IELTS panel discussion at PIE Live North America

The key role English assessment plays in student recruitment





Date Published

01 February 2024

English language assessment continues to play a key role in international student recruitment and student success. This was highlighted at a recent panel discussion organised by the IELTS team at PIE Live North America in November last year.

The ongoing relevance of language testing

The panel brought together experts to discuss why high-stakes assessments like IELTS are still vital for global education. Sara Davila, ESL Research and Assessment Policy Analyst, IELTS USA, set the scene with an overview of the importance of English language proficiency for global access, mobility, confidence, well-being and employability.

Sara Davila, ESL Research and Assessment Policy Analyst, IELTS USA presenting at PIE Live North America

Sara Davila, ESL Research and Assessment Policy Analyst, IELTS USA presenting at PIE Live North America

Supporting students at every step

She then led a panel discussion where she was joined by Shawn Wolfe, Director, American Language and Culture Institute and External English Language Programs at Salem State University and Gulnaz Kordanova, graduate student at Harvard University and Founder of Connect-Ed. They gave their views on why English language proficiency is still relevant for global higher education today.

Shawn discussed the importance of setting the right scores to avoid student retention issues and highlighted the significant role student support plays. He explained that by knowing the scores and understanding what they actually mean, universities can provide the relevant support and advice which will give students a helping hand when moving up the band scales:

"For me, on almost a daily basis, I’m assessing students in my own context. I pay attention to what the scores mean.
One thing that’s important is that a score to most people just looks like a number, right, and you get a 5.5 and you think, okay, I need a 6.0 over. So, you think that’s close.
But really, how much time does it take to move up?
As an educator, we want to have a reliable assessment, a reliable scale and to know where a student is entering, where to place them and … to give them what they actually need in an efficient way.
Because students don't want to spend a lot of time or money learning English forever.
And I feel at least in our language program, we've been able to do that."

Shawn has worked with admissions colleagues to develop a deep understanding of assessment and language development. This has been invaluable in helping Salem State recruit students for direct admissions, and for admissions through Intensive English Programs where students develop their language skills prior to enrolling for full-time courses.

Building student confidence

Gulnaz then reflected on her own experience of taking IELTS to highlight the importance of gaining the right band score for a positive study experience. She recounted when she first took IELTS:

“I scored 5.5 in IELTS and obviously I didn’t get into the school. Although it was in Kazakhstan, it was fully in English.
However, it was a good thing that I didn’t make it to the school at that time because just knowing what my language proficiency was at that time, I don’t think I would have succeeded if I got into the school with that score.
By improving my skills and practising IELTS, it meant that the last time I needed to take it, to apply for my graduate studies, I was already confident that … my IELTS score reflects my skills.
I can go and study and take advantage of the education that I’m going to get.”

On reflection, Gulnaz realised she needed more time to develop her English skills. This led to success when she took the test again, achieving the IELTS score she needed, and reaching her goal to get into Harvard.

Gulnaz is also the 2023 winner of the Andrea Scott International Graduate Scholarship. The award commemorates Andrea Scott and provides financial support to incoming international graduate students focused on global impact, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives.

One specific thing Gulanz mentioned here, which is valuable: She didn't get the score she hoped for, but in hindsight, that turned out to be a good thing, because even though she felt ready, she really did need more time to develop her English skills. This lead to success when she took the test again, achieving her IELTS goal and succeeding in her goal to get into Harvard.

Gulnaz Kordanova and Shawn Wolfe presenting at PIE Live North America

Gulnaz Kordanova and Shawn Wolfe presenting at PIE Live North America.

Language testing: a doorway to opportunity

The panel also highlighted the continued relevance of English assessment as a gateway for international students to access life-changing educational experiences. With appropriate score setting and student support systems in place, high-stakes assessments like IELTS set up students and institutions for mutual success. Learn more in Issue 2 of the IELTS Professional Series, Admissions Simplified: Leveraging IELTS Scores for a Comprehensive Evaluation.