testing firms asked “Can an English language test that is currently undergoing revision and refresh, which is yet to be completed in the next 18 months, be submitted under this REOI process.” That may have been asked by ETS in light of changes to the TOEFL. The response was curt: “No. The Department will evaluate tests submitted as part of a Response to this REOI as being complete at the point of submission.” Whoops! HOWEVER, that seems to have been overridden by a memo from June 2023 which allows firms to revise their REOI response to include “in certain cases, a ‘new test’ or a ‘new ‘product’.” I think it will be okay, folks; my reading of this is that Australia-bound students should be able to submit new TOEFL scores again by mid-2024.


When the process is complete I hope at least one Australian reader will submit a Freedom of Information request so we can get our mitts on even more details.

People with an interest in the business of language testing might want to keep an eye on this REOI from the Australian Department of Home Affairs.

Opened in 2022, it concerns the updating of acceptable tests for Australian visas. Currently, visa applicants may submit IELTS, PTE-Academic, OET, Cambridge C1 advanced or TOEFL scores (TOEFL scores only from tests administered before July 26).

This REOI may result in the acceptance of other test scores, though it isn’t clear which testing companies have expressed interest. Assuming that wholly at-home tests are off the table, I’d love to see both the CAEL and “Skills for English” tests accepted. Not because some tests are better than other tests, but because more choice in the market is generally a good thing.

I can’t find it in writing, but I think the results of this REOI will be implemented in mid 2024.

Always one step ahead of their Canadian brothers and sisters, the Australians broke up the IELTS monopoly on language testing for visas back in 2014/15 (yes, I know the OET was accepted in some cases back then).

There are a few fun features of the REOI that made me chuckle. I’ll highlight those in a separate post.

Now in Open Access at “Language Testing” is a summary of the enquiry (aka score review) and resit policies of all our favorite language tests (Cambridge English Qualifications, Duolingo, IELTS, LanguageCert, PTE, PSI Skills for English, TOEFL, Trinity).

It was done by William S. Pearson of the University of Exeter.

Really useful information to have.

If you are curious about how happy the language testing industry is about changes to the SDS system in Canada, consider the following:

  1. Canada issued 590,570 study permits in 2022. The number of study permits issued increased year over year by 5% in Q1 of 2023 and a whopping 35% in Q2 of 2023.
  2. Immigration minister Marc Miller estimated today that the total number of study permit holders in Canada will hit “about 900,000” in 2023. Compare that to the 948,000 international students currently studying in the USA, according to the most recent Open Doors Statistics.

Almost everyone applying for study permits has access to the SDS system at this point.

My point here is that it’s a pretty big deal for everyone involved in language testing that SDS applicants can pick from a wide range of language tests, and are no longer forced to use IELTS scores. Other language tests certainly have opportunities to grow their market share as a result of this change.

(data source)

IDP Education has just published its financial report for the year ending June 2023. Some highlights:

  1. IDP delivered 1.93 million IELTS tests during the year. That’s up 1% from 1.91 million tests last year.
  2. Revenue from testing is up 7%. Revenue growth is up mostly because the average cost of taking the IELTS increased by six percent during the year.
  3. IELTS revenue in India is down 5%. No word on the decline in testing volume, but it must be more than 5%, given price increases. I guess the other companies are successfully chipping away at IDP’s dominance in this market. Good for them.
  4. IELTS revenue is up a big 18% outside of India. Testing volumes are up 22% outside of India.
  5. These figures do not include IELTS tests administered by the British Council. Remember that IELTS is a two-headed beast, and that test takers can opt to get the test from IDP or BC (though not in every market).  Those figures will be available later this year.

It is fascinating to see a test like the Pearson PTE grow by 50% in a year, while the IELTS grows by only about 1%. We are certainly witnessing a sea change in the way language testing is done. I predict a more consumer-friendly environment moving forward (but I fear consolidation).

Those changes to the Student Direct Stream (SDS) are now in effect. The IELTS monopoly is broken, and students may now also use scores from the TOEFL, PTE, CAEL and CELPIP tests. This is very, very good for students. Monopolies, as we know, are bad.

I just noticed one other change, which is that students using IELTS scores are no longer required to achieve a score of 6.0 in each of the four skills. Now they only need to achieve an overall score of 6.0. That’s probably too low, but I guess it won’t really matter too much as few schools (other than the sketchy degree mills) will admit students with band scores below 6.0.

I also noticed that students submitting an IELTS score need 6.0, students submitting a TOEFL score need an overall score of 83. That seems a bit high. According to the conversion tables published by ETS, an IELTS score of 6.0 matches a TOEFL score of 60.

Similarly, students submitting a PTE score need an overall score of 60. But according to the conversion tables published by Pearson, an IELTS score of 6.0 matches a PTE score of 46.

Again, this probably doesn’t matter since accepting schools do a better (but not perfect) job at properly matching score requirements but I think it is worth noting.

“Language Testing” just published an article about using the TOEFL and IELTS tests to predict academic success at university. The authors’ meta-analysis of 32 studies indicates that there is a weak positive correlation with academic achievement and no significant difference between the predictive power of each test.

Note the following conclusion, though:

Although significant, the overall correlation was low; thus, practitioners are cautioned from using standardized English-language proficiency test scores in isolation in lieu of a holistic application review during the admissions process.

Perhaps the test creators would agree that the tests should be used only to assess a test-taker’s ability to use academic English, and not be used to predict their academic success. Indeed, there are other tests which can be used for the latter purpose.

It appears that test takers can now register for “IELTS Online,” which is a version of the IELTS test that can be taken from home.  The registration page is right here.  It appears that the speaking section is offered only on Wednesdays, while the rest of the test is offered only on Thursdays.   Yes, that means the test must be completed across two separate days. The cost seems to be $229 USD. 

Sadly, registration seems to be limited to certain countries.  I’ve used my VPN to confirm that IELTS Online is currently available in Japan and Korea.  I have confirmed that it is not available in the United States and India.  Those are just the countries I have tested so far.  I’ll run a few experiments to figure out which other countries I can register from.

Honestly, though, don’t be surprised if this changes in the near future.  I don’t see any details about this on the main IELTS page, and I only know about the registration page because it was sent to me.  The only additional details provided right now seem to be in Japanese.

Update:  A test-taker guide to the Online Test is now available.

Update:  IDP has some unlisted YouTube videos with more information.  Find them here:


The British Council recently funded a study comparing the IELTS Academic Test and the Duolingo English Test.  You can read the study here.  The authors of the report suggest that the DET has some weaknesses.  They conclude:

Our analysis demonstrates that, compared to IELTS, DET test tasks under-represent the construct of academic language proficiency as it is commonly understood, i.e., the ability to speak, listen, read, and write in academic contexts. Most of the DET test tasks are heavily weighted towards vocabulary knowledge and syntactic parsing rather than comprehension or production of extended discourse, though the recent addition of Interactive Reading addresses this lack somewhat.

But they do note that:

Scores on the two tests are correlated, which might suggest that DET is a reasonable substitute for IELTS, given its accessibility and low cost. Of course, knowledge of lexis and grammar are essential enabling skills for higher-order cognitive skills, and a test that focuses on these lower-level skills can be useful for making broad distinctions between low, intermediate, and high proficiency learners. However, potential test users should be aware of the limitations of DET in terms of predicting academic success.

The study was done by researchers working out of Georgia State University.