IELTS is not a piece of jewelry

December 28, 2022 | 03:15 pm PT
Marko Nikolic Writer
I have been an IELTS teacher in Vietnam for more than eight years and have taken the exam twice.

IELTS is a passion with me.

And from what I have seen over the years, the exam offers students a number of advantages.

This certification makes it simpler for you to apply for jobs and increases your opportunity to seek scholarships and study abroad.

Students with a sufficient score are exempt from the foreign language exam required for high school graduation and can gain direct admission to some of the nation's top universities.

It is therefore not surprising that IELTS is growing in popularity. Today the exam is no longer merely a method for evaluating language proficiency; it has evolved into a social trend, an educational fashion, a piece of jewelry for students.

As more and more young people opt for IELTS over traditional high school English courses, I can clearly see a shift in the market for English training. As a teacher, I am left with mixed feelings.

This is due to the fact that learning IELTS as soon as possible does not always make sense.

To begin with, the Academic IELTS (the type of test chosen by the vast majority of Vietnamese students) is intended for those who wish to enroll in college.

This examination evaluates your English proficiency in an academic setting. When young people begin IELTS preparation too early, they take a test not designed for their age. At the age of 16-18 they lack the general knowledge and life experience necessary to approach the extremely complex test topics.

Despite not being old enough or intellectually prepared many young people still decide to sit for IELTS.

When I inquired further, one of the students admitted that it was his parents who had compelled him to take the IELTS.

A person writes on an IELTS application form. Photo courtesy of the British Council

A person writes on an IELTS application form. Photo courtesy of the British Council

The IELTS examination has become a societal craze, and every family aspires for its children to achieve a certain score.

Parents may not know whether their child's band score of 6.0 is good or bad, but they do know whether it is high or low in comparison to the scores of other children.

If a child's overall band score is XYZ, it is immediately used as a benchmark for parental pressure on students. Therefore, the IELTS band score is also used to compare students and their parents. I have had students retake an exam because their parents were unhappy with their results even after they scored 7.0 overall.

The majority of young Vietnamese are passionate about English, but once they are dragged into an exhausting competition to achieve ever-higher band scores, they risk losing their inspiration and motivation. They are haunted and weighed down by competitive pressure.

Many of my students report being under a great deal of stress even before the mock test. "Even though I know this was a practice test," one student said with a pale face, "my parents will still scold me if I score below 6.5."

In a society where high grades are celebrated, many people learn English solely to increase their score in standardized tests rather than to improve their proficiency in the language. Both the goal and the method of education appear to be confused.

Building a language foundation is a multi-year and labor-intensive process, but many students take shortcuts and focus solely on practice strategies and rote learning methods.

They try to cram lots of very academic and complex sentences and vocabulary to impress the IELTS examiner. As a result, many students speak English clumsily rather than in a natural and confident manner.

The "shortcut" learning mindset prevents them from emphasizing sustainable study habits. Self-study is vitally important when learning a foreign language, which I do almost 10 times per year. I maintain a vocabulary notebook in which I take notes and review new words on a regular basis. I combine English with my hobbies and cultural exposure by watching movies without subtitles, reading foreign newspapers and listening to podcasts.

However, the majority of students do not do all this because they view such work as time-consuming and ineffective in the short term.

In short, I am not writing this article to blame IELTS. It is still the world's leading English proficiency test. But it is just that, a tool, a means of learning, not an end.

The goal of education is to build students' skills and holistic understanding, and this is something that is difficult to measure just with scores.

*Marko Nikolic is a Serbian writer based in Vietnam. His story was originally written in Vietnamese and translated by VnExpress staff.

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily match VnExpress's viewpoints. Send your opinions here.
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