Investigation of relationships between learner background, linguistic progression and score gain on IELTS


Okim Kang

Hyunkee Ahn

Kate Yaw

Soh-Yon Chung

Date Published:

1st March 2021

This project investigated to what extent IELTS test performances (i.e., overall test scores, speaking section scores, and linguistic constructs of speaking) changed over a period of three months. It further examined how learner background variables affected linguistic progress and band score gains on the IELTS.

Fifty-two Korean students, enrolled in IELTS preparation classes, participated in the study. Participants’ proficiency levels were determined by their in-house placement test scores (i.e., roughly 16 beginners, 17 intermediate and 19 advanced). After participants completed the pre-test survey, they took the pre-arranged official IELTS test. Participants’ hours of study and target language use information was collected weekly. The post-survey and online interviews were conducted at the end of the three-month period right after the official IELTS post-test. The individual long-run speaking responses from the pre- and post- tests were used for speech analysis (i.e., pronunciation and lexico-grammatical features) to examine their linguistic gains over time.

The results showed that students made various progress in English over the three-month period with an average gain of slightly less than half a band (.3), and with the most score gain in the writing skill and the least score gain in the speaking skill. Approximately 60% of the participants gained .5 or 1 band scores. In particular, hours of study and level of proficiency predicted the band score gains most potently. Together with the amount of target language, the background variables explained 34% of variance in the score gains. Fluency features revealed the most significant improvement over time, but complex relationships were found between learner background characteristics and speech construct changes.

The findings offer useful implications for the development of language testing and assessment as well as curriculum planning.