There is a lot of mis-information online about how to study IELTS, some of which comes from actual IELTS teachers who don’t know what they are talking about, and even language schools who give students false information about the exam itself. Students need to ask a number of important questions before paying for and enrolling on an IELTS course. These questions are relevant whether it is an online course or a classroom-based course. Here they are:
- Will I receive feedback?
- Will the feedback be general or specific to my work?
- How will the feedback help me?
- Is my teacher qualified?
- Is my teacher experienced at teaching IELTS?
- Can I see any testimonials from students?
In addition, honesty and transparency are important, especially when considering an online course which claims to provide tips and tricks to achieve a very high band score in a very short period of time – they do not work!
There are other important factors to consider if you are a student here in Vietnam, and these are specific to how language schools are run and how courses are managed. These are not obvious to most students even after they have finished a course. In addition to the questions above, you must consider:
Are the course fees reasonable?
In 2014 there were 92 registered IELTS providers in Vietnam. This grew to 911 in 2018. As a result, there is a very broad range of fees for IELTS courses, some of which are realistic and others which are far too high. There is one very well-known brand in Vietnam who charge around VND 30-35 million per course (40 lessons over 10 weeks) and there are six levels to progress through. Courses are discussed between an “Educational Consultant” and the student after their placement test, and the consultant receives a large commission if they can sell a course. In addition, a very high percentage of income is spent on marketing and branding, which you could argue, is not something students should have to pay for.
Another language school with dozens of branches in Vietnam sell modular courses. For example, students can choose a short course in Task 1 writing or Part 3 speaking or listening. This may be a way of reducing prices and filling classes but it is a very ineffective way of studying IELTS since all four skills are connected and should be practised together.
Do students receive an original course book and is the course officially recognised?
Very few language schools provide an original course book for students in Vietnam, and instead photocopy old material, often in black and white. They may claim their courses are “in-house designed” but really they are “in-house copied”. The reason for this is simple – an original up-to-date course book will cost 3-4 times more than around VND 120,000 for a photocopied book. If you multiply this extra cost by the number of students in each class and each level, it would have a significant impact on course costs and profitability.
How many levels are there and how do they match the official IELTS band scores?
One way for language schools to make more money is to create more levels and insist that students should study each one to make progress. Students are given a placement test before they start a course and the results of this determine which level they should start with. The problem is that the larger schools schedule their courses and levels up to one year in advance – but how do they know how many students will take placement tests and what their scores will be? (They don’t). As a result, there is a temptation to “fill classes” and some students may end up in the wrong level. It is important to understand the level of the course you are following and how that matches your current band score.
Some IELTS training centres create separate courses for just one level, for example, Foundation, Pre-IELTS and Speaking and Writing Intermediate. All these courses are designed for students at the same level. Why? Because if most of your students are between band score 3.5-5.0, it creates the opportunity to make more money.
In this diagram you can see the IELTS entry level band score and how this corresponds with the Common European Framework (CEF), an accepted benchmark used to compare the levels of different language tests. Students with a band score below 3.5 are not yet ready to study IELTS because they have not developed a sufficient range of vocabulary and grammar, so, it is clear from the diagram that there are four levels, not six or seven, and that the first level (Foundation) is a preparation course.
How do I move up a level?
This question is one which all students are concerned with towards the end of their course. Most candidates in Vietnam are aiming for a final band score of either 6.5 or 7.0 in the IELTS exam, so if a student is currently at 3.5-4.0, they face a long and boring journey if they have to take multiple courses at the same level. It is of course possible that some students do not make progress during their course, but, since it is much easier to improve from 3.0 to 5.0 than it is to reach the proficiency level of 6.0 and above, it is most likely that the student did not progress because the course they took was no good OR they failed the final exam.
Why do I need to take a final exam?
This final question might seem odd because the entire education system is based on final exams, but why should a student study for three months and not be aware of the progress they are making in each skills area? In the first three questions I listed at the top of this post: “Will I receive feedback?”, ” Will the feedback be general or specific to my work?” and “How will the feedback help me?”, the answers to these questions will help the student understand their weaknesses and focus on how to improve. If an IELTS student does not know their individual and overall band score until the end of the course, then it is already too late.