International students' expectations of a twelve week IELTS Preparation Course
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) English proficiency test has been the focus of increasing research since its inception in 1989. While research has contributed to a better understanding of test construction and has highlighted the limitations of individual test scores for predicting academic success, few studies have focused on students’ perceptions of the academic module of IELTS. The present study attempts to address this gap in the research by investigating student expectations of an IELTS preparation course. The study, adopting a multi-method approach using surveys and interviews, investigated ten international students enrolled in a twelve-week academic IELTS preparation course in a language school affiliated to a university in Auckland, New Zealand. The study found that students have high expectations not only of an IELTS preparation course, but of the IELTS band score they will achieve. The study also found that student expectations of the course were met at least to some extent. Various factors contributed to the fulfilment of students’ expectations including a focus on speaking and listening activities and the use of formative practice tests. Although all four language skills were recognised by the students prior to the course as being important, speaking and listening were identified as those most expected to be improved. By the end of the course, however, reading and writing skills were acknowledged to be most important, suggesting a growing awareness of the importance of literacy skills, both for achieving an appropriate IELTS score and for further academic study. Although limited by the number of participants, the findings have significance for the development and delivery of academic IELTS preparation courses. Firstly, although there is value in focusing on listening and speaking skills, given the change in students’ perceptions, academic literacy skills perhaps need a predominant focus. Related to this focus, challenging reading activities and related vocabulary development should be an integral part of the course. Secondly, the inclusion of practice IELTS tests provides an important formative component of preparation courses. Finally, the study suggests that administration staff and teachers need to better prepare students to have realistic expectations of an achievable IELTS band score.