An investigation of speaking test reliability


Brent Merrylees

Date Published:

1st November 1999

This research project was designed to complement research being carried out at the time by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES) into candidate and examiner discourse produced in the Speaking Module of the test. The researchers felt that analysis of this kind was fundamental to having informed discussions on any possible changes to the test format and the debate would be further enhanced by consulting IELTS examiners, the practitioners who are actually required to apply the speaking test instrument. At the time there had been no large scale survey of IELTS examiners to establish their attitudes to either the speaking test format or to the band descriptors in their current form.

The research project investigated examiner attitude to the speaking test by carrying out a survey of IELTS examiners working at test centres in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Taiwan. The survey was delivered in a two page questionnaire and was divided into the three broad sections of IELTS interview format, IELTS Band Descriptors and the different interview phases. The final sample size for the survey was 151 respondents. In addition to this survey, a dataset of 20 IELTS interview transcriptions was constructed and an analysis was carried out on examiner discourse and how it can affect the language produced by the candidate both in terms of quantity as well as quality. The dataset was also designed to provide a resource for more detailed analysis of the Speaking test if it were required in the future.