Should high school graduation exams consider IELTS scores?

By Duong Tam, Binh Minh   April 21, 2023 | 04:41 pm PT
Should high school graduation exams consider IELTS scores?
A student undergoes a high school graduation exam in HCMC, July 7, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
Many teachers and students believe that converting an IELTS 4.0 score into a perfect English language score on Vietnam’s national high school graduation exams is inappropriate and unfair.

A new pilot policy exempting students with a 4.0 IELTS score from taking foreign language tests on their high school graduation exams has drawn criticism from educators and students alike.

This year’s high school graduation examination requires 12th graders to undergo four tests, three of which are compulsory: math, literature and foreign language. For the fourth test, students have a choice between natural sciences and social sciences. Students with an IELTS score of at least 4.0, or another English proficiency certificate with equivalent scores, would automatically get a maximum score for the foreign language test.

Every year, dozens of thousands of students get maximum foreign language scores this way. In HCMC last year, over 7,800 students were exempted the foreign language test. In Hanoi, the number of students who took this path increased from over 3,000 in 2019 to 10,800 in 2021.

In provincees like Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Vinh Phuc and Phu Tho, the number of students exempted from taking foreign language tests hovers in the hundreds every year. Most of them possess an IELTS score.

Le Kim Anh, deputy headmistress of the University of Languages & International Studies, said the score conversion has a solid basis. An IELTS score of 4.0 is equivalent to a Level 3 score in accordance with Vietnam’s official 6-level foreign language proficiency framework, which the level that any high school student must attain to graduate.

However, some people disagreed.

Nguyen Thi Huyen, an English teacher at the Le Loi high school in Hanoi’s Ha Dong District, said the score conversion from an IELTS 4.0 score to a maximum grade for the English test in the high school graduation examination should be reconsidered. She said the conversion is not entirely accurate as the IELTS tests users on four language skills in practice (listening, speaking, reading and writing), while the Vietnam graduation exam only tests students on the theoretical side of the language (grammar, vocabulary).

"Glorifying certificates like IELTS creates unfairness, especially for students in remote areas. Moreover, it would also allow students to pay less attention to studying for their graduation exams," she said.

Duong Thi Huong, another English teacher at the Le Quy Don high school in Dien Bien, concurred with Huyen. She said many students with IELTS scores of 7.0-7.5 still fail their English graduation tests.

"The number of perfect scores in the graduation exam is not high, yet an IELTS 4.0 score is enough to become a 10 [the maximum score on Vietnam’s exam]," she said, adding that in 2022, among the 866,000 students who took the English exam, 425 got perfect scores.

Huyen said a 4.0 IELTS score is "actually quite low."

Tu Pham, founder of exam preparation platform Prep, said the average IELTS score of a Vietnamese student is around 6.0, citing data from the British Council. Students studying for the IELTS often aim for a score of 6.5-7.0 for either college application or studying abroad.

Universities often convert an IELTS score into an equivalent score for English proficiency, not an automatic 10. Different schools may also convert scores in different ways. Therefore, according to Pham, converting an IELTS 4.0 score into a perfect 10 for graduation purposes is not a big deal, because the graduation score is not applicable to college applications, which are more important to students than high school tests.

go to top