Japanese Stakeholders’ Perceptions of IELTS Writing and Speaking Tests and their Impact on Communication and Achievement

With the rapid movement to globalisation, a good command of English as the international language of the world has become essential. In response to this trend, the current English language curriculum in Japan has been revised to focus on enhancing the four skills (i.e., listening, speaking, reading and writing). In 2017, the Japanese Ministry of Education proposed that all universities should accept the results of commercial standardised proficiency tests, such as EIKEN, IELTS, and TOEFL.

In English language assessment research, there has been a growing emphasis on the importance of considering the views of stakeholders, such as students, teachers and administrators, in order to understand the social impact, current market focus and ethical implications of the test (e.g., Coleman et al., 2003; Hyatt, 2013). Consequently, many studies have investigated the impact IELTS has on IELTS preparation courses and academic success through collecting stakeholder perceptions. Most studies, however, have focused on the IELTS Writing Test or IELTS test performance in general, while few studies have examined the IELTS Speaking Test. Students are required to possess good writing and speaking skills to succeed in their academic study and beyond, and also different skills, knowledge and strategies for successful communication in writing and speaking.

For that reason, the current study investigated Japanese stakeholder perceptions of IELTS Writing and Speaking Tests, and their impact on communication and achievement in a given context. In particular, this study explored the level of familiarity with IELTS among high school teachers, university lecturers and first year university students, and how IELTS is perceived among these stakeholders, with special attention paid to the impact of its inclusion in university entrance exams in the near future. The study allows further insights to be gained from these perceptions into the usefulness of IELTS in terms of students’ readiness for L2 communication in an academic setting.

In the study, stakeholder perceptions of IELTS were assessed via a questionnaire survey (n=98) and semi-structured interviews (n=19). The analyses of questionnaire survey and interview data show that while most teachers know about IELTS, some student participants had never heard of IELTS until they participated in the questionnaire survey.

Further, most participants found both Speaking and Writing Tasks challenging and beyond what current high school students are required to do in the English curriculum. Nevertheless, they consider IELTS test tasks to assess written and oral communication skills adequately, but their views on the inclusion of IELTS in university entrance exam are mixed. These findings are discussed concerning the interpretation of communication skills, a gap between the current English language curriculum and what is required in the IELTS test, and the potential washback effect on the curriculum.