Candidates questioning examiners in the IELTS Speaking Test: An intervention study

This study considers the possibility of introducing an element of more naturalistic, two-way interaction into the IELTS Speaking Test (IST). The research aimed to evaluate the effect of an intervention, namely the addition of a fourth part into the structure of the IST. This was intended as a two-minute section in which the candidate asked questions on a typical IST topic to the examiner, who then replied. Asking questions is a skill that university students have to develop, and such sequences could potentially provide useful rating data and a two-way interactional element.

This four-part test was trialled by 18 candidates and three (3) examiners under six (6) conditions which enabled evaluation of the best format and location for the new part. The study evaluated whether candidate-led question-answer sequences are actually produced and whether value is added to the test in any way. The tests were recorded, transcribed and analysed using a CA approach. Both candidates and examiners were interviewed about the intervention.

The new Candidate Question (CQ) part did generate candidate-led question-answer sequences as anticipated, even with weak candidates. The research suggests that the ‘examiner leading statement’ format after the existing part 2 would be optimal. The CQ part does add value in a number of ways, according to both examiners and candidates, creating a context for more naturalistic, two-way interaction. Higher-scoring candidate. took a more active role, developing topic and making other kinds of speech moves outside the question-answer lockstep. Examiners felt that candidate questions provided useful extra information for rating purposes. Potential disadvantages are increased test duration and variation in amount and type of examiner talk.