The aim of this study is to provide evidence of the validity of the IELTS Speaking Test based on test content, that is, the extent to which it is representative of the knowledge and skills required to demonstrate English proficiency in undergraduate and graduate programs. This is investigated by comparing the oral interactive communication demands of the IELTS Test, through an analysis of a set of recorded interviews, with the demands identified in a university setting, through analysis of institutional documentation, interviews with staff, and observations of classroom interaction.
In the first part, the literature relating to spoken interaction in a study context was reviewed to identify which features of interactive communication are described. The findings were then discussed in the light of research and developments in the testing of spoken language. This was followed by an analysis of institutional documents within an Australian university focusing on expected and explicit speaking outcomes in first year university study.
The second part went on to explore the impact of those features of interactive communication, found in part 1, on students’ preparedness for speaking in study or training contexts. It consisted of observations of first year classes within an Australian university and interviews with the lecturers.
The third part consisted of the transcription and discourse analysis of taped IELTS interviews at Band 6 and above. The discourse analysis uncovered which interactional features, as identified in the literature, appeared in the candidate discourse. The findings highlighted the overlap and the gaps between features defined in the literature and their presence in the interview discourse. This enabled the researchers to report on the likely preparedness of the IELTS candidates for their study or training with regard to interactive communication.