Since the launch of the IELTS test in 1989, the number of candidates taking the IELTS test has continued to grow with an increasing number sitting the test for reasons other than it was originally designed for. The test in its original format was designed to assess whether candidates were ready to study or train in the medium of English and increasingly candidates who intend to complete Secondary School studies or need proof of English Language proficiency for immigration purposes are sitting the test. In 1995, the New Zealand Immigration Service adopted the test as the preferred English Language test and in 1998 the Australian government decided to use the IELTS test for immigration purposes after withdrawing funding for the access: test. As a result of these two policy decisions, the incidence of candidates presenting for the IELTS test in Australia and New Zealand for immigration reasons has increased significantly. Also in Australia, the number of students coming to the country to complete their Secondary School studies has been slowly increasing and a number of secondary schools have approached IELTS centres to discuss the appropriacy of the IELTS tests for candidates in the age range of 15 to17.
With the increase in candidature of both user groups, there is an increasing need to investigate and analyse how each group is performing on the test in terms of nationality, age, gender and other factors. At the time this research project was proposed, impact studies were being carried out to investigate the views and attitudes of IELTS user groups and also to establish a profile of the IELTS test taking population. Given these impact studies were under way and the fact that the two user groups in this project had the potential of becoming a significant presence in the IELTS test taking population, a study into the particular groups was considered important.