Interview with IELTS Expert, Don Oliver from IDP

In the sixth segment of the interview, Don explains the processes conducted for developing, improving, and validating the IELTS test design, which eliminates any cultural bias within the test questions.

6.Test design process for IELTS

Interviewer: Moving on, one factor that we think helped IELTS establish worldwide trust is the rigorous test design, development, and validation process. And it’s been said that, the IELTS test design implements insight from language assessment experts worldwide. And I was wondering what are some common backgrounds of those language assessment experts?

Don: Well, IELTS is produced by Cambridge Assessment, and they have a very long history of producing tests. They produce the Cambridge test that produces a whole suite of tests, many tests. So there is that expertise, but the IELTS test is a very international test. So people who write items for that test, questions for the Speaking, questions for the Reading, questions for the Writing, they come from all over the world. They might be in the United States, they might be in Australia, they might be in the UK or New Zealand. And all of those people are very experienced teachers of English. They all have higher education qualifications in linguistics. The other thing is that all of the content of the test is trialed extensively before it actually becomes a live test. And I’ve been involved in some of this as well. For example, a writing question in Academic Task 1, one hundred or two hundred students will look at that test and write their answers. And the people who assess the task’s performance may see that 20% of the people misunderstood the task, or that they were not able to write enough words to describe that thing. So that means that task will have to come back and be revised or just dropped. So, there’s a lot of pre-testing, there’s a lot of knowledge that goes into the production of this test.

Interviewer: When you mentioned about the pre-testing, did you say that there are 200 students for the trial before we actually releasing? That’s really amazing!

Don: Yeah. You know, it varies. It will be up to a couple of hundred average in different parts of the world. You know, some of them may be in Brazil, maybe in Japan and some may be in Vietnam or in Germany. So one of the focuses of that is to see if there’s any cultural bias. You know, you might have a task that looks good to an English person, but it may not be understood at all by an Arabic speaker. And so, we have to make sure that the test is truly accessible to all sorts of people.

Interviewer: I think that’s a very important factor then in terms of the cultural bias. If there’s cultural bias within the test, then it’s flawed.

Don: Absolutely.

Interviewer: I think that’s one aspect of IELTS that should be recognized more.

About Don
1: Why did you become an IELTS Expert?
2: The tasks of an IELTS Expert
3: The tasks done for IDP
4: Teaching experience in Oman and Vietnam
5: The factors that helped IELTS establish its worldwide trust
6: Test design process for IELTS←you’re here
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