The IELTS Exam and Cut-Off Decisions: One University's Mistake

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College and University






American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers

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College and university admissions officers are the gatekeepers who decide which individuals may join the "country club" of higher education. As such, the decisions they make have a significant impact on the lives of individuals, especially those who are willing to travel across the globe and risk living in an unfamiliar country in order to receive a postsecondary education. Making decisions about international students and their credentials is much more complicated than evaluating the applications of U.S. students. Part of this complicated process involves decisions regarding English language proficiency and cut-off scores for exams such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL®) and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) examination. In the spirit of fairness and what is best for the students as well as institutions, this article describes the format of the IELTS, introduces some psycholinguistic terms, and evaluates the IELTS vis à vis six criteria for language-proficiency exams. Finally, a case study is shared from the author's university, i.e. a situation in which uninformed admissions decisions were made about students' English abilities as assessed by the IELTS and what was done to correct the situation. The author hopes that their mistake can serve as a lesson for other higher education institutions.

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