Written July 21, 2009


Is the Speaking Test the Same all Over the World?

Every now and then I get an email asking me that question. The question means, "Are the test questions the same?"

My answer is this: I don't know for sure about the situation in different countries because I don't collect a lot information from other countries. However, from what little information I have seen, I would say that the questions are about 90% the same as in China.

More specifically, I have noticed that the test in Australia seems to have some or most of the topics that are being used in China, including most of the new topics (new at the last change time in China) but they also are using a few Part 2/3 topics that have been recently retired in China (i.e., retired at the last change time). I don't know if these topics started to be used in Australia later than in China, hence the reason why they are still in use in Australia. They might be topics that are continuing in the test in Australia longer than 12 months, which sometimes also happens in China. I assume that the situation in Australia is the same in other places throughout the world. This makes it a bit more difficult to predict what topics are in use in these places if you just use my website as your source of information.

The situation for Part 1 is similar to that for Parts 2/3 most of the questions seem to be the same as the ones currently in use in China but occasionally some recently retired Part 1 topics are reported as still being used.


Another question that people sometimes ask is, "Is the standard of grading the same all over the world?"

Yes, the standard is exactly the same all over the world. For example, if you did the test in China twice and got 5.5 twice for Speaking and you plan to do the test again in Singapore or Canada not too long after your last test in China (say, less than 4 months after your last test in China), you can reasonably expect to get 5.5 (+/- 0.5) overseas. That's the same expectation you would have if you did the test again in China within 4 months of your last test. Of course, you might get 6.5 but the most likely result is 5.5 (+/- 0.5).

There is only one situation that I can think of where the standard of grading might be different but this situation would not be relevant to most readers of this website. This is the situation where non-native English speakers are used as examiners. For example, I think that some test centres in India use non-native English speakers as examiners because there are not enough native English-speaking examiners available. (But they might be close to native English speakers, for example, growing up in a bi-lingual family and in a bi-lingual environment.) In these cases, the examiners are people such as local English teachers who have been assessed at Band 9 on the IELTS test. Since they are not really native English speakers, they might, at times, be a little erratic in their grading either grading a little too high or a little too low.


Finally, I have also been asked questions about the grading standard at different places in China. For example: "I come from Shenyang and I'm preparing for the IELTS test in Beijing. Do you think the Speaking test will be graded more strictly in Beijing than in Shenyang?"

The grading standard is exactly the same in Beijing as in Shenyang or any other test centre in China.

Firstly, the topics at all the test centres in China come from exactly the same pool of topics.

Second, the same examiners who examine in Shenyang this weekend might be examining in Beijing next weekend. Examiners in Shenyang are not just those few examiners who actually live in Shenyang the British Council sends many examiners to Shenyang from Beijing and other places when there is a test in Shenyang. And if there's no test in Shenyang on a certain weekend but there is a test in Beijing or some other places, the British Council will ask the examiners who live in Shenyang to go to Beijing or those other places. This situation is the same for all the test centres all over China.