Perceptions of IELTS in Cambodia: A case study of test impact in a small developing country


Stephen Moore

Richmond Stroupe

Paul Mahony

Date Published:

1st March 2012

This study investigated the impact of the IELTS Test across different stakeholders in contemporary Cambodia. The major stakeholders included test-takers, examiners, learners, teachers, parents/guardians of test-takers, and local users of test results (eg, scholarship officers and employers). The study followed a mixed-methods approach in collecting data (including multiple methods and multiple sources) within an interpretive research paradigm (ie, in which qualitative approaches predominate). The overall project has been framed as a critical language testing (CLT) case study. The research was guided by 15 specific research questions. Among the main findings were:

  1. The IELTS Test is the major gate-keeping mechanism for Cambodians to access the majority of scholarships available to them for overseas study.
  2. The IELTS Test is generally trusted as an accurate measurement tool for academic English proficiency.
  3. Several different stakeholder groups indicated that IELTS was too Eurocentric and that Cambodian candidates had to acquire more ‘world knowledge’ in addition to developing their English language proficiency skills to achieve a satisfactory band score.
  4. The IELTS Test was widely considered to be expensive for Cambodian test-takers.

Overall, the IELTS Test in Cambodia was found to have a minor impact on education and society in Cambodia in general terms, but a significant impact on facilitating opportunities for Cambodians to pursue higher education overseas at English-medium institutions (especially for postgraduate studies). The full impact of IELTS’s role in contributing to the decisions as to which Cambodians can (and cannot) pursue overseas study is ultimately unknowable but will, nevertheless, play out over the coming decades.