This study investigated the relationship between test-takers’ listening proficiency and performance on Part 3 (Discussion) of the IELTS Speaking Test, as against that on Part 2 (Individual Long Turn). It explored how communication problems that were associated with test-takers’ listening proficiency occurred and how these problems were dealt with.
Data were collected from 36 pre-sessional course students at a UK university, who took both a listening test and IELTS Speaking Test, followed by a short semi-structured interview session. All Speaking Test sessions were both audio and video recorded. The audio-recordings were edited to separate the students’ performances on Part 2 from those on Part 3, and each recording was rated by two of the four trained IELTS examiners involved in this study. Examiners were also asked to write down reasons for awarding their scores.
Speaking Test scores were analysed for any difference in difficulty between the two parts. Correlations between the listening test scores and the Speaking Test scores awarded on four analytical criteria were compared between the two parts. A Conversation Analysis (CA) methodology was utilised to illustrate salient occurrences of communication problems that were related to test-takers’ difficulties in hearing or understanding the examiner.
The findings of this study highlighted the differences between Part 2 and Part 3 in terms of the constructs they measure, showing that the latter format, at least to some extent, measures listening-into- speaking abilities. The interactional data also showed that the construct underlying Part 3 was not a purely productive speaking ability, especially for students at Band 5.0 and below who tended to encounter some difficulties in understanding the examiner.