Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
Jessica Beck
"Director of IELTS Training"

Is it possible to get bad advice from big IELTS brand name courses?

Yes it is! Why? Sometimes these brands enroll teachers in test prep courses when they don’t know the test as well as they should.

How can you protect yourself from being a victim of bad IELTS advice?

Read today’s article to find out.

Here’s the story…

Recently, a listener of our podcast wrote in with some worries.

This students had been enrolled in a test preparation course at the British Council, and, during a practice speaking  exam, was given some advice which differed from advice that we give on the IELTS Energy podcast.

First of all, let me say that I have 100% confidence in everything I say on the podcast, on our IELTS Energy TV YouTube Channel, and in our 3 Keys IELTS Success System course.

I have been involved professionally with IELTS in a variety of capacities and positions, including teaching webinars for IDP Australia, for over a decade.

I know this student who wrote in is confused, because, since the British Council is one of the organizations involved in creating IELTS, the student felt that any advice given by one of their staff must be correct.

The first way I can debunk this worry is to state that the British Council has schools and offices all over the world.

They have thousands of staff members and teachers.

It is impossible for every one of their staff members and teachers to be an IELTS professional.

The British Council, in fact, gives many exams besides IELTS, such as the TKT, a test for teachers’ teaching skills, and TOLES, a test of legal English.

It is impossible for every teacher to know well all the exams that the British Council gives.

And, any teacher there may be called upon to teach any number of test prep classes for an exam they give, so the specific advice they give may be true for TOLES, for instance, and not IELTS.

What happened?

Let’s use our listener’s questions as examples of how a teacher at a name brand school may not necessarily provide you the best information, just because they work at a school with a respected name.

In Speaking Part 2, the student was asked to describe a museum.

As the student does not go to museums, he/she made up a story which ended with going out to dinner with friends after the museum tour.

This was a fantastic answer!

It sounds well organized, fulfilled the 2-minute requirement, and told a story about the topic.

However, the teacher told the student that he/she should have talked about all the bullet points and shouldn’t have talked about dinner because it didn’t relate to the topic.

How do we know the student got bad advice?

I know the band descriptors very, very well.

I know exactly what the examiner needs to hear in order to give you every score, from a 0 to a 9.

And, nowhere, NOWHERE, in the descriptors does it say the student must talk about the bullet points. (They are only there to help with ideas. The examiner does not care about them.)

Also, a fluent student, such as a native speaker, would naturally mention that dinner followed the museum tour.

It is a fluent and coherent way to communicate, and, as such, would rate highly for this category.

More bad advice….

The bad advice didn’t stop there, however, in the Speaking Part 3 practice, the student answered a question about graffiti being good or bad.

The student gave specific examples of both sides being true. Then the teacher told him/her that he/she could not support both sides in the answer.

That’s ridiculous!!

That advice has no connection, whatsoever, to the Speaking score descriptors.

In fact, the student’s answer sounds like it would actually rate quite highly, judging from the specific support and vocabulary used.

Again, this teacher gave horrible advice, and none of it is true as far as IELTS is concerned.

Who can you trust?

So, how do you know who to trust?

That’s the question.

In this case, I would challenge the teacher to tell me EXACTLY where in the band descriptors this advice came from.

There is a publicly available band score descriptor table on the British Council site, that can be referenced at any time.

And even though the Examiner’s table has more information and detail, the teacher should still know this in order to give correct and useful feedback.

Don’t blindly trust a name

Don’t trust a name just because it’s a name.

Research the teacher, the course and the material first before you invest any money, and don’t pay extra just for a recognizable name that may not help you anyway.

Be confident in your decisions, and do not sit by passively while someone pretends to be a professional.

Challenge them and receive the instruction you deserve.

Have you made the mistake of trusting a big brand name and then found out that the professional you were working with didn’t have the credibility that you thought?

Let us know your stories in the comments below.

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