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IELTS Exam Results: how you can apply for a breakdown of your speaking and writing exam scores

One of the main frustrations for IELTS test-takers is that IELTS does not provide a breakdown of the scores for writing or speaking. In other words, you know that you got a 6.5 for writing, but you don’t know why. Was it a problem with lexis? Did you write off-topic? Or was it your Task One that let you down? Until now the answer has simply been, only the examiner knows. IELTS exam results were essentially a black box.

However, now this is about to change. You are able to capitalise on the new European laws for data protection (called GDPR) to find out exactly what scores you have been awarded in the exam that you have taken. Yes, you are able to find out your scores for Task Response, Coherence and Cohesion, Lexical Resource, and Grammatical Range and accuracy for Task One and Task Two, and your scores for Fluency, Lexis, Grammar and Pronunciation for listening.

What is the current situation regarding IELTS exam results?

One of the main problems that IELTS test-takers have faced for many years is that there is no explanation of their exam results. You are given an individual score for reading, writing, listening, reading, and an overall score, but there is no indication at all of why you were awarded these bands. If you get your required score, then this is not a problem. However, if you have taken the exam 3, 4, 5, or even dozens of times and are stuck at a 6.5 in one area, it can be very frustrating not understanding why and where you are lacking.

The “black box” of IELTS test results is one of the reasons why there are so many conspiracy theories about the exam. Many students who are able to achieve a 7.5 or even an 8.0 in speaking but keep scoring 6.5 in writing again and again start think that something unfair is happening – they feel that the exam is “fixed” and that test centres are “fixing’ their scores.

Obviously, this is not happening, but it is easy to understand why students feel that it might be as there is so little transparency to the scores. If a student could see that in every exam they had scored highly for Grammatical Range and Accuracy and Lexical Resource but had scored poorly for Task Response and Coherence and Cohesion, they may start to understand that the problem lies in their academic skills, and that there is a genuine reason for their low score.

Why don’t IELTS currently provide a breakdown of exam results?

Honestly, I am not sure. My gut feeling is that it is to protect exam security. The more information that is revealed about a particular exam, the less secure it is in terms of students being able to cheat. Although Cambridge has created a massive bank of exams, questions are recycled and used again. If every test-takers was told, for example, how many questions they got right in a particular reading exam, this information could be used to work out the answers for a particular passage (assuming that a number of students could accurately remember their answers and compare them).

Another factor may simply be time and cost. Simply providing the final score is quicker and easier than generating a breakdown for each student. However, now that almost all test papers are marked online in giant marking hubs, this seems less reasonable than when each paper was marked at the original test centre.

What is General Data Protection Regulation and why is it important?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is Europe’s new data privacy and security law is the toughest privacy and security law in the world. The regulation was put into effect on May 25, 2018 and, essentially, affects how companies can collect and store your personal data. In the past, companies were basically free to track your interactions with their website and store all of that information without restriction, and without you knowing what information they have. Now, everything must be transparent and you have the right to write to any company to find out what information they have stored about you.

As a European company, the British Council must obey the strict GDPR laws and share with you what information they have about you in their records – and this includes the breakdown of your exam results!

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