Cracking the IELTS

July 2008: I have just returned from a "free IELTS demo" (a kind of orientation in which an introduction of the instructor, the course and the institute is given) by a very renowned teacher here in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Karachi. The experience has been so moving well it has been so moving that it has moved my drowsy writing muscles to write this piece.

This free demonstration class, the second that I have attended this week, has made me reflect over the IELTS preparation courses being offered in abundance all over Pakistan. For readers, who may not be familiar with the acronym IELTS, it is an abbreviation for International English Language Testing System.

According to e/english/ielts.htm, IELTS "is designed to assess the language ability of those who want to study or work where English is the language of communication. It conforms to the highest international standards of language assessment". The test measures one's competence in English language in listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. IELTS is recognised for course admissions by universities of UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA and increasingly in Germany and Europe too. It is also needed as a proof of one's language abilities for immigration to Australia, New Zealand and Canada. But before sharing my views on the subject, I must mention that the objective of this article is not to criticise any individual IELTS instructor or institute for that matter. It's just that I am thinking more and more about how commercialised our approach to impart education has grown.

Here I will talk specifically about the IELTS exam preparation institutes in Karachi, which are found in the area of Gulshan-e-Iqbal by the dozen. Let's begin with their advertisements; which boldly claim that anyone can get good bands, language skills are evaluated on a scale from 0 bands (non-user) to 9 bands (expert user) in the IELTS Exams, without having a good command over the language. You also come across many ads claiming to have "top" Pakistani teachers. Then they also maintain that getting good bands is possible in a matter of few hours. Some even claim that no prior knowledge of English is necessary. Some boast that with their winning tips, students will obtain desired bands (scores) without really having to learn the language or attending tedious grammar or vocabulary classes. Three aspects are focused in almost all the ads, namely, "short duration", "easy learning" and "higher bands".

The common factor of the "free demos" that I attended was that both the teachers knew many tricks of the trade. One was more experienced than the other but both stressed that to get good bands in IELTS, one does not need to have a good command over the language. These instructors claim that even an illiterate person, having no base in English language, can earn higher bands in a matter of a few hours and one does not need to read or understand, say, the reading passage in order to give the correct answers.

Now without learning the language properly such a person might acquire from 1 to 4 bands according to IELTS Band Scores (see the IELTS band score key for the band scores and their corresponding language competence). And this is the point that has moved me to write this piece and this brings me to the crux of my write up too, because what we are hearing is that you can have good bands, let's say anywhere from 7 to 9, but you may not need to posses equivalent good skills in English language. It's like saying you can get a driving license without learning to drive. So the key to success is not hard work or mastering the language but the key is knowing some tricks!

To prove their claims true, the IELTS instructors show the students photocopies of the result sheets (known as the "test report form" for the IELTS) having higher bands. How do they achieve this? Well, they teach you various strategies for all the four tests/sections of IELTS, i.e. listening, speaking, reading and writing. Using these tips and tricks maximises your chances of giving the right answer, be it a classification question or selecting the right option. Sounds interesting?

To me it was more than merely interesting as I had myself taken the exam a couple of years back while doing my master's in ELT (English Language Teaching). Not being able to afford a preparation course, both in terms of time and money, I thought of sitting for the exams without enrolling in a preparation course. However, I did prepare for the exams and here I must also acknowledge a few hours' counseling with some basic information about the exams offered by a senior student at our university. Other than this the most important thing I relied on was my existing language ability, which I thought was modestly reasonable.

My 7 bands in the IELTS exam may not be a score to be proud of or something to boast about. Nevertheless, I believe that my score was a true representation of my linguistic abilities in the English language or quite close to it. Comparing my situation with the IELTS preparation courses conducted in our area, the question that arises in my mind is twofold: would I have been able to score the bands that I did score without possessing equivalent language skills and would I have still been able to do well if I did not have the language competence that I think I had?

I suppose that if I had known these so called "tricks" which are taught in these IELTS prep courses, I might have been able to score better. However, if I did not already have some language competence, would I have been happy for getting good bands without acquiring adequate command over the language or improving my existing language competence? You know taking the driving analogy a little further it implies being allowed to drive on the road without being taught to drive. Wouldn't the IELTS score sheet have just been a piece of paper for me that I can maybe use in running ads for an IELTS institute or for a job as an IELTS instructor? It might also fulfill my visa requirement, but is that all there is to it?

One wonders what happens when a student of these IELTS instructors reaches the university of his or her dreams (with the so called "good" bands in the IELTS exams) and is told that their language does not meet the requirement of the course they wish to pursue and in order to attend their major course of study they must first enroll in basic/foundation English courses.

Such a situation will of course mean more time and money being invested for acquiring the required language proficiency. This is so because in many universities abroad one has to give concrete proof of one's linguistic abilities and merely a piece of paper (the IELTS result sheet, in this case) will not be enough. And even the candidates appearing for the general IELTS have to have enough communication skills in the language which their result sheet claims them to possess.

Those of you who are planning to take a preparatory course in IELTS, do ask yourself the following questions:

Will I not be required to exhibit language abilities corresponding to what my score sheet says?

Wouldn't my inability of doing so make my score sheet seem dubious and unreliable?

Now consider this scenario; as evidence of the credentials of an IELTS' instructor, many of these institutes show the score sheets of the instructors' former students. This only shows part of the picture. We don't know how many students were taught in all, what level of language skills the successful students already possessed, and if any of the students attempted the test more than once, how many times did they take the course or attempt the test?

If there are a 100 students in one class and only 10 per cent of them get bands from 7 to 9, it is not a very big achievement, is it? And the situation becomes more dismal if we keep in mind that those 10 per cent students may already have had intermediate to advanced English language skills. So what about the other 90 per cent students? What bands did they achieve? In other words, the data presented is subjective at best.

Think twice before opting for an IELTS institute. I wonder if there is an institute that claims to equip the students with real knowledge of the language as well as tips to successfully obtain the desired scores.

The first day "free demo" can turn out to be rather misleading in some cases. As sometimes the institutes are not consistent with the tall claims they or their teachers make on day one, as happened in one case where a teacher was not regular and showed a highly non-professional attitude although the institute charged quite heftily for the IELTS classes.

One institute actually claimed to have on its faculty the "top and the most experienced IELTS teachers" on the planet. Ever wonder who evaluated or rated their teachers? Is there a recognised evaluation criterion for evaluating IELTS teachers worldwide other than the number of their students who got higher bands?

If the current trend continues, in the near future authors and administrators of IELTS examinations and the institutions using its scores for admission suitability will have to think seriously about the reliability of the IELTS scores of students coming from our part of the world. Then, they must either develop new crack and hack-proof tests or require students to take the test again upon arrival in the university chosen or the destination country. Otherwise, the test results will lose their significance and credibility resulting in another reason for others to point fingers at us.

Plan to reap long-term and concrete benefits. Learn the actual driving and do not be satisfied with just a paper which claims that you know driving. Seek the real knowledge and avoid short cuts.

By Uzma Khan
The writer is an ESL teacher (Dawn)

Your Comments

"Many thanks for writing such a good piece of article on IELTS. Indeed there waz immense need for such an article on this subject. Thanks."
Name: Waqar Ahmed Shaikh
City, Country: Hyderabad, Pakistan

"thats great. even i experiance that, i enrolled in innovative institute in gulshan iqbal they took 4000 rupees for a month classes. the day i went to enroll the intructor was at the reception and told me that i will take your test and then i will tell you where you stand, i gave the test and got acceptable marks in reading module. she checked it and said you have to take english language program while in the mean time i will give you techniques. i went to the center although it was 12 km drive from my home but i still managed to waste an hour driving there. after three consecutive days, i gave up and shouted on the girl at the reception because the instructor who told me glam sham trick of ilets was not there. and i have been told that she is at the another campus so if you are willing to take classes you have to go there. because i paid the cash, i decided to reach at their sharah-e-faisal campus. damn man again the same thing she was teaching not the ILETS technique instead it was an old school grammar and prepositions. it was like im sitting in a 6th class of my secondary school. all the students were not serious at all neither was the instructor. then i went to urdu bazar and bought myself some self study books. and finally after 1 months i passed my ielts exam. please dont waste your time and dont be a fool reading their adds ,claims and techniques."
Name: omair
City, Country: karachi, Pakistan

"Im looking to get experiance in english language."
Name: mhmd
City, Country: Jordan

"hi.. i need books."
Name: usman nazir DUTT
City, Country: mirpur azad kashmir,pakistan

"i am looking for IELTS book so that can help me to set the exam ."
Name: walid
City, Country: libya

"I offer my heartiest thanks to Uzma for bringing a very important matter of cheating in the name of education disguised as craftiness to accumulate enough money from people hoping to be abroad by having good bands in IELTS. One intersting thing that you might have come across a name in nespapers DAWN amd JANG by claiming that he neither need our English nor grammar but assures us 8.0 band, he himself has been sacked from many places for having fake degeree of Masters in English from Peshawar. He is RAJA AAMIR. He ran away from Karachi University (where he got himslef enrolled for M.A. English Linguistics) because they asked for original degree and migration certificate to submit. Such a cheater person who claims three master degees at a time and having none of them geniune how can be true to us.They are minting money just by fooling innocent students. A few such language teachers have really damaged the others who have worth but are too honest to use such fraudulent ways to earn living for their children. May God save all of us from such quak intructors!."
Name: Gulzar
City, Country: Karachi

"I think instead of wasting time and money on the quack teachers , the best way to improve english is to practice it. Let me append some tips which might help a perspective IELTS exam taker to improve his/her band score ( a 30 days plan) : 1. Start writing daily atleast one essay + Letter(or graph report)for 30 days . #1.Check if you do it in within the requried time and also check for spelling and grammer.#2. Please divide your text in paragraphs.Read Enlish Novels (finish atleast 2 novels in 30 days)this will not only imporve your reading skills but also imporve your speaking.#3. Read English News paper daily and specially take of note of vocabulary and Sentence structures used. You can use the same in your exam.#4. Talk with your friend in english for atleast 30 mins daily and ask each other the same questions which are usually asked in the exam.5# listen to english news channels CNN+BBC also watch english movies+IELTS List.Exam CDs.6#.Read IELTs REading exam books and finish atleast 2 tests daily.#7Every Week only one day read English Dictionery to improve your spellings and also keep in mind the word meanings of difficult words. #8. Take atleast 4 full fledge tests (all 4 skills at a time , like real exam).#9. In listening test dont forget to read quickly the questins before they start talking. #10. Best of luck for your IELTS exam. "
Name: Nabil
City, Country: Karachi, Pakistan

"I very much agree with what the views presented in the article by the lady, and I think there must be someone who could provide students better counselling services as to where to go and who to study with since names like Raja Amir or may be the rest come up with the selfish motives of earning money regardless of their inability to teach something that they cant. "
Name: Hussain Tariq
City, Country: Karachi, Pakistan

"its really good article about the fake institutions and instructors. i have to appear in the Ielts exam and i was really worried to join any good institution to improve my previous score which is 5.5 band. but thankx to Mr Nabil and Uzma to poste such a nice note on this website whcih really opened my eyes. Now i decided to prepare at home by myself with great zest and zeal.if any one of you can suggest my about books which can really help me in this regard,as there are many books avaliable in market KINDLY SEND NAME ON MY EMAIL ID thankx kind regards"
Name: jas
City, Country: Karachi, Pakistan

"This is Faisal Abdul Majid and I declare that when I cleared my IELTS test with 8.5 bands in February, 2007, Mr. Raja Amir (Amir Mukhtar) was nowhere around and I had never heard his name before. However, after looking at his advertisement in Jung newspaper, I temporarily worked for him in June, 2008 in order to teach IELTS at his apartment (Hijaz Apartment) in Soldier Bazar and Alzam Institute in Gulshan-e-Iqbal (both in Karachi). But when I realized about his treacherous ways and that he is actually a BIG LIAR and launders money from people in the name of education, I broke away from him in August, 2008. While I was working for him, Mr. Amir tricked me and made me write some words of praise for him behind the copy of my IELTS result. He told me that he was testing my English and how I would write a testimonial about him if I were his student. Now he shows that result to prospective students and earns money from them with a promise that the student would achieve the band score like I did. I request Mr.Amir and his followers to stop posting my IELTS result on the internet or using it to attain any kind of economic or social benefit. istribution. . UPS installation 12VDC / 24VDC ."
Name: Faisal A.Majid
City, Country:Karachi

"sir raja amir is the best teacher in the world and i got 8 band with sir raja amir. reader olease visit sir raja amir having 8.5 and get info that he is the best teacher in the world."
Name: ali
City, Country:Karachi

"i m worried about usman dutt key gay male ko bee ielts books kae tamana hoo sakti hay kyoin gee"
Name: Unknown
City, Country:Mirpur

"I believe that the way one gets guidance gives results. I joint INNOVATIVE English Learning Center Gulshan e Iqbal and did my preparation in 15 days and managed to get 7.5 bands.when I started my classes I realised that they dont even claim it they really do it.Many thanks to Miss Murtaza Hussain and her team for teaching me in a way that I achieved more bands then I even required.I surely can recommand every one to join Innovative for better results."
Name: Shanza
City, Country:karachi Pakistan

"I just want to share complete notes I got by paying Rs.10,500/- to him. I dont think so its valuable what we have paid. So here is free for you... Cheers"
Name: Khurram Hameed
City, Country: Lahore Pakistan

"Very useful article, i think the most successful & demanding ielts preparation material is cambridge ielts series 1-8. If prepare well from this series then you will be able to get good scores by self study, no need of any fraud teacher or institute."
Name: Hussain
City, Country: Karachi, Pakitan

"This is a valuable read. I am planning to appear for IELTS and I reached out to few institutes in Karachi. Self study is not something I excel at, and I also get easily distracted at home. My reason for institutes was more to find a study environment than to learn from instructors. However, I am extremely disappointed in what I have seen so far. I got the strongest urge to speak up my mind to the many so called instructors I met as they were way over there head. The ideal study environment, that I was seeking was no where. I had no intention to sit in a class room, and study like a school going student. If anyone can recommend me a professional and formal institute, which speaks out for It self, I would appreciate it dearly. If all else fails and, I am stuck in my room to self study with a million better things at my disposal, can someone suggest a good book, and the latest edition of the same. I do not have time to go through series nor would I fancy reading huge volumes. I hope I can get my hand on books which are less in thickness and more on learning."
Name: sohail kamran
City, Country: Karachi

"Thanks to Uzma for bringing such awareness in students who wish to appear in IELTS exam. i would like to share my experience being an IELTS instructor in one of center in Karachi. That is if candidates who do not have English language skills, should not waste their money by appearing in exams or just going for guaranteed bands promises. Come on, it is Cambridge based exam, no one can guarantee you higher band if you do not have required skills for that. About complicated cases, I teach candidates who have fairly good English still end up getting 7 band miximum. I am recently teaching a student in Australia she has appeared 25 times. She only needs 6 band in each module but she has not scored that so far. Similarly, there are many cases who require 7 band or 8 band in each module for which they have appeared more than 7 times. If you require 6 band or 6.5 and your English is good then you may not need a teacher but if desired band is 7 in each or above, certainly you need expert teacher who knows marking scheme and other complications in IELTS. Like for writing you need to have other skills apart from grammar and vocabulary. They are Cohesion/Coherence and Task Reponse. Mostly students get less than 7 band in writing becuase, they do not do well in "CC" or "TR" and Rounding down which is done by examiners. Like if you get 7 for Task Response, 7 for Vocabulary, 7 band Gramamr but 6 for CC or any of these four criteria, your band for writing will be 6. So go for a teacher who understands these complications and have enough experiences than going for those who are not professionals. If any IELTS candidate intends to ask any question."
Name: Mohammad Alam
City, Country: Karachi

"Assalam-O-Alaiqum How are you friends? I am looking for a good trainer who is serious and proper, i want to get only 6 bands in ielts so please guide me who is serious and real teacher and where should i joine for that? Please tell me"
Name: Zain khan
City, Country: Karachi

"I'm the Student of Sir Raja Amir & i got 8.5 ban & my id 009343 from A.E.O. sir Raja Amir?"
Name: Naveed Aftab
City, Country: Karachi, Pakistan

"Assalam-u-aliakum sir i want to get ielts certificte without test. Plz tell me. This is posible or not if this is posible?"
Name: Owais khan
City, Country: Karachi



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