Investigating the appropriateness of IELTS cut-off scores for admissions and placement decisions at an English medium university in Egypt

This study investigates whether the IELTS scores established by the American University in Cairo for admissions and placement into English language courses and rhetoric courses are appropriate.

Ensuring that students have sufficient language proficiency for full-time study at an Englishmedium university is a problem that institutions in English-speaking countries struggle with, due to high enrolments of international students. As more English-medium institutions appear outside of English-speaking countries, the need for studies on the use of tests such as IELTS (International English Language Testing System) are necessary for institutions to set cut-off scores that are appropriate and fair. This report describes a study undertaken at an English-medium university in Egypt, where the challenges to students and opportunities for students’ language development differ from those faced by international students in an English-speaking context.

The aim of the study was to determine whether the cut-off scores established for various levels of English language support and writing courses are appropriate and fair, by examining student achievement data (course outcomes, grades and scores and GPA), as well as the perceptions of stakeholders towards individual students’ placement.

Consistent with studies on the predictive validity of IELTS, the current study found few large or meaningful correlations between IELTS scores and academic success. However, some significant correlations were found between IELTS reading and writing scores and academic success.

There was some variation in students’ perceptions towards IELTS and their placement within English and writing courses, as there was in the knowledge of the test among faculty members, but both sets of stakeholders seemed generally positive towards the use of the test and the established cut-off scores.

The use of IELTS for admission and the established cut-off scores seem justified by analysis of student data and stakeholder perceptions. However, more investigation is needed to determine its appropriateness as a tool for placing students in English language and writing courses. This report concludes with recommendations for future research.