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IELTS Teacher e-newsletter – June 2019

IELTS White Paper summary

Last year the British Council again released the IELTS White Paper in order to inform the general public of trends concerning IELTS results. This article will provide a short summary of the 2018 White Paper and highlight a few interesting trends. As this newsletter is aimed at teachers and 96% of all test takers in China take the IELTS Academic module, the General Training module, while covered in detail in the White Paper, will be ignored in this article.

IELTS candidates
Guangdong, Jiangsu and Shandong, along with the municipalities Beijing and Shanghai, supply the majority of IELTS candidates. Female candidates make up 61% of the total number of candidates. Over half of the candidates (52%) is between 19 and 22 years of age and the majority of those interviewed (62.7%) claims to take IELTS in order to pursue post-graduate education abroad. Admission to undergraduate programs is a significant (22.6%) but decidedly less ubiquitous motivation. While a large number of the aforementioned candidates may end up on foundation courses, only 3.3% of those interviewed listed this as their goal. Only 2.9% of candidates interviewed claims they took IELTS with the aim of working abroad.

Overall performance on IELTS
Females outperform males
Female candidates make up 61% of all IELTS candidates in China. They also perform slightly better than their male counterparts. Table 1 below shows us that female test takers in China are on average 0.3 bands ahead of males in listening and 0.2 bands in every other skill as well as their overall average. We can also see that, while males scoring slightly lower is in accordance with global trends, Chinese males lag further behind the global male average than Chinese females are behind the global average for their gender. We see that Chinese females’ overall scores are on average 0.3 bands lower that the global female average while for Chinese males this figure is 0.4 bands. Chinese males’ underperformance is most striking in the listening and speaking skills, their average score lagging behind the global male average by 0.5 and 0.8 bands, respectively. Chinese females, by comparison, are behind the global female average by 0.3 and 0.7 bands on these skills.

Table 1: Chinese male and female scores compared to international average

Global female average6.
China female average5.
Global male average6.
Global male average5.

Chinese scores remain below the global average
Figure 1 has shown us that average scores of Chinese test takers are still notably behind the global average. Good news is that Chinese reading scores caught up to the global average for the first time last year. It is interesting to note that reading is also the skill Chinese test takers do best at while this is true for listening globally. The largest gap with the global average is visible in the speaking skill (0.7 band difference for females, 0.8 for males). While writing is the weakest skill for most global test takers, speaking scores are generally lowest for Chinese test takers.

7 localities achieve the same band (overall) as the global average
China’s 7 top-scoring provinces (including province-level municipalities) achieve an average of band 6.0, on par with the global average. It has to be kept in mind that the result of band 6.0 is the result of rounding up average scores of band 5.75 and higher. Exact scores in these 7 provinces are still slightly below the global average, which is 6.0 for males and 6.1 for females. Shanghai is once again at the top of the provincial rankings, averaging 5.95, followed by Jiangsu (5.84), Hubei (5.82), Zhejiang (5.82), Sichuan (5.79), Beijing (5.76) and Chongqing (5.75). For all of these, save Shanghai and Jiangsu, this is the first time they achieved an overall average of band 6.0. All other provinces and Tianjin municipality score an average of band 5.5 with the lowest performing province, Ningxia, averaging 5.41.

Candidates from top-ranked institutions perform better
Candidates from top-ranked higher education institutions outperform those of lower ranked institutions. Out of the 22 Chinese universities ranked in the top 500 of the QS World University Rankings, 7 reach an overall score of band 6.5, ahead of the global average, while 14 score an average overall IELTS score of band 6.0, in line with the global average. Table 2 below shows us the 11 top-scoring Chinese higher education institutions. While not shown in this graph, it is especially listening and reading scores that are excellent among candidates from top Chinese universities, often even surpassing the global average. Speaking scores, however, are still lagging behind.

Top middle schools do slightly better than even China’s top universities
With regards to middle schools, international schools and public middle schools with international departments performed better than regular public middle schools. IELTS candidates from Shanghai middle schools scored band 6.0 (rounded up from 5.8) on average while those in most other part of China reached band 5.5. Exceptions are Inner Mongolia, Gansu and Hunan, where the average overall scores are limited to band 5.

As we can see in the figure above, China’s top scoring high school, Shenzhen College of International Education, even averages at band 6.9 overall. The remaining 9 schools in the top 10 all achieve a (rounded) band 6.5 overall score. All these schools, and several others in China, clearly performed better than the global average.  

InstitutionOverallListening Reading WritingSpeaking
Shenzhen College of International Education6.97.777.615.886.09
Hangzhou Foreign Languages School6.657.437.255.815.9
Nanjing Foreign Languages School6.637.397.175.85.87
Beijing National Day School6.557.267.155.755.77
Suzhou Foreign Languages School6.467.156.955.715.72
Global average ((F/M)6.1/6.06.3/6.26.2/6.05.7/5.66.0/5.9
Chinese middle school average5.515.725.715.145.18

Table 3 above takes a more detailed look at the scores of the top 5 high schools in China. We can see that the lead of these top performers is disproportionally due to listening and reading scores, which are far above the global average. Writing scores of the Chinese top 5 high schools are only slightly above the global average while in speaking, only Shenzhen College of International Education slightly surpasses the global mean score. Also interesting to note is that, while speaking is generally Chinese IELTS candidates’ weakest skill, this is apparently not the case for Chinese middle schoolers. For them, speaking scores are slightly higher than their writing ones, in line with the global trend.

Last year’s IELTS White Paper has shown that, while Chinese IELTS scores are slightly improving, the productive skills of writing and, especially, speaking are skill lagging behind the rest of the word. Chinese top-ranked schools, especially international schools and highly ranked universities, hold true to their reputation by having average scores well above the global average. This is largely due to impressive reading and listening performance. Speaking and writing, while still well ahead of the Chinese average, remain areas to be improved. The gap between Chinese male and female test takers, far larger that similar gaps abroad, is also a possible cause for concern.

By Jan Langeslag



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