British Council and STEPS seek to promote IELTS as an alternative to TOEFL as an English language proficiency test

IELTS aiming to become Japan’s ‘new’ English test

Japanese students applying to study in English-speaking countries often take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) to prove their English-language proficiency for academic purposes.

TOEFL is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), a U.S. nonprofit organization, but now a similar testing system from Britain is aiming to boost its profile in this sector under a newly reached deal between British and Japanese organizations.

The British Council, a cultural and educational organization that promotes study in Britain, and the Society for Testing English Proficiency (STEP), the administrator of the Eiken English proficiency test in Japan, have agreed to work together in this country to administer the International English Language Testing System (IELTS, read as ai-elts). Previously, it had been handled by the British Council alone.

Launched 20 years ago, IELTS focuses on testing examinees’ interactive communication abilities in four language skills–speaking, listening, reading and writing. One of its major features is a face-to-face, one-on-one interview that lasts nearly 15 minutes.

IELTS is scored in “bands” from 1 to 9, with 6 considered the minimum level for undergraduate studies.

According to the British Council, the IELTS is accepted by about 6,000 educational institutions in 120 countries. About 2,000 of those are in the United States, including Ivy League universities and major professional schools.

For comparison, the official ETS Web site states that TOEFL is accepted by more than 7,000 institutions in 130 countries.

Under the deal, which was reached last month, STEP will take over administering the test in Japan–beginning with a session in April next year–with support from the British Council in such areas as training interviewers.

The deal is aimed at making IELTS more convenient for test-takers by taking advantage of various services STEP has established in administering its Eiken tests.

In Japan, IELTS is currently available only in five major cities, but the number of testing sites will be increased under the new scheme, while test-takers will be able to apply or pay fees for the test by using STEP services online or at convenience stores.

STEP will also promote IELTS, not only providing information in its publications, but also encouraging publishers or language schools to produce learning materials or start courses on the test.

Currently, the IELTS attracts about 1.4 million examinees in 125 countries, with nearly 7,000 test-takers in Japan last year.

During a joint press conference in Tokyo last week, Jason James, director of the British Council in Japan, described the nation as one of “just a few examples” of places where IELTS is not yet well known, in addition to South Korea and Taiwan.

In this respect, Fumio Domyo, executive director of STEP, is confident of the success of IELTS in Japan even though the nation has been facing a declining birthrate, as well as a downward trend in the number of Japanese studying overseas in recent years.

“There’s still much room for appreciation of the test to spread,” he said. “I don’t believe it [the market for those wishing to study overseas] has become saturated yet.

“We hope that our collaboration will help more and more Japanese take advantage of IELTS to gain opportunities to study abroad,” he added. “Thus, we hope to help increase the number of Japanese who can be active on the international stage.”

Nov 24, 2009 Daily Yomiuri

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