Interview with IELTS Expert, Don Oliver from IDP

In the third segment of the interview, Don explains the tasks he has worked for on IDP. He then focuses on the importance of expressing one’s opinions and advice on IELTS’ Speaking Section.

3.The tasks done for IDP

Interviewer: What was one of the most challenging projects that you have worked on at IDP?

Don: Well, just to give you some background about IDP, IDP started off as an organization fully owned by Australian universities. So, the main Australian universities invented IDP as a means of attracting overseas students to Australian universities and it was also involved in aid programs in different countries. So that was the beginning of IDP. But over the last 10 years, IDP has also become a public company and universities still own half of it, but with other owners as well. So it’s, it’s become a more adventurous sort of company and has become more involved in things like helping students perform better at the test. Originally, it was simply providing the test. But now, we are trying to help candidates perform their best, so I’ve been involved in producing preparation materials. We call it Writing Assist, Reading Assist, Speaking Assist, plus the videos that you’ve seen, where I give advice to people. So, all of that has been quite challenging, but also very interesting for me to be involved in. So that’s, that’s probably the most interesting and challenging part of my job.

Interviewer: I guess, to help cultivate the English skills of non-English speakers?

Don: Yes, and to give them support with the test because some people unrealistically expect to get the score they want the first time or without actually studying English enough and very often I have to talk to candidates who are very disappointed. And in fact, some of them can speak English very well and they might even be English first-language speakers, but they can’t use punctuation very well, like their spelling is not very good and I have to try and explain to those people that really they need to improve little areas of their English. So that’s quite difficult, but it’s necessary.

Interviewer: That is true because every language has a certain rule that they have to follow. You can’t fight against that rule.

Don: Well, the thing about IELTS is, is that the assessment criteria are very clear in Speaking and in Writing and not all native speakers of a language are going to be good in all aspects of that language. But at least it’s clear what they have to do to improve and it’s clear for anybody who does the IELTS test as to what is required. And I think that that’s one of the advantages of IELTS as well, because it’s very explicit; “Do this and you will get a good score.”

Interviewer: One thing I believe the benefits of the IELTS test is that it asks the students what they feel and it’s one of the very few, I think, English proficiency tests that emphasize students’ opinions rather than their’s, you know, I guess, information processing skills. A lot of the English tests are more like, oh, first, just listen, and then just summarize the information. Rather, for IELTS, it’s more about, “What do you think?” I think that’s one of the key aspects of IELTS.

Don: And it’s a difficult task for a student who hasn’t really been asked to express their opinion very much. And it varies from culture to culture. And as I said, I’ve got four children. They have an opinion about everything. They don’t know a lot, but they are very happy to share their opinion, which is a problem sometimes [laughs]. But they’re encouraged to do that from an early age in the education system in Australia, but that might not be the case in all countries. So, in a sense, IELTS is assessing English for many purposes. Just to take the speaking test as an example, it begins with fairly simple questions about everyday things, but there is a difficult question in there as well, which is the “Why?” question. So, you might be asked about, you know, “What clothes do you like to wear?” And that’s an easy question to answer. You know, “I like to wear jeans and a T-shirt,” but then there’s the big question, “Why?” This is a much more difficult question because you’ve never probably even thought about it. So, there’s a sort of an idea of enlarging your conceptual view of the world. And I would give that advice to someone preparing for IELTS. They should ask themselves the question “Why?” a lot. You know, “Why do I like Onigiri?” or “Why do I like the color blue?” for example.

Interviewer: Starting with the “Yes or No” questions. Starting with asking small details about yourself and gradually moving towards a more meta-perspective is important.

Don: That’s right!

About Don
1: Why did you become an IELTS Expert?
2: The tasks of an IELTS Expert
3: The tasks done for IDP←you’re here
4: Teaching experience in Oman and Vietnam
5: The factors that helped IELTS establish its worldwide trust
6: Test design process for IELTS
7: The linguistic studies and observations used for IELTS
8: About IELTS’ scoring system
9: The importance of IELTS’ Speaking Task
10: The drastic changes in the history of IELTS
About second language acquisition
11: Important factors for second language acquisition
12: Important factors for beginner-level learners of English
13: Important factors for mid-level learners of English
14: Important factors for advanced-level learners of English