Would you pass the English test for an Australian visa?
Migration agent claims large numbers of Irish 'fail' the English test. What are the questions like?
How do you think you would perform in an English language test? Photograph: Thinkstock
A migration agent in Australia has claimed that large numbers of Irish people, especially tradesmen, are "failing to pass" an English language test necessary when applying for certain Australian visas.*
Richard Coates from Dublin, who works as a migration agent in Adelaide, told The Irish Times over the weekend that 90 per cent of Irish people who do the English test fail to get enough points at least once.
Coates (along with one of the designers of the IELTS English language test, David Ingram) believes it is unsuitable for people trained in a trade, who might have difficulty with spelling and grammar.
So what makes the test so hard, and why are so many people failing it? We took a look at some of the sample questions available on the IELTS website.
Firstly, who needs to take an English test? Most workers and students who are not sponsored by an employer must apply for points-based visas to work or study in Australia. Points are primarily awarded for things like work experience, qualifications and age, but if a candidate doesn't score enough in these categories, they can take an English language test for extra points.
What does the test involve? The tests are carried out by various companies approved by the Australian Department of Immigration. The most common is the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) General Training test, which “focuses on general survival skills in broad social and workplace contexts”. This is also the standard test taken by applicants for points-based visas in Canada and New Zealand.
Depending on the visa type, applicants have to score at least 5 points out of 9 (or equivalent, depending on the company carrying out the test) in each of four categories - listening, reading, writing and speaking - in order to qualify for extra points for their visa application.
Candidates are given an hour to respond to two writing tasks. Answers are judged on coherence and the range of vocabulary and grammar used.
TASK 1: You live in a room in college which you share with another student. However, there are many problems with this arrangement and you find it very difficult to work. Write a letter to the accommodation officer at the college. In the letter, describe the situation, explain your problems and why it is difficult to work, and say what kind of accommodation you would prefer. Write at least 150 words. Begin your letter as follows: Dear Sir or Madam.
TASK 2: Write about the following topic: In Britain, when someone gets old they often go to live in a home with other old people where there are nurses to look after them. Sometimes the government has to pay for this care. Who do you think should pay for this care, the government or the family? Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience. Write at least 250 words.
The speaking test involves a conversation with an examiner, which will flash many candidates back to their dreaded Junior or Leaving Cert oral exams. It is “interactive and as close to a real-life situation as a test can get”. The test is 11 to 14 minutes long with three parts:
PART 1: Let’s talk about your home town or village:
- What kind of place is it?
- What’s the most interesting part of your town/village?
- What kind of jobs do the people in your town/village do?
- Would you say it’s a good place to live? (Why?)
PART 2: Describe something you own which is very important to you. You should say where you got it from; how long you have had it; what you use it for; and why it is important to you. You have one minute to think about what you’re going to say. You can make some notes to help you if you wish.
PART 3: Two-way discussion: Let’s consider first of all how people’s values have changed. What kind of things give status to people in your country? Have things changed since your parents’ time? Finally, let’s talk about the role of advertising. Do you think advertising influences what people buy?
The reading test is 60 minutes long. It is in three sections, with 40 questions to answer in total based on a text provided. Questions range from fill-in-the-blanks to multiple choice, identifying the writer’s views, and matching information. Below is a sample paper, with flowchart-style questions in section one.
The listening test is 30 minutes long, with a selection of short questions to answer ranging from multiple choice to sentence completion based on a recording played during the test. See ielts.org to listen to a sample.
*NOTE (added September 29th): Each section of the test is marked on a scale of one to nine. Visa applicants must get between five and seven out of nine in each section of the test (depending on the visa type) in order to qualify for extra points for their visa application.
If you’ve taken an English language test when applying for a visa, did you find it difficult? Are you surprised that so many Irish people fail? Do you think such a test is suitable? Let us know in the comments section below.