The study reported here investigated the authenticity of the Task 2 component of the IELTS writing test (academic module). Specifically, the study's aim was to find out the extent to which this component of the test corresponds to the writing requirements of university study. This was researched in two ways: through a survey of writing tasks set in the two domains, and through interviews with academic staff.
In the task survey, a total of 155 assignment tasks from a range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses were collected and then compared with a corpus of 20 IELTS Task 2 items. The tasks were compared according to four dimensions of difference: genre; information source; rhetorical function; object of enquiry. This part of the study found that the IELTS tasks bear some resemblance to the predominant genre of university study - the essay; however, a number of important differences were observed between the two corpora. The most important of these were:
- The use of prior knowledge as the basis for writing in the IELTS tasks, compared with the prescription of a variety of research processes in the university assignments;
- A restricted range of rhetorical functions in the IELTS items (with a focus on hortation), compared with a diversity of functions in the university tasks;
- An emphasis on 'real world' entities (situations, actions, practices) in the objects of enquiry of IELTS items compared with a greater focus on abstract entities (theories, ideas, methods) in the university tasks.
From these findings, it was speculated that the type of writing prescribed in IELTS Task 2 items may have more in common with certain public non-academic genres - the newspaper editorial and letter to the editor - than those characteristic of the academic domain.