IELTS is a pretty annoying test, both for the candidates who take it and the teachers who have to prepare those candidates. I first started teaching IELTS in October of 2010, making it a little over 10 years since I began. (Yay! Anniversary time!) Since then, I’ve learned a lot and been really frustrated many times.
It seems to me that the problems facing IELTS candidates and IELTS teachers generally stem from the same issues, so I’ll touch upon both of these in this article.
So here we go. A list of the most annoying things about teaching IELTS:
1. Terrible Teachers
This might seem like a strange thing to complain about, especially as the number one item on the list, but it has pissed me off for a decade now, and I feel like ranting! 🤬
Back when I first started teaching IELTS at a Chinese university, my students would use the same exact phrases over and over and over… It almost drove me insane. They would use IELTS clichés like “with the advancement of science and technology…” to begin every single sentence.
Of course, part of this was cultural. In China, people think in absolutes. They see a foreign person eating a steak and say, “Oh, all foreigners (6 billion people!) eat steak for every meal. How strange.” Thus, this sort of thinking permeates their essays and speeches.
When I pressed my students, the answer quickly became apparent. Their Chinese tutors told them this amazing advice:
Just say this one phrase and you are guaranteed a band 8!
It sounds crazy, right?
Well, it’s not just a Chinese thing. All of my Indian students say “plethora” because they were told that it would guarantee them a band 8. Each country seems to have its magic words. People are just eager for shortcuts, I guess.
But although the students are partially at fault for this gullible and desperate attitude, it is honestly appalling to me that thousands of “teachers” around the world are churning out this pure, unadulterated bullsh*t.
Did you know that the most popular IELTS-related video on YouTube tells candidates this exact same thing? The idiot who made it swears that “If you say plethora, you will be getting a band 8.” She doesn’t know 1) How to say the word correctly, or 2) How to use it in a sentence, yet more than 3 million people have watched her advice!!!
It makes me sick.
If you have your own IELTS business or you have gone the route of freelance teaching, then you probably know how competitive this field is. Unfortunately, as there is money to be made teaching IELTS, there are literally tens of thousands of unqualified idiots pretending to be experts. Most of them are from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and they can hardly speak English, but feel that they have the right to teach others.
(I’ll just mention here: I hope that I don’t offend anyone. There are many amazing teachers from those countries, but I have to call out the thousands of unscrupulous ones who are just wasting other people’s time and money, and even ruining their lives.)
Because of this competitiveness, the various online IELTS communities are completely overwhelmed with a sea of spam. It is relentless. You can make all the rules and take all the precautions that you want, but you will never stop these people. They employ all sorts of dubious tactics to spread their idiotic advice across the internet, with Facebook groups being among the worst. In fact, perhaps Instagram is overtaking it as the purest form of terrible IELTS content. We’ll see how that goes.
Of course, all of this means that it is hard for the good people to rise to the top. Sadly, if you are an IELTS candidate with limited English skills, you will not be able to tell which teachers are talented and which are filthy liars. Therefore, it is easy for these people to garner hundreds of thousands of followers by pedalling spam.
I personally take the time to block and report as many of them as possible, but I know it is fruitless.
Related to the previous point, the IELTS Facebook groups and message boards are completely awash with scams. These mostly start in Cameroon and Pakistan, where people create thousands of fake profiles and just pour millions of comments into otherwise productive and safe study spaces.
Sadly, it is very much like the issue above in that you cannot stop them because it is a lucrative industry. I have heard from several people that they tried to buy fake IELTS certificates and got ripped off for $1,000 or more. Yes, they were stupid to try that, but it is sickening that people even sell this stuff in the first place.
IELTS is problematic because it is an important step in people’s lives. They need to take this exam in order to achieve their dreams… As a result, they are sometimes willing to cut corners or do unethical things to get ahead. I suppose it is sort of understandable.
Still, in my opinion there is no punishment great enough for the people who spam IELTS groups with these scams. Shame on Facebook for not deleting their accounts. It would be very easy, given that they just copy and paste millions of times.
I started the website TED-IELTS in 2016 and it has become one of the most popular IELTS websites online because I produce high-quality, original material. Nothing on my website is misleading or stolen. This makes it very, very, very rare!
Unfortunately, as I have already mentioned, most IELTS materials online are pure crap. The majority of websites are owned by people who don’t really speak English well, but they just steal material from others. There are major offenders in this field and you can see where I have named and shamed some of them here.
Sadly, people like me, who work hard to create original material, are prime targets for people who come from places with no ethical or legal systems to protect intellectual property. They think that it is perfectly acceptable to steal anything made by someone of another race or nationality.
Protecting yourself is not easy. I often find my materials stolen and reproduced without credit in various places around the internet. When I confront these disgusting criminals, they of course just ignore me. Therefore, I am forced to file DMCA takedowns and to report them to their webhost. This is a long and exhausting process that does not always result in success.
Again, there is no punishment great enough for these so-called people. If I could press a button and have them boiled alive, I’d do it in a heartbeat. 😈
(Let me know in the comments how you deal with this sort of theft.)
5. Bad attitudes and other problems
Ok, this last point is going to encompass a lot, but basically it boils down to BAD CUSTOMERS. Yeah, and I know we shouldn’t complain about students but…
Oftentimes, I am approached by IELTS candidates with this sort of request:
Can you do my IELTS writing test for me?
Yeah. The heck with that, right?
Other times, I get this sort of comment:
Can’t you just work for free? I come from a poor country!
And I have rent to pay, buddy. Back off.
Then there are the ones who ask for your feedback and then get pissy about it:
You gave me a band 6! But I said the word “plethora” four times and used a cohesive device in every sentence! I’m going to give you a bad review!
And this is why democracy doesn’t work very well.
We live in a funny world. By funny, I of course mean tragic. It is a pain in the butt to deal with bad teachers and crazy people, but honestly it’s all worth it when you find some good students and work your butt off for them.
I’ve been teaching for 10 years and in that time I’ve helped literally hundreds (possibly thousands) of students to go into the world and live their dream because they were able to get a decent score in this stupid exam.
I’ve listed my frustrations with IELTS above, but still I am happy to work in this space. Heck, someone has to make the good materials that counterbalance the crap. Someone has to provide real advice to drown out the nonsense.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve got any more to add to this list. I could’ve gone on for another few points, but I hate to rant… (Ok, I love to rant, but I’ve got work to do.)