Doing an English test is a necessary evil in this process. Most people seeking a 189/190 visa speak good English but will need to do a test anyway, either to meet the minimum eligibility requirement, or to get enough points to meet the threshold. If you are a native speaker, keep calm, concentrate hard and it’s a walk in the park.
What to expect in IELTS English test
There is a good chance that in order to get your subclass 189 or 190 visas you will need establish that you speak English at a proficient level. There are a number of reasons why this may be required: you may need the extra points for your application or it could be a requirement for State sponsorship.
Whilst not a requirement by the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) if you hold a UK, Irish, US, Canadian or New Zealand passport, if you come from these countries, you may want to do it anyway as you can bank a lot of points by establishing you speak English to a high level. DIBP has several ranking bands and if y demonstrate you speak Superior English, you’ll score 20 points on your application and 10 points for Proficient English. Competent, Vocational and Functional are other bands but they score 0 points. Main applicants for people not from the above mentioned countries will need to score at the Competent to meet the minimum requirement. it is worth noting that partners and dependent children over 18 may also need to do English proficiency tests or else there could be a significant charge levied (AUS$4885).
In my case, I hold a British passport and so didn’t technically need to do a test but as I was seeking State Sponsorship, I needed to comply with the State’s requirement for sponsorship, which was English at a minimum of competent level. When I first set out on the path towards this visa, I had done a lot of research, but not quite enough as I didn’t get my timing and priority of doing things right. If I had read all the fine print in more detail I would have seen that whilst English test was a requirement for State sponsorship, I didn’t need to have passed the test in order to submit my Skills Assessment application. I could have therefore saved myself 6 weeks if I had spotted that. I didn’t but hopefully I can save some other people some time through my error. So check with your skills assessor if English proficiency testing is a requirement for the skills assessment, or if it is only needed by DIBP or he sponsoring State. For General Occupations assessed by VETASSESS it was not a requirement.
So, you have determined that you need to do an English test, so which test do you need to do? As I needed one to meet Victoria’s requirement for my job code, I had two options IELTS or Pearson PTE. I selected IELTS as it is the most common test and I figured if I ever need an English test for another purpose, I might as well do the one that has wide recognition. The tests are booked online, and because demand is quite high (foreign students, people looking to emigrate and people looking to settle in the UK all need to complete a test), there is usually a bit of a wait to get a test date. I booked my test shortly before Christmas and wrote my test on 23 January. The first confusing thing that faced me was that there were two tests offered by IELTS, General and Academic. Unfortunately there is not much information out there on which one you need to do and the people who work at the test centres often won’t commit to an answer in case they get it wrong and are held accountable. Eventually I found out that I need to do the General test. The difference between the tests comes in the Reading and Writing sections and the academic section has material more focused on things you’d find in a university situation, such as reading information off graphs, rather than reading a Health and Safety notice in the General test. I never wrote or looked into Pearson in too much detail, but from what I’ve heard, it is a computer-based test that assesses Reading, Listening, Writing and Speaking. Its a four-hour test with a computer and headset. Other English tests out there that you may be required to do is the Occupational English Test (OET), which is the test required for Healthcare Professionals looking to emigrate to Australia, TOEFL IBT Academic test, and Cambridge English Advanced. TOEFL is an internet based test which is taken at various accredited test centres across the UK, and similarly, the Cambridge English test is also taken at accredited centres across the UK. All the test assesses Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking.
On the question of pen vs pencil – I would recommend to use a pencil, and bring a spare with just in case
Back to IELTS now and my test. I was completely baffled as to what to expect in the test. I was imagining something like my high school English exams where I was going to get grilled on grammar and correct usage and application of English. It was nothing as complex as that. The test was broken into four parts, Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. Depending on where you do the test and what option you select, you may either do the Speaking test on the same day as the other three, or on a separate day. For me, I had two options, do the Speaking test on a weekday afternoon and the other three a few days later on the Saturday, or to pay a premium and do the Listening Reading, and Writing test on Saturday morning, and then the Speaking test on Saturday afternoon. I opted to pay the premium and do it all on one day as my work schedule was hectic and I didn’t want to have to take time off work to do a test. On the day of the test you report to the test centre about an hour before the test starts. If you did the Speaking test before, your details would have been captured then, but for me and the rest of the people doing all four tests on the same day, we were called forward to register. When you go into the examination room, you can’t take phones or bags with you; we had to leave all our belongings in a room which may or may not have been guarded. Coming from South Africa, I am naturally wary of crime and theft so if I had known that I would have left my phone, wallet and bag in the car. If you are equally suspicious, then leave these things behind or somewhere safe. You also can’t take in pencil cases unless they are clear, or water bottles unless they are clear. I had my gym bottle with me which is black and was told to leave it behind. I was told there would be water available, so didn’t think much of it, but it soon became clear that the water was not available in the exam room. I foolishly drank lots before the test and then had to go to the toilet later which cost me time.
On the question of pen vs pencil, I would recommend a pencil. The Listening test is multiple choice and marked by computer that only detects pencil so you’ll need one for this. You are also given limited paper and if you make mistakes, it is easier to erase pencil than pen. i brought both pens and pencils but never touched my pen. Once you’ve got all your equipment on you, you’ll be taken through to have your ID checked and photo taken. Make sure you take the same ID document you registered for the test with. One lady in my cohort did not do this and was barred from writing the test. I’m not sure if you could reschedule, or if she lost her test fee too. They take your photo as this goes on your test certificate.
On to the tests now. As mentioned, the test is made up of 4 sections, three of which are done one after the other. Each sub-test lasts and hour and there is no break between (why I got caught out when I drank all that water). The listening test is first up. It isn’t difficult if you are a first language speaker, but the trick is to concentrate 100% all of the time. The test is in the format of a conversation or statement played over loud speakers. You have a test paper and you answer questions as you go along. You only hear the clip once. There is no do-over. That’s why you have t concentrate. My mind drifted momentarily as I was skimming ahead on the question paper to see what questions were coming up and I missed one of the important statements. Luckily for me it was a true/false type question so I had a 50/50 chance of guessing it right. Once you’ve drifted like that though you are playing catch up the whole time and it can fluster you. I managed to pull it together quickly, but my brother, who is also emigrating, wasn’t as lucky. He needed Superior English in order to score enough points, but like me, his lost focus on the Listening test and didn’t get it back and had to resit the test to get top marks for Listening.
After Listening comes Reading. This is pretty similar to the comprehension tests I had to do at school in English class. You get given a couple excerpts and have to answer questions on it. The only trick to this is to familiarise yourself with the format as they throw you a few curve balls as sometimes there seems to be more than one right answer. The ‘other’ answer is often implied in the text but not explicitly stated. My advise – if it is not explicitly stated in the text then don’t select it. There are a number of free sample tests available online so do some to get used to the format and the tricks.
The Writing test involved writing a letter and then a short essay. This was the only part I didn’t score the top 9.0 score on and I think it was my letter that pulled me down. I was required to write a personal letter and I think I was too colloquial in the letter which introduced some common English usages that are grammatically incorrect. I think where I was docked marks was signing off the letter saying “Please send our love to the wife and kids” but then signed it only from myself which introduced an incorrect possessive pronoun, using ‘our’ instead of ‘my’. The essay was to argue the pros/cons of large discount supermarkets. As an MBA finance graduate I went into all sorts of detail on this, and it was about now that all those glasses of water caught up to me, so I was pushed for time to finish. if you do need to go to the toilet, they will mark this on your test paper and you’ll be accompanied.
The final part of the test was the Speaking component. This starts off very sedately and the examiner escalates the complexity of the conversation to push you. I started off talking about my family and personal interests, but by the end of the talk, we were debating the role of government in tackling obesity and diabetes and whether the the onus is on individual to make their own decisions or should government legislate and enforce changes through taxation. When I left the test, all I could think of was the line from the movie Anchorman and popular meme “Well, that escalated quickly!”
Do some practice tests to familiarise yourself with the format
Keep focused – if you’re a first language speaker your biggest risk is not paying attention
It’s only an English test