Don’t take IELTS

I recently took an IELTS exam at the University of Calgary branch. During the test dates several issues bothered me. The issues concerned the physical situation of the test room, unclear instructions during the test, and discriminatory behaviour of the examiners, which I will discuss thoroughly below.

There were a total of four examiners at the registration desk which one of them seemed to be the lead examiner, and was also the person who ran the speaking test with me on the following day. The rest of the group helped him to administer the test. One hour prior to the start of the exam we were seater in the test room, and we were told that we cannot leave the room for any reason until when the reading part of the test starts. The room temperature was low while almost all test takers were in summer clothes, and all the examiners had some sort of warm jacket or suit on or with them.

Once three of the test takers asked to leave to go to washroom the lead examiner started showing irritation followed by facial expressions which then turned into a verbal statement towards all test takers with a humiliating tone. The statement was something along the line that “I trust that you are all ‘adults’ and this probably because you are stressed about the exam that you feel like you need to use the washroom.” And then he said if we absolutely need to use the washroom we can do so before the test starts. He however had mentioned that if everyone shows up, we would start the exam before the actual start time (9:00am), hinting that he just wanted to get it done as soon as possible. Eventually, he tried to put a pressure on everyone by saying that if we go to washroom before the start of the test, then ‘everyone’ has to wait for us to return before we start it. The comment seemed only concern himself rather than any of the test takers. After he was done with his statement I mentioned that it is probably because the room is very cold that everyone wants to go to washroom. Then he said in a mocking voice: “Oh, does ‘that’ make you want to go to washroom?”

Furthermore, the lead examiner tried to use the shape of his mouth and lips to make it more clear for us to understand what he is saying, but unfortunately, and probably because a lack of training, his expressions didn’t align well with the words he intended to pronounce, making it even harder to understand him, and to some extent looking strange. This was accompanied by his very fast speed of speaking, which clearly was not easy to grasp for several test takers in the room, leaving them uninstructed about several parts of the test.

There was also an unclear part about the reading section. A text was given and some of the questions asked which paragraph contained certain information. There were obviously more than one paragraph which contained the given topic, but it was not clear if we are to list all of the paragraphs or just the most important one. For example, a question asked that which paragraph contains physical information about a corpse. There were two paragraphs mentioning there was a wound on his back, and a paragraph giving information about his height and weight etc. Upon asking for clarification, I received no answer.

Finally, my name wasn’t completely printed on the slip of the paper on the table (it was missing the letter D at the end) and I was instructed to let the examiners know at the end of the exam. Upon doing this the main examiner asked me to wait on the side, and he eventually got back to me when he answered everyone else’s questions and was done giving other instructions to his team. He then asked me for my passport and looked at several pages of my passport including the pages that had visas on them, asking me various questions on the information on my passport, even though they had checked my passport before the start of the test and also several times during the test. While he saw my confusion about the situation which felt like an interrogation, he made a comment about my beard in the picture of my passport which I found very inappropriate and discriminating.

These circumstance are not something that I look forward to, when I sign up for a ‘standardised’ test and pay $300 for it. It certainly does not reflect the standards they have mentioned in their “Examiner recruitment and training” section of their agenda. I am deeply concerned that this discriminating behaviour and the military-like atmosphere that seems to have become a norm among the team of the IELTS examiners at University of Calgary branch could potentially affect my score, specially if they are being graded by the same group of examiners. I definitely discourage everyone from taking the test at the mentioned branch, and since it shows the lack of supervision from the company, to avoid taking the IELTS test altogether, and seek alternative solutions such as TOEFL and Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB).

In my letter to them, I have listed three expectations: First, I expect an official apology from both the company and the the examiners, separately, and in hard copy. Second, I understand that only ‘selected’ speaking and writing performances are second-marked. Hence, I expect for my exam to be graded by a completely independent group of people, in order to ensure the fairness of the test. Ideally the graders will be from a different location in Canada or USA. Third, I expect a follow up containing a review of the behaviour of the examiners and physical situation of the test room.

My terrible experience during the IELTS test happened at a building on University of Calgary’s main campus. It seems like the whole process is being operated under some faculty of the university. It is very unfortunate that University of Calgary is involved in such degrading activities. This certainly is not aligned with the advertised goals of the Eyes High program at UofC. On the other hand, as an academic, this makes me wonder if we shall rethink our criteria about accepting test results from IELTS as a ‘standard’ test if the tests are being so poorly designed and conducted. I hope the quality of events happening at the University of Calgary’s campuses are of enough importance to the administration to take the necessary actions.


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