How the IELTS Exam Is Developed

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Developing IELTS Exam

The Six Stages of Exam Development

There are many reasons why IELTS is one of the most accurate English proficiency assessments in the world. Its rigorous test development process is one of them. Read on to find out how IELTS experts ensure the quality and fairness of the exam questions and materials. Here are the six stages of the exam development.

  • Commissioning

IELTS commissions language experts from the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada to come up with exam questions. To ensure the consistency and quality of their submissions, IELTS implements a set of test specifications to provide guidance on how to approach the item development process. Among the guideline’s contents are the characteristics of the listening, reading, writing, and speaking components of the exam and rules on how to select suitable reference materials.


  • Pre-Editing

IELTS experts pore over the commissioned materials to determine if they conformed to all the set requirements. Among these specifications are the question’s subject and required level of knowledge. There are cases when a submission falls short of the IELTS standards. If this happens, IELTS will return the material for further revision. If you are enrolled in an IELTS online review program, your instructor will encourage the same level of thoroughness when editing your compositions in the writing exam.


  • Editing

Item writers revise their outputs based on their pre-editing feedback. IELTS experts will recheck their works upon resubmission. And then, if everything meets the set specifications, the materials are approved for pretesting; otherwise, their outputs will be returned for further revision.


  • Pretesting

The approved outputs are pretested on representative examinees from all over the world. The Validation and Data Services team of Cambridge Assessment English will then collect, interpret, and analyze the test results. This will help IELTS determine whether a material can be included in the final version of the exam.


  • Standards of Fixing

In this stage, IELTS experts assess the difficulty level of the materials for the listening and reading components of the test by letting representative test takers answer them. They take measures to guarantee that the exam will evaluate the examinees’ ability consistently.


  • Test Construction and Grading

The final test papers for the listening, reading, writing, and speaking exams are finalized. IELTS experts conduct final assessments to make sure the test adheres to all the set standards. Among the aspects that they reconsider are the balance of task types, the range of voices and accents in the listening exam, and the individual difficulty levels of the test items.


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“How We Develop the Test.” IELTS. Accessed November 27, 2017.