The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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English test offers a window to the world

Wanted: MBBS MD BE MBA match for… CRPF Medical Officer IELTS cleared 26/5’10”...

An advertisement in the brides-wanted column in a regional newspaper. Up to a few years ago, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) was an exam for students going to study at the graduation and post-graduation levels in the UK. Now, it’s a gateway to the outside world and a feather in a groom’s headgear.

This ticket to ride far and wide has multiple purposes. It is a requirement for Australian, New Zealand and Canadian immigration, and for admission into any course in universities in the US and the UK. For aspirants, it is not just about knowing the English language, but a passport to a better future.

In Calcutta, the British Council conducts the IELTS exam twice a month. “Last year, we decided to fix a schedule. Before that, it was by demand,” explains Suchitra Mukherjee, exam coordinator at British Council. Not only that, the Council has increased the number of examinees per batch to over 100 from earlier this year, and the venues, too, are becoming larger — banquet halls in five-star hotels — “to accommodate everyone”. The number of examinees last year was about 2,000, and this year, the expected figure is around 3,000 says Mukherjee. In addition, to “ease the load” on Calcutta, previously the only eastern regional centre, quarterly exams have been introduced in Guwahati and Patna.

The reason is the fall in popularity of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the American equivalent to test a candidate’s fluency in the language, “because IELTS is far more comprehensive and tests all four areas individually — reading, writing, listening and speaking”. In fact, now, almost all US universities have started accepting IELTS scores from foreign students as an alternative to the TOEFL, and some even prefer it.

For Australian and New Zealand immigration purposes, IELTS was always a requirement. However, the newest addition, a couple of years ago, is Canada. The most recent change is hiking the “pass” marks from March this year. Australia and New Zealand have raised it to 6.5 (out of a total of nine) and Canada has increased it to seven. “This is because Indian students are quite good at it, though the IELTS is not easy, and there are larger numbers applying for immigration every year. They want to keep the numbers down,” feels Mukherjee.

In the US, every university has different requirements, while in the UK, it also depends on the course. For example, for post-graduate trainees pursuing medicine, a seven in the speaking module of the IELTS exam is a must, along with an overall seven. Preparation materials are readily available, with a specimen pack brought out by the Council and Cambridge University. How to prepare for the IELTS is another book by the Council, and both, along with other material, “are quite popular”.

So, for Rs 5,250, get your IELTS score, which, if you are not happy with, you can keep trying till you succeed. Book your seat for the next exam on June 21, and for the next two years, you are eligible not just for education and immigration to the West, but — as the matrimonial ad indicates — you may also get extra points in the marriage mart for your English skills.

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