The Trouble With Teaching IELTS

I mostly teach my students IELTS preparation, as that’s all they’re interested in. I’m supposed to teach general English, Australian culture, and study techniques. But alas, this is Asia, where exams rule. Students want to learn how to pass exams, so if want to keep your job, that’s what you teach them.

One small issue is that there is a business called Global IELTS. This is a cram school. They have women that stand outside the IELTS testing centres and pick out the students who look disappointed afterwards. They are called “0.5 women” because they say, “We can guarantee to raise your IELTS score by 0.5!” 0.5 is quite a lot in IELTS. Others simply promise students a band 7, which is an absurd claim to make.

Global IELTS drives my co-workers insane. Our students are so obsessed with passing this exam that they go to Global IELTS instead of coming to class! Instead of learning with a native speaker, they go to Global IELTS and pay through the teeth for bullshit.

That’s what Global IELTS teaches these students, unfortunately: bullshit. I’m sure some of their lessons help, but ultimately their English level decreases and their IELTS score for writing and speaking gets worse. IELTS is so popular precisely because it measures your ability to speak English, rather than master memorisation. Yet at Global IELTS they teach students to memorise phrases and even entire essays. The problem there is that IELTS examiners are trained to catch these phrases.

I’m not an IELTS examiner because I enjoy my weekends. But about 50% of my friends are examiners, and I hear all the stories. I know that students are taught to hide their phones and to write notes under their skirts. They teach students to get their more intelligent friends to pose as them and go into the exam in their place. Global IELTS also employs people to go into the exams posing as students, then steal or copy the exam papers to hand out in class. It’s funny, really.

In my classes I also hear the Global IELTS bullshit. The worst is the canned phrase problem. Global IELTS teaches students that you can pass your speaking and writing exams by repeating these annoying phrases. Of course, as I mentioned above, IELTS examiners are told to take marks off the students for using them, so it really backfires. But the problem is that the students use them completely out of context anyway.

Some of the most popular ones at the moment are:

  • Every coin has two sides.
  • With the development of society…
  • My hometown is very beautiful.

There are more, but these are the worst offenders. It is ridiculous when you have a class of twenty students and you ask them about, say, pollution, and every single student begins with, “With the development of society…” and completely fails to join it with the rest of the sentence, and then says, “Every coin has two sides,” without mentioning split in opinions. Then there are the “hometown” questions that always pop up in the speaking test. Never will you hear a student refrain from using that most noxious of phrases, “My hometown is very beautiful.” I tell my students, “Listen. We’re in your hometown. This is it. Look around you. It’s ugly!” But it does no good. Try pointing out that repeating these phrases will actually lose points, and they’ll continue to do it because they paid more for Global IELTS than they did for their university course!

Ah well, so it goes. My co-workers have gone insane from this issue, but I don’t really care. At the end of the day, we are teachers in Asia. We have to balance what the school wants, what the students want, and maybe even try to impart a little wisdom now and then. Take it too seriously and you’ll go mad.

Head Teacher
I'm the founder and editor of Beatdom Literary Journal, author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult' and World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. I'm also a teacher and operate the popular website, TED-IELTS.

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