This study investigated the practices of candidates preparing for the IELTS examination in Adelaide, South Australia. The main aim of the study was to describe candidates’ activities as they prepared to sit for an IELTS Test. Adopting primarily ethnographic procedures for data collection, the focus was on candidates’ preparation practices and experiences. The study was carried out in two stages. In Stage 1, candidates leaving an IELTS test centre were surveyed to find out general biographical and test preparation information. This information was used to create target profiles for case study participants in Stage 2. Data collected for the study included interviews, observations, diary studies, and document collection. The case study methodology enabled documentation of individuals’ practices in preparation for IELTS Tests.
The Stage 1 survey revealed that most respondents sat for the IELTS General Training module and that few had enrolled in a preparatory program. The information suggested that the Test was significant for candidates’ aspirations, given the number who had sat it repeatedly, as well as individuals who went to some expense to take the Test. The information from Stage 1 was used to identify case study subjects.
The analysis of Stage 2 data focused on what case study candidates did to prepare for an IELTS Test. Of particular interest were candidates who were not enrolled in an English language preparation program. Reasons for taking the Test included obtaining permanent residency in Australia and university entrance. Most subjects prepared by using practice materials, in particular published tests. A number of candidates had repeatedly taken IELTS Tests with some admitting not knowing how to improve their scores. This suggested a lack of personal agency and strategic action in preparing for testing. In general life, circumstances impacted on preparation especially for subjects who were working full-time. The profiles of case study subjects document ways in which proficiency testing impact directly on candidates’ aspirations and life trajectories, highlighting the significance of appropriate preparation practices.