Review of Recommended 2-year Limit on IELTS Validity

Several high-stakes English proficiency tests suggest a two-year time limit on validity for score usage (IELTS; Pearson; TOEFL iBT). Although such timeframes provide a useful rule-of-thumb for identifying how recently a test was taken, adherence to such limits can have far-reaching consequences for individuals and institutions.

In this summary we share preliminary research which systematically collates and compares policies regarding test validity periods in five countries and three key sectors: higher education institutions (HEIs), medical regulatory bodies, and immigration authorities. An analysis of policy documentation was conducted using publicly available information from 90 universities and 18 medical regulators, plus four immigration authorities. This information was considered alongside qualitative insights from in-depth interviews with stakeholders.

Findings indicate that the recommended two-year validity period is overwhelmingly the norm, with only a few exceptions. Score users place trust in test developers and tend to adopt recommendations as policy (cf. Hamid et al., 2019; O’Loughlin, 2011). The lack of variation in the two-year period taps into the ‘equity vs. equality’ dilemma observed by Lam et al. (2021) in the HEI context, and reinforces the value of fostering shared understanding for the basis of such recommendations (Pill and Harding, 2013).

Moving forward, we plan to work towards developing practical recommendations for communicating issues around test validity periods across different contexts of use, accounting for risks, responsibility, equity, and fairness. Further documentation of findings in the public domain is also planned to increase transparency around decision-making and reviewing existing IELTS policies.