Jenny has been working in EFL for the last 20 years, having taught English in several countries including the UK, Greece, Portugal, Hungary and Japan. She joined the British Council as a full-time teacher in 2001 but has dedicated the last 10 years to creating and managing iPassIELTS, an online platform to help IELTS candidates across the world achieve their goal of studying or working abroad. Jenny also works as a Cambridge oral examiner and now lives in Spain with her husband and two children.
Given that BREXIT seems to be a sure thing, how do you see it affecting international students and the IELTS?
I think when Brexit eventually becomes a reality, international students from across the globe will still want to come and further their studies in British universities which have an excellent worldwide reputation for high standards of education. Similarly, I think students will continue to be very welcome to study in the UK since they contribute greatly to university life in Britain not only in terms of education but also in the social and cultural exchange that takes place when you have a diverse student body. Regarding IELTS, I don’t think it will be greatly affected as students will still need to provide evidence of their English ability whether it is part of a wider student visa application or not and I think the English proficiency requirements for tertiary study will remain the same.
You run an online IELTS training company so what do you think is the main benefit students get compared to attending a bricks and mortar school?
The biggest benefit of being able to study online is flexibility. Most of our students already have full-time commitments either to work or their family or both and finding the time and the energy to attend face-to-face classes on a regular basis can be problematic for many. Being able to choose when and where you want to study is a huge advantage, not to mention the fact that it is much more economical. On the downside, it does require more self-discipline on the student’s part because they are responsible for organising their own study periods at home in order to complete the course. However, we have generally found IELTS students to be highly focused and committed because they have a very specific goal which they often need to reach in a short period of time.
I’ve known some students who have failed the several times to get band 6.5 or 7 even after many hours of courses. What do you put this down to?
We also receive many emails from students facing this predicament and we find it is mostly down to not being fully prepared for the test and a lack of professional guidance. The key to getting a high score in IELTS is firstly understanding exactly what is required to achieve each band score and secondly getting personal advice from an IELTS expert on which language skills or exam techniques you need to focus on. Sometimes, though, it could just be that the candidate doesn’t have the required level of English. People often forget that Band 7 is an advanced level equivalent to a C1 in the Common European Framework so if they have only studied English to Intermediate level and have not lived or worked in an English-speaking country, it will be very difficult to acquire Band 7.
You’ve been helping students succeed in the IELTS for over 10 years so what golden tip would you give us IELTS teachers out there to help our own students do well?
Make sure they know what is expected for the band level they are trying to achieve, give them lots of real exam practice tasks so that you can identify their weaknesses and then start to address those weak areas by teaching specific grammar points, lexical items or exam techniques. Don’t overload the student with too much information or give them too many areas to work on simultaneously and above all when you notice improvement in any of the selected areas make sure you give plenty of praise and encouragement, which even with adult students is a huge confidence booster and can make a real difference in exam performance.
If you could change one thing about the IELTS, what would it be?
I would change the way it can be retaken. For example, if a candidate gets Band 7 in Reading, Listening and Speaking, but Band 6 in Writing and needs to get a minimum of 7 in all 4 components, it would be great if they could just re-sit the Writing test and not the entire exam. The reason is that a candidate who has failed to get the desired score in one skill – usually writing – will often then spend all their time focusing on that one particular skill in order to improve. Then, they retake the test and find that while their writing score has increased to 7, one of the other skills has suffered and they still fail to get the required score in all 4 components. This repetitive, and to my mind, unnecessary process is not only extremely time-consuming and costly for candidates but it is also hugely demoralising and frustrating and I think with some careful revision from the examining boards, it could easily be rectified.
You can find out more about iPassIELTS at www.ipassielts.com .