The use of IELTS for university selection in Australia: A case study


Kieran O’Loughlin

Date Published:

27th April 2008

This study examines the use of IELTS in selecting international, full fee-paying students to a large faculty at a major Australian university.

In recent years there has been growing interest in how high-stakes language test scores are interpreted and used in specific contexts. This report describes a study which examined the use of IELTS in selecting international, full fee-paying students for a large faculty at a major Australian university.

Using institutional documents, questionnaires and interviews the study attempted to, firstly, map how IELTS was used in the selection process and, secondly, explore the knowledge and beliefs which staff (both administrative and academic) and students had about the Test. Key findings included:

  1. A well-articulated, if somewhat inflexible, selection policy and clear guidelines about minimum English language requirements including IELTS.
  2. A generally high level of procedural compliance with university policy and procedures on the part of staff directly involved in selection.
  3. Variable levels of knowledge about the IELTS (both of the Test and the scores it produces) among staff and students including a lack of understanding among both groups as to what different IELTS scores imply about a student’s language ability, their readiness for university study and their need for further English development.
  4. The prevalence of “folkloric” beliefs particularly amongst staff about English language proficiency and the IELTS Test, some with a firmer basis in reality than others. Such beliefs include a scepticism about the validity, reliability and “trustworthiness” of IELTS scores and an unrealistic expectation about their power to predict academic success.
  5. A lack of clearly established equivalence between the IELTS Test and other acceptable evidence of English proficiency in university selection policy.

These findings and their implications are discussed in detail in this report.