Investigating IELTS exit score gains in higher education


Kieran O'Loughlin

Sophie Arkoudis

Date Published:

12th April 2009

A much under-researched issue in English-medium higher education is the extent to which international students for whom English is a second/additional language improve their proficiency in the language during their studies. This report describes a study which examined the improvement made by full-fee paying international students (N = 63) from a large faculty at a major Australian university on the Academic version of IELTS over the duration of their studies. Using official pre- and post-course IELTS results, student questionnaires, and student and staff interviews, the study investigated the rate and nature of the improvement, as well as the educational, personal and social factors influencing this improvement. 

Key findings included the following points. 

  1. The greatest average improvement was in Listening and Reading and the least average improvement was in Writing. 
  2. The average improvement on Listening, Reading and Writing (but not Speaking) was significantly correlated. 
  3. Students with lower initial results in Listening, Reading and Writing tended to improve significantly more than students with higher results. 
  4. Undergraduate students improved more than postgraduate students. 
  5. The degree of English language support students sought within the university and the degree of contact they had with English outside the university strongly influenced their English language improvement. 

These findings and their implications are discussed in detail in the report.