In view of the enormous expansion of English-taught programs at European universities over the last 10 years, it is imperative that appropriate tools for predicting student performance should be validated, and apposite cut-off scores established for different subject areas. In this context, listening skills are particularly important, since the traditional form of instruction through lectures tends to predominate. This study investigated the issue of student listening skills from a variety of perspectives. Groups of students enrolled on bilingual programs in Humanities, Law and Medicine took an IELTS Listening Test at the beginning of their first semester.
Questionnaires on student listening ability and coping skills and strategies were developed, and these were administered to the students at the end of the semester. Qualitative interviews were also carried out with a sample of students in each faculty, and the results of these were analysed to provide a more detailed picture of the way that students face the challenge of taking academically demanding courses in English.
Finally, statistical tests were performed to explore the relationship between students’ numerical IELTS Listening scores and their final course grades, on the one hand, and their IELTS band scores and their self-report data, on the other. Small positive correlations were detected between students’ numerical listening scores and their final grades in the courses that were taught in English. Moderate to large correlations were found between the IELTS Listening band scores and self-report data obtained from the questionnaires.
In parallel to this process, a modified Angoff procedure was performed with eight experienced teachers of English for Academic Purposes. A consensus cut-off score of 23 was obtained, which was consistent with the general practice of requiring a minimum band score of 6 at universities in English speaking countries. Nonetheless, when the final course grades of students who had obtained 6 or more were compared with those of students who had obtained Band 5 or less, it was established that Listening scores less than Band 6 were not predictive of academic failure.
The report concludes with a recommendation that the ideal cut-off score for Law, Medicine and Humanities should be Band 6, but that this may not prove feasible under current circumstances. Instead, it is suggested that students with band scores below 6 should be informed that the course will require them to invest more time than for an equivalent course in their native language, and that they should be offered language support.