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History of IELTS Test

The Beginning

The English Language Testing Service (ELTS), made its first appearance in 1980 when it replaced the English Proficiency Test Battery (EPTB), a traditional largely multiple choice test used by the British Council since the mid 1960s.

The new test had an innovative format that reflected changes in language learning and teaching theory and developments in language testing. In particular, the ELTS was influenced by the growth in ‘communicative’ language learning and ‘English for specific purposes’.

ELTS Test Format

The ELTS test offered a choice of six modules covering five broad areas of study of UK tertiary education, plus one non-specific area. The six modules were :

  • Life Sciences
  • Social Studies
  • Physical Sciences
  • Technology
  • Medicine
  • General Academic

The ELTS Revision Project

ELTS continued in the form outlined above until 1989. During the 1980s the test numbers were quite low (4000 in 1981 rising to 10,000 by 1985), and it was clear that there were practical difficulties with the administration of the test, relating to the number of test items and the time taken to complete the test.

The recommendations of the revision team to simplify and shorten ELTS were accepted. The number of subject-specific modules was reduced from six to three and the Non-Academic test was replaced by the General Module. This way IELTS first became operational in 1989.

Format of the 1989 IELTS

From 1989 IELTS candidates took two non-specialised modules, Listening and Speaking, and two specialised modules, Reading and Writing. The non-specialised modules tested general English while the specialised modules were intended to test skills in particular areas suited to a candidate's chosen course of study.

Over the next five years the number of people taking the test rose by around 15% each year so that by 1995 there were over 43,000 candidates in 210 test centres around the world.

1995 Revision of IELTS

In keeping with the commitment of the IELTS partners further modifications to the test were implemented in April 1995.

  • The field-specific Reading and Writing Modules A, B and C were replaced with ONE Academic Reading Module and ONE Academic Writing Module.
  • The thematic link between the reading and writing activities was removed.
  • General Training Reading and Writing Modules were brought into line with the Academic Reading and Writing Modules in terms of timing allocation, length of written responses and reporting of scores.

Continuing Development

In keeping with this history of innovation, the IELTS partners continue to be committed to the ongoing development of the test.

  • A revision project for the Speaking Test was launched in 1998 and the revised IELTS Speaking Test was introduced in July 2001.
  • New assessment criteria for the Writing Test were operational from January 2005.
  • A computerised version of IELTS was piloted in 2005 at a number of IELTS centres. 
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