English Tests

Reporter: Georgia Main

It is no ordinary test -- for 1.5 million migrants every year it holds the key to their future.

The English test known as IELTS -- the International English Language Testing System -- is the final hurdle for migrants desperate to become permanent residents or study in Australia.

Based on a score between zero and 9, most universities and workplaces require at least a 7.

A teacher for almost two decades, Dr Kevin Donnelly is now one of the country's leading commentators on education. "If you don't have that English language ability, then you'll be failing at university and everybody suffers", Dr. Donnelly said.

So just how difficult is the test? We found six Australians who have lived in the country all their lives, to sit a practice IELTS test. Scoring listening, reading, comprehension and writing, Dr. Donnelly will assess their results.

"A lot of rigour goes into the construction of each IELTS test. Quite often it can take up to three years of questions proposed and rejected after substantial field testing", said John Belleville from IDP Education.

It's no surprise the test is a huge money earner, costing $300 each time it's sat and John says the test is used in more than 130 countries. "We can certainly understand the frustration people feel. It's a high stakes test, the outcomes can be quite life changing for people", John added.

Fairly confident going into the test, how do our students feel now?

"Parts of it I thought were a bit difficult", said James.

While Luzinda said, "I think the reading comprehension was a bit intense and definitely harder than I thought. I to read through it a few times".

As Dr Donnelly gets out his red pen, we'll find out how they went shortly.

For the real test takers, the stakes are so high many migrants are paying up to $250 a week for a course which teaches you how to pass the IELTS Test.

Lianne McMillan is from Performance English and says, "If you're looking at going to a TAFE college for example you might be looking at a 5.5; if uni 6 or 6.5; if you're looking at nursing you're looking at a 7".

Leanne says many of her students sign up after failing the test on their own. "Recently, probably seven times somebody's sat and hasn't passed", she added.

Like Indian born Miklesh who is in week two of study after sitting the IELTS twice before. "I want to study then look for a job in IT. For me the hardest part is obviously writing", Miklesh said.

The last time we met Chanaka Pereira, the Sri Lankan student and father of two, faced deportation after failing the IELTS test six times, despite blitzing a degree in Commerce from the University of Flinders.

Until he finds work, Chanaka has had to send his two daughters back to Sri Lanka.

Migration Agent Mike Glasbrook believes the test is not only complicated but highly subjective. "You think you've done alright and then you find out you failed. It may be that the assessor didn't like the way you answered the question or style of writing that was used", he said.

"There's no point having a simple test that anybody could pass and then walk away and forget about it. I wish we could get rid of this idea that you can actually go and sit your drivers licence in this country in your native language. Where else on earth would do that?" said radio commentator, Steve Price.

People should get perhaps three chances to pass it, don't make money out of it, don't charge people. If you want people to engage then you make it difficult and that's what a cost makes it", he added.

And here are our students results -- everyone passed. Abe's result was 79%; Luzinda did well 64%; Joan was top of the class with 94%; James 76%, Nathan scored the same a Julia 79%

Based on the sample test, our students results translate to IELTS scores between 6.5 and 8. "I think you'd expect that given English is their first language. The essay, they had to write 200 words in 20 minutes, a letter to a manager of a railway station or transport company, they found that difficult", Kevin said.

Were our test takers surprised at the results or were they as expected? "I vote too hard. It's definitely too hard for migrants who don't have English as their first language, but for students who want to be educated here, they really do need to have some comprehension", Abe said.

Joan said, "For migrants it's ridiculous. For students it's not unreasonable. I don't want my kids to have their education dumbed down because the standard is lower".

As for Chanaka, he's now preparing to take the IELTS test for the seventh time.

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