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The International English Language Testing System examination, commonly known as IELTS is a standardized examination that was launched by the British Council in partnership with Cambridge Assessment English in 1980 to test the language capability of people who wish to study or work where English is used as a language of communication. It is currently available at 1200 test centers in 142 countries across the globe. The IELTS is the only assured exam that the United Kingdom’s Visas and Immigration approves.

It offers two types of examinations, that is IELTS Academic test and IELTS General Training test.IELTS Academic test is taken by people applying for higher education in universities. Universities that offer placement through the examination include Stanford University, University of Cambridge, and Harvard Business School, among others. The test can also be taken by people looking for professional registration for certain occupations in an English speaking environment. IELTS General Training test , however, is taken by people who wish to immigrate into Australia,Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. The Academic test gauges advanced English language skills whereas the General Training test focuses on basic skills of the English language use in general social settings.

Both tests have listening,speaking,writing and reading sections albeit with minor differences particularly in the reading and writing sections.

The total test time is approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes, with the first section of the test, the listening section, taking 30 minutes. The candidate is required to listen to 4 recordings, each once and answer 40 questions, each worth 1 mark. Each recording is set in a different context and ranges from daily social conversations between two or more people to monologues on academic topics or everyday occurrences and even discussions between students.Questions are set in various forms, such as multiple choice, matching, diagram labeling, and sentence completion.The skill of multitasking is crucial in this section as one will need to write down answers while listening to the recordings.

While preparing for the listening test, one needs to practice listening to recordings set in various situations and done in various English accents – British, American, New Zealand, Canadian and Australian, to get used to them beforehand.10 additional minutes are given for the candidate to jot the answers on the answer sheet. However, during the test, the answers are supposed to be written on the question paper. To avoid mistakes while writing the answers down on the question paper, it is important that one underlines the keywords on the questions and stays focused throughout the 30 minutes.

Both the Academic and General Training tests’ reading sections take 60 minutes. The test taker is expected to read 3 texts and answer 40 questions of one mark each set in several task types:information identification,giving headings,labeling features and short answer questions.The questions are designed to determine if the test taker can recognise details, writers’ purposes,attitudes and opinions and understand arguments from the given texts. The Academic reading test requires you to answer questions from long analytical, descriptive or factual texts. In contrast, the General Training reading test has simpler questions from short excerpts of books and journals.

A number of skills are therefore critical in answering questions from the texts. Skimming and scanning are essential where you are required to give headings or label diagrams. When it comes to extrapolating ideas from the texts close reading is required to be able to deduce even the tiniest details and give the most correct answers. Consequently, one ought to practice reading in detail and fast to quickly comprehend the message of the text and answer questions effectively.

The writing sections comes just after the reading section.The test taker is presented with two questions that are to be answered within 60 minutes. The Academic test requires one to write a report from a graph, chart or table on one question and the other a formally styled essay on a rationale. Unlike the Academic test the General Training test requires one to write a letter(formal or informal) explaining a situation and a personally styled essay on a view or problem.

While writing,one must ensure that all parts of the question are answered by presenting material ideas,fully explained and supported by relevant examples.One must be familiar with a wide range of synonyms and linking words to help you construct logical statements without repeating the same words over and over again.One must also be careful with word spellings as wrongly written words are highly penalized.The essays should have introductions and conclusions and have concepts presented in paragraphs,for an excellent score in the writing section.

Last but not least is the speaking section that takes 11 to 15 minutes,The candidate engages in a one on one interview with the examiner.In this section,one’s use of spoken English is assessed.After introducing yourself,you are presented with a card on which a topic like pets,home or family is written.One is required to discuss the topic and afterwards answer questions on the same topic that will be asked by the examiner.Being calm,sitting upright and maintaining eye contact with the examiner as well as presenting elaborate answers show that you are confident,an aspect that assures you of noble results.One must practise speaking in fluent English and accustom themselves to the vocabulary used in different contexts.

The test is graded on a scale of 0-9.The score for each section of the paper is averaged to get the full paper’s score.A minimum band score of 7 is best for better working or studying opportunities.

Due to the complications hindering access to IELTS test centres as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,IETLS Indicator,a website for administering the IELTS test online,has been introduced.Though it,one can sit the test at the comfort of their home and receive the test results in 7 days.However,up,to now,only the Academic test is available and is accepted by just a few educational institutions because the test gives an indicative score.Hence one should check whether the university they want to apply to offers entry by it.

Other than offering placement in schools or visas for immigration,the IELTS test can be used to develop one’s English language skills thus have accurate knowledge of it.Everyone of us ought to give it a try one day.

By VALERIE MORAA, NAIROBI,KENYA

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