Short Report: Living Through the IELTS Test

As you may know, we cherish the idea of immigration. Immigration to the sunny and sandy Australia. Last Friday (May 31, 2007) we flew to Kiev to take our IELTS examination, which always takes place in the British Council.

IELTS test is an indispensable part of the process as we have to prove our language abilities along with technical skills and other stuff when applying to the Skilled Immigration Visa. According to the requirements, I need a pretty high score (somewhere around 7 of 10) and Kate’s needs to be at least 5. One interesting fact that puzzles everyone I speak to is that if your spouse (non-primary applicant) fails to get above the threshold, you are to pay approximately USD $2000 for him/her to study the language there in AU upon arrival. Interesting!

As usual, we were extremely careful with preparations and booked the tickets and the apartment long in advance. Kate managed to find the place to stay right across the road from the British Council building! It was so amazing to feel that under no circumstances we won’t be late for our exams as it takes only two minutes to get from our front door to theirs.

Booking the plane tickets was also somewhat fun. The air tourism is quite an expensive pleasure here in Ukraine, but those days the discount system was in full swing and they were giving the tickets out left and right for a miserable price, so that we managed to get our four tickets for under USD $100 in total. (Can you believe this!?) The funniest part though is that the plane was a healthy Boeing 737-300, and not some coffin with wings.

We came to Kiev one day in advance to look around and have some fun in the city, to relieve some stress and prepare for the important event. One thing I figured out immediately is that it was a great opportunity to drop in on a couple of book supermarkets to look up some English prose (mainly sci-fi and humorous stuff). Six ours later I was on the sofa in the silent coolness of a conditioner with the Stan Lee’s The Alien Factor. The other titles I picked up are The Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur Clarke, McNally’s Risk by Lawrence Sanders, and Stout Mama by Sibyl James. You know I’m a big fan of English language and sci-fi; enough to have some serious fun!

The examination day started with the power outage. We had a quick snack and rushed to the Council. After a quick registration they broke us into three groups which is quite reasonable considering there was about fifty participants on the list.

The examination usually consists of the four parts in this specific order: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. All participants take it in the same groups without the level separation. As the complexity of the modules within the parts increases, the lower levels stop understanding what’s going on, while the stronger move on improving their marks. It’s quite fair and mature approach in my opinion.

The Listening consists of about four modules with increasing complexity. The module is an audio recording of a conversation with the questions in the booklet. It’s played once and you have to pick up the meaning and answer the questions either by filling the gaps or choosing the correct choice from the given.

The Reading test is the set of texts with the questions, where you show the level of comprehension. The time limit is very strict, so that you don’t have forever to answer all the questions. It has to take no more than an hour to run through everything, understand and give the right answers. The types of questions vary from “fill the gap” to “choose the right answer from the given” again.

The Writing module assesses your ability to put words together in meaningful sequences, but not just this. There are two absolutely different tasks to complete. In our case it was “write a letter to a friend who is coming to your place; tell him where is the key; describe the equipment; outline some entertainment options” and “speculate on the importance of the creative subjects (arts, music, drama etc) in the school program”. The first is clearly informal writing and it had to be at least 150 words, whereas the last is a formal 250-word essay. Truth be told, I started to jot down the ideas first, but quickly realized that as a programmer my handwriting is, to put it mildly, poor and I won’t have time to transfer my ideas to the answer sheet. As they give an hour for everything, I gave up sketching and streamed everything right on to the paper. To my surprise, it looked fun, was moving and quite impressive at the same time. I had a great time, indeed!

The Speaking part was scheduled after a short break. To the honor of the staff, foreigners were assigned to pass it first. In fact, Kate and I were in the head of the list. The interviewers are native language speakers – very professional: no interruptions, corrections, waiting patiently for us to finish our songs. The first “exercise” was to introduce ourselves by answering the questions, then they gave a topic to think a minute about and to express the opinion on it for a minute or two non-stop. The last part was a short discussion around the topic. I loved it! I wasn’t speaking much lately and it seemed my fountain was finally open wide. Now as I recall it, it might look like I showed him all of my eloquence. :)

To conclude, we are quite satisfied with how it went. The results aren’t known yet, and will arrive in about a week, but it feels like we had a great time. It wasn’t as scary as we imagined at all… well, at least as I imagined. :)

Let’s wait for the score list!