Is the IELTS dog wagging the EAP tail?

Summary of discussion

The purpose of the panel discussion was to investigate the extent to which teaching towards the IELTS exam was changing the nature of EAP teaching. Several issues would seem to be involved.

1. I think many of us agreed that the main purpose of EAP teaching was to give the students the academic language skills etc so they could succeed in their academic life.

2. The purpose of IELTS teaching was to help students to get a good IELTS grade.

To what extent does teaching towards 1 help, or not, 2?

To what extent does teaching towards 2 help, or not, 1?

There were several points regarding content of IELTS.

The discussion mainly concentrated on writing and reading.


It was often said that the main writing of students is writing from sources, integrating their own with other peoples’ ideas and, not plagiarizing. IELTS does not test this kind of writing.

IELTS type writing encourages memorised answers. Writing of the top of their head – not so useful for academic life. Generality of subject matter. Some of the questions, e.g. writing question 1, are not appropriate for students from some subjects. It is also true that in question 2, many students have not formed an opinion on some of the topics and, again, this does not correspond to what they have to do in academic work.

Integrating reading and writing is so well presented by Reading University’s TEEP, and this would be a much better way forward. UETESOL is a good model for testing writing from sources.

There were many examples of students with IELTS 6/6.5 who, when they arrived in this country, were clearly not good enough.


IELTS still concentrates, like, FCE, CAE, CPE on detailed reading of short texts. The real academic world demands more flexible ways of reading much longer texts. Listening is similar.

What would/could replace IELTS?

What would it be like?

No exam can tell universities all they know about an applicant. Need to supplement it with own tests.


Problems with security. Lots of anecdotal stories about students knowing writing questions in advance. Students using recording pens to take questions out of exam. Students knowing in which countries they can get high speaking scores – probably nothing that UCLES can do – mainly because of familiarity of accents etc. also students doing cram courses.

Meaning of IELTS

Points made about meaning of, e.g., IELTS 6/6.5. Many university admissions departments don’t know what it means and when they find out they will not accept it. They therefore just increase the level at which they’ll accept students, again without any real thought about the meaning. Some research reported on this.


We know that IELTS cannot do everything. But it could be better especially with reading skills and writing from sources. Integrating reading & writing.

As it stands we need to supplement IELTS scores with our own testing.