IELTS Writing band scores 5.5–7.5: Grammatical error rates, stakeholder perceptions, and risk

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This study establishes expected grammatical error rates for each IELTS band between 5.5 and 7.5, and investigates stakeholder perceptions of error, management of risk with English testing, and organisational use of IELTS.

Grammatical accuracy is assumed to improve as English skill increases, and similarly, as English language test scores increase, fewer grammatical errors are expected as well. This study set out to establish the minimum grammatical error rates to be expected of eight parts of speech (and their 33 subtypes) for each IELTS half-band score between 5.5 and 7.5. Summary statistics, ratios, and regression were run on the data for the 8 main categories to establish whether significant gains were made at each half-band, and if variation could be seen within the categories for the 33 subtypes. Given that grammatical measures comprise one of four possible dimensions in the IELTS Writing rubric used by assessors, first-language background was explored for any effect on IELTS scores separate to grammatical competence. First-language background was found to have an effect, with significant variation found between grammatical error rates within the same IELTS score for different first-language groups.

Grammatical errors can cause misunderstanding and miscommunication, which in turn can produce negative outcomes in stakeholder environments. A selection of results about error rates and types found in this study were presented to stakeholders to see if it affected their position on minimum IELTS score benchmarks, including their thoughts on how IELTS is used to manage their perceived risk. Some stakeholders felt higher scores were needed, and some were unsure that their current standards were sufficient. There was general consensus that IELTS meets organisational needs.


Amanda Muller and Weifeng Han


IELTS Test - Writing , Impact and Washback - Stakeholder attitudes , Impact and Washback - Use of test scores , Impact and Washback - Performance data of candidates and IELTS , Scoring
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