Currently, the most popular language assessment such as Cambridge certificate exam, IELTS (The International English Language Testing System), TOEFL (The Test of English as a Foreign Language ) and GRE (Graduate Record Examination ) are widely considered as a reliable means of assessing the language ability of test takers who need to study, work or immigrate where English is the language of communication. Take the IELTS exam for example, it is not only for the people who are ready to enter the university of instruction in English as the leading national education system designed for language testing, but also for testing English level of people who prepare to settle this countries. IELTS is one of the most widely used in various countries like study abroad: the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, the United States, etc; Immigration: Australia, New Zealand and Canada. It is widely used large-scale ESL tests and played a pivotal role for people's lives such as use for making critical decisions about the candidates for their admission to university or immigration to foreign countries and so forth (Uysal, n.d.). It is owned by three partners which are the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations, the British Council and IDP, Education Australia (Cambridge University, 2007). This language test involves four aspects: listening, speaking, reading and writing which can detection the test takers' English proficiency as the applicant's certification compliance. As for the test takers, the IELTS preparation course is to improve the process of English, most of Chinese people have the weak link are writing and speaking. Speaking is the very basic and more difficult skill to access. If the test takers want to grasp this skill, they should take more time and energy to accumulate in daily life. As a result, this report aims to analysis the IELTS speaking test, notice the assessment of speaking, and evaluate the limitation of the speaking test.
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There are some advantages of IELTS exam built on the history of English language testing and assessment over this several years. It established a good reputation, its rating is impartiality and credibility, and is widely used in language testing institutions in many countries. According to IELTS Organization website, "IELTS test takers and the organizations are depend on the IELTS test results benefit from IELTS continuing investment in quality assurance, to make sure the test remains orderly and relevant" ( IELTS Organization, n.d.). At the beginning, "the English Language Testing Service (ELTS) made the first test appearance in 1980 when it substituted for the English Proficiency Test Battery (EPTB), a traditional largely multiple choice test battery which had been used by the British Council in its students from overseas recruitment and employment since the mid 1960s for the objective of international applicants to universities and colleges in the UK" (IELTS Organization, n.d ) This new model test use an innovative format which can influence the changes in language learning and development of language testing and assessment. IELTS is traditional as a pencil and paper test, it different from TOEFL which is as a computer-based test, and the IELTS speaking test is used one to one interview method to assess. It focuses on the communication from the test takers and through their performance to assess them in academic contexts and the fluency of language use. According to the official data, during the 1980s "the test numbers were quite low (4000 in 1981 rising to 10,000 by 1985), it obviously shows that there were difficulties with the administration of the test which relates to the test items and time taken to complete the test" (IELTS Organization, n.d ). "From 1989 IELTS test candidates took two non-sepcialised models, listening and speaking, and two specialized model which are reading and writing. The non-specialised models are focus on test general English and the specialised models are used to test language skills in particular areas. Further modifications to the IELTS test were implemented in April 1995 with keeping with the commitment of the Partners to development in applying linguistic, teaching practice and measurement". There are three aspects of change: the original models are replaced by an academic reading module and an academic writing module; the difference in terms of the context and content between the Academic and General Training Modules; to ensure fairness relating to the test takers during the test (IELTS Organization, n.d).
Discussion: The IELTS speaking test:
General background information
IELTS is different from TOEFL test, and its candidates faced questions not already recorded good specifications, but to directly face to the examiners which belongs to one on one interview and take between 11 and 15 minutes.. This is why the IELTS is more and more recognized by many people. IELTS consist of two major types which according to whether a candidate takes the academic or General Training version of the test. This speaking module assesses whether candidates can communicate effectively in English speaking. IELTS oral test is a system with a pattern, and the scoring with fairness and credibility. This module is divided three parts: part 1 is introduction and interview which the examiner introduces him/herself and confirms candidates' identity, and the examiner interviews the test takers using oral questions selected from familiar topic frames with 4 - 5 minutes, the examiners will ask some basic questions to alleviate the tense mood of candidates; part 2 is individual long turn in 3 - 4 minutes, including 1 min preparation time. This part is about examiner asks test takers to speak for 1 - 2 minutes on a particular topic based on written input in the form of general instruction and content prompts (Cambridge University, 2007). This stage is often more difficult to grasp for many candidates, and examiner invites candidates to participate in discussion of a more abstract concept such as issues and topic based on the oral questions thematically linked to part two. This part will last 4 - 5 minutes. The whole oral test tends to daily life, and more colloquial.
In the IELTS speaking section, the examiner is also a commentary by the four analytical subscales at the nine bands: fluency and coherence; lexical resource; grammatical rang and accuracy; pronunciation (Cambridge University, 2007). These four criteria are equally weight. IELTS speaking test is the weak link to many test takers, and a considerable number of test takers is difficult to obtain high score. The test takers need to look at the IELTS speaking module score standards to overcome this difficulty at the beginning. The examiner has a set of criteria by which he or she assesses the test taker's communication skills in these three parts. However, in the examination process, candidates' manners and other personal factors will influence on the examiner score, this is not be ignored.
2.2 Reliability issues
IELTS test is significant not only for study and immigration, currently more and more foreign enterprises are recognized by foreign companies as an objective, fully reflect the standard of English level for the candidates, especially in China. These IELTS test takers with this certificate apply for the job opportunity, especially for foreign commonwealth countries, they often have a greater competitive advantage. In recent years, as authorized IELTS score of countries and institutions increased, there are many people are concerned about this test. All the colleges and universities in commonwealth countries accredited IELTS score, and this test also recognized as the only English test in Australia. There are more people interested in rater reliability, this is because 'rater reliability is "not possible to achieve" as there is great variation even when standardization procedures to improve reliability have been undertaken. The second generalization from the discussion was that participants were in effect talking about that standardization procedures to make raters more reliable were stricter generally'(Langley, n.d.). Uysal (n.d.) points out "IELTS test claims that the use of analytic scales is helpful for higher reliability as impressionistic rating and norm referencing are discouraged, and greater discrimination across bands is achieved. In the second place, raters tented to adhere to the assessment scale step by step, beginning with task achievement then moving on to the next criterion".
It is understood that, scoring rules is to facilitate foreign institutions, embassies, and other employers have received IELTS students, staff test the effectiveness of the organization have a more intuitive understanding, so that they can recognize the scientific nature of the IELTS test and the reliability of the test result. The publication score of standard rules is also significant for the test takers, they can use the benefits of this rules. The test takers can be targeted for information through the detailed score standard, and the rating published rules in favor of analysis the scores for the test takers, and reduce the errors. At the same time, 'the strict processes used to produce the test materials ensure that every version of the test is of a comparable level of difficulty, so that they can ensure the fairness for the candidates and the results of the test takers are consistent wherever and whenever they take the test' (IELTS Organization, n.d.). During the speaking test, the main task type is interaction of test takers with examiner, in the first part, the candidates talk to the examiner like free conversation, it is easy to help the candidates to access to main topic. According to the view of Luoma (2004), he considers that speaking skills can be grouped for three points: routine skills which involving interaction with the examiner and get the useful information; improvisation skills contain negotiation of meaning and management of interaction; the last is microlinguistic elements, which is belongs to phonology, grammar and lexis. These are main aspects for examiners to test the English level for the test takers. 'The aim of the test and practical circumstances in which it will be settled set the general guidelines. However the most important point when designing tasks is the construct-related information that the scores must deliver, or the score users need to know about the examinees' speaking skill' (Luoma, 2004).
During the IELTS speaking test, there are many different dimensions to validity. Cohen (1994) maintains that "validity is generally considered the most significant aspect of assessment. In its simplest definition, validity 'refers to whether the assessment instrument actually measures what it purports to measure'."Tests are validated by systematically collecting the data to support the correct form and intend to use of the assessment. And the assessment should be used to classify English language proficiency during the test. In the construct validity which is 'refers to the extent to the scores from the assessment instrument, it can measure the ability of the test takers in English' (study guide, 2006). IELTS results are reported on a nine band scale, this score for all language ability which is fair for each test takers. The examiners based on the performance to judge the language ability. In the consequential validity, it relates to the social impact of the test (study guide, 2006). It has positive effect for the society. IELTS test is increasingly accepted by academic institutions in European where English is used for study, immigration and employment. At last, the most important is 'face validity which refers to whether the test is acceptable to the candidates and other stakeholder like university admissions officers' (study guide, 2006). And during the whole oral test, face validity will influence the performance of attitudes towards to the test for the test takers and also impact on the results of the test. The IELTS speaking task is to assess the test taker's oral language skills, there is a range of topics is covered from common daily life such as family, lifestyle, transport, etc, and there are some challenging topics like technology, education, society and some of science knowledge involving weather, pollution, environment and so forth. During the process of test, the examiners will record the conversation with the test takers and get the feedback from the candidates as soon as possible and then give the evaluation correctly. During these several decades, the assessment of IELTS test become more perfect, through the collection of evidence made by candidates, and due to the development of the society, this test will change with the English standard of the whole world.
IELTS test is as the point of internationalization to start, which contains western culture, geography, history and customs of other knowledge to the majority in Australia and the United Kingdom. It applies the traditional written and oral method to have the exam, which can express the content for people, but it also has a lot of its own shortages in the examination, such as the examiners' subjective meaning of the test and some man-made factors.
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Firstly, IELTS speaking test does not change in recent years. IELTS exam in reading, writing and listening comprehension made some changes, but the oral part has not change, many test takers mentions that the oral test are not new, the topics are old-fashioned, and there are many books are for the IELTS exam to help the candidates to get high marks. There is more common situation that during the oral test, the test takers talk about the content basically similar for the same topic, it is so boring for the examiners. As the reason of the old questions, many candidates in the exam preparation should be collected more formal questions before, therefore, IELTS speaking does not only detect language ability of students, but also inspect the preparation before the work is complete. They also noted that preparing the answer to be informative and simple on the structure, not answer too complex and lengthy. Sometimes some candidates do not even play out their true level of English.
Secondly, during the IELTS speaking test, it is obviously exit the differences in the thinking of western culture. Some IELTS speaking assessors have too much to do and they are not 'reliable'. According to the study guide, it maintains that "methods for designing a rating scale may be intuitive or empirical. Intuitive methods use expert judgment about what to include in the scale, and these scales are often based on existing rating scales, or a need analysis and use a native speaker ideal. Empirical methods may be data-based or empirical" (study guide, 2006). In addition, some examiner exist some subjective meaning of the test, it is not fair for the test takers. So some non-native speakers cannot get high score is related to some private reasons. And even some examiners have prejudice for some students, and even the first impression will impact the mood of the examiners. Moreover, there are many differences in the model of thinking between western and the other countries, especially Chinese test takers. When they communicate with foreigners, they would know the western countries' culture to talk with them and seize the key point to increase the interest to them, in contrast, at the beginning of the oral test, they cause the examiner do not interested in what they said and want to over the conversation immediately. As a result, it is more important of the examiners to mark criteria which are as clear as possible, so that the score reliability is more significant for every test takers, they need correct evaluation in the oral test. It is more preferable to have the record for the test taker, which is a effective evidence that will lead to reliable scoring. At last, the examiners sometimes will also affect the mood of the candidates, because of the need for a long time to test the candidates, they often feel tired which can impact on the results of the test takers. These artificial factors are inevitable, so that it also can influence the fairness of the examination.
Finally, English speaking test can sometime give the candidates some errors which can mislead the test takers, they simply think that this is an oral exam, they as long as use the basic language of daily life during the free conversation. However, IELTS speaking test focus on the formal expression not idioms or slang. Take the Chinese people for example, when foreigners communicate with Chinese people, they often use formal English, rarely use idiom which is conventional terms, its true meaning is different from the composition of words. And they use less slang which is informal idiom, different occupations and areas have different meanings (Wikipedia). For most Chinese candidates, IELTS test is one of the most sensitive. As the reason of the backward of English teaching, many candidates have less time to contact with foreigners. This also key point of the influence low score for the test takers.
In conclusion, IELTS speaking test is a comprehensive English language ability of candidates to the examination. The oral test has been modified as a result of many subjects which can help them to improve understanding of the test and task design for assessing the oral test ability. They also hope that the new test format, strict training and monitoring of the examiners performance will result in a oral test which can lead to fair and reliable for the test taker, which can help the them to improve English level. IELTS exam is the comprehensive exam in English for the test takers' ability assessment in the same difficulty of the highest level of English proficiency test. IELTS score are accredited by all colleges and universities in the commonwealth countries. many people who wants to study abroad, as long as get the requirements of IELTS scores to the universities, they do not take part in other types of language tests any longer. In the other hand, English proficiency is the recruitment of the Chinese employees in foreign companies is one important criterion, and this test is considered as an objective, comprehensive response to the standard of English for the candidates. It can fully improve the ability of English for the test takers in four skills: listening, reading, writing and speaking. Oral test plays an important role of the whole examination, because of the proceeding from the actual level and increasing verbal communication. If the candidates want to get a good mark, the most effective strategy is understand fully and practice speaking test to achieve a high score. As for the test takers they should calculate more useful information in the daily life, and learn more authentic culture, try to communicate with foreigner which can make more confident during the test. In addition, the IELTS training institutions should be responsible for each candidate, try to be fair and reliable for the test takers and make the error is reduced to a minimum.
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