IELTS: Who Marks It?

Get ready for this week’s post, my friend! You are in for a treat. You’re welcome, by the way. 😉


Let’s dive right in and unmask this week’s question: Who marks IELTS?


Brace yourself for the answer: elves. In fact, there are these secret elves that find a cave, so that no one can find them, and then they balance their time between marking IELTS and baking cookies—Keebler elves anyone? And there you have it, folks; that’s how IELTS is marked, right? Yes, you’re completely... wrong. 😹


Ha- imagine, elves grading IELTS?! That’s pretty funny but definitely not the case at all. Instead, like most tests, there are these people whose job is to mark them. They are usually called... drumroll, please... teachers.


Yes, some may be teachers because, the truth is, that some are, but we will refer to them as examiners--because that's what they do.


This begs some serious follow-up questions: Who are these mysterious examiners? How do they land this job? How do they determine who gets an 8 or who gets a 7? Do they really need to analyze a rubric or are they just making up the scores? (That last question—surprisingly, or not—is one I have been asked several times.)


Okay, so far we’ve addressed the 🐘 in the room, IELTS examiners mark the test. What does this mean exactly and, more importantly, how does this impact you?


Fear not because that (and more!) will be addressed very soon.


First things first, let’s chat about who these people are.


Who Is An Examiner?


I’ve said this a million times and I’ll always standby the next sentence for all eternity. IELTS examiners are highly-trained, ESL nerds who know the rubrics like they know the back of their hands. Actually, probably better than the know the back of their hands. I mean, who REALLY knows what the back of their hands look like, right? To be honest, I have no clue what mine look like.


Examiners can be teachers, professors, tutors, mentors, or coaches who all have one, glorious quality in common: English as a second language (ESL). No, I’m not saying that everyone who is an examiner is/was an ESL student. Although, if you think about it, everyone is learning English because one person will never know EVERYTHING there is to know about this all-encompassing language. In other words, everyone remains a student because the learning never ends. But, I digress.


Instead, what I mean is that ESL bonds the people who apply and are eventually invited (yes, there’s an invitation) to examine for IELTS. Click here to check out what kinds of qualifications there are to become an IELTS examiner. The list is incredibly specific to not just any ESL teaching experience. Rather, it is key to have at least three years of full-time experience teaching ESL to adults, which in this instance means 16 and above. If the number 16 sounds arbitrary to you, you’re not alone.


Why 16? Well, the simple answer is because that is the minimum age for someone to take IELTS. Therefore, it makes perfect (business) sense to only invite candidates (prospective examiners) to interview if they have experience teaching students who are, at least, 16 years old.


As not everyone can become an examiner, this makes the pool of applicants not only small but highly competitive. The criteria are incredibly distinct and therefore not everyone who applies makes the final cut. It's kind of like Survivor minus the wilderness.


How To Become An Examiner?


The next logical question is to figure out the actual process for becoming an examiner. From the moment of applying to actually examining candidates in live tests, the process can take more than six months. That timeframe includes: applying, interviewing, undergoing extensive training, and finally getting to examine real candidates face-to-face.


This might seem a bit extreme as these people aren’t spies, they are examiners, so why in the world do they need such vigorous training? But, as examiners are interviewing candidates who have very specific and IMPORTANT goals within reach, it is absolutely critical that these people are properly vetted. Remember, you’re taking IELTS for one of three reasons: your career, to attend university, or migration. Whichever category you fall under, it is too important to risk NOT attaining your dream because of an insufficiently trained examiner.


Deep breath—inhale for three seconds and exhale for four seconds. Better? Good!


Even if it takes up to nine months, wouldn’t you rather have an examiner who has undergone extensive training rather than someone who doesn’t know what to do or how to react in “x” situation? I thought so.


In these trainings, examiners are given numerous scenarios and they need to think on their toes in order to navigate these challenges. Of course, yes, they are given strategies and advice on how to react to different situations, which of course is key to being properly trained.


So, the next time that you find yourself sitting in front of the examiner (for the speaking test), just remember that THAT person is an expert in all things involving IELTS rubrics. They are the people who determine whether or not the candidate, YOU, gets an 8 or 7.


7 or 8—It's The Same Thing, Right?


On the surface they may seem very similar. After all, they are only one band apart from one another, so is there really that much of a difference between them? Well, as I’m sure you already guessed, examiners have to dissect the rubrics to figure out if a candidate is an 8 or a 7--in each of the four criteria... for both the writing and speaking modules.


The differences exist, my friend. The best way to increase your band score is to put yourself in the examiner's shoes.


Here’s a helpful nugget for you: If you want to learn how to like an examiner, click here to gain access to my Speaking Rubric Workshop.


Now, let’s get back to our regularly scheduled post. Although it may appear to be slight, and to the untrained eye (which is most people, to be honest), an examiner selecting a 7 to give a candidate has ZERO to do with: the candidate‘s personality (either wonderful or not), the candidate’s sob story (hey, it happens), the candidate’s plea for a 7 (true story), or because the examiner did not agree/like what the candidate said (lucky for you, the exam is marked on context not content).


It does have to do with: the candidate fully meeting the parameters of the band 7 descriptors. If you’re curious to see what they look like, you can find them here.


So, no, that 7 does not come from thin air. You did not receive a 7 merely because the examiner liked you. Instead, it was 100% earned. In fact, the examiner will give your marks some serious time and thought, which is exactly what should be done when your future literally rests in their hands.


After all, what more could you possibly ask for other than being given a fair shake?


Are Scores Made Up?


I’ll keep this short and to the point—no! Scores are never handed out like breath mints before a date. A significant amount of time, energy, and thought has been given to each mark that an examiner gives a candidate.


BUT—I’ll share a piece of advice with you--if your IELTS examiner looks familiar, ask to have a different examiner. You can do this by asking the IELTS administrator or testing coordinator for another examiner because you’ve already examined with that person before.


Does it matter? Yes and no; it’s honestly a matter of personal opinion. My preference is to interview with someone new so that I have an opportunity to have the speaking test with two examiners rather than one. However, that’s does not mean that you will get DIFFERENT results. Do you get what I mean? If not, let me clarify.


Standards Matter


What some candidates think is that if they take IELTS with a new examiner they will get new—read: better— results. While on the surface this may seem to be logical, it is not because of one, key component: standardization.


Standardization is, in my perspective, the most important and unique element of examiner training. This means that your speaking test will not only be conducted in the same fashion in whatever country it is offered, but it will also be marked the same. How?


There are IELTS examiners literally all over the globe. India—check. Cuba—check. Tunisia—check. The list goes on, my friend, but I’m not here to bore you with a geography quiz. This means that, if you’re a 7 in India, you’d remain a 7 (barring that you didn’t prepare between taking the test) in both Cuba and Tunisia.


To ensure that marks remain the same across the globe, examiners are constantly monitored and undergo recertification to ensure that they are marking to standard. If not, they lose their invitation to examine.


Sure, it‘s absolutely all rainbows and sunshine to get the score that you need, but imagine (really, do it) what it would feel like to get the score you want? Say, you need a 7 but you want an 8. It is not unrealistic to for you to actually get an 8. Here’s what it takes? Like I stated above,It takes thinking like an examiner. I cannot emphasize enough how big of a game changer it is to switch out your candidate hat for an examiner one.


Curious to learn more? Click here. In this workshop, I go into great detail about all of the juicy details about translating the rubric and simplifying it into a few keywords that can net you HUGE results, including boosting your band by ONE. I cannot stress how necessary it is to think like an examiner in order to do well on this test.


In A Nutshell


Do you feel better now that the mystery revolving IELTS examiners has been uncovered? What, not, yet? No, worries, I can and will change your mind.


Here’s what we learned:


✳️ elves don’t mark IELTS, highly-trained, ESL geeks do

✳️ band scores are not handed out indiscriminately

✳️ examiners give their marks a lot of thought🤔 and time ⌛

✳️ examiners are constantly monitored and have their marks evaluated to ensure standardization

✳️ standardization is cool & it makes IELTS incredibly unique (scores are assessed the same way in each country)

✳️ to boost your score, learn to think like an examiner


Click here to gain weekly, IELTS insights💡 sent straight to your inbox. This weekly series will set you up for success as you get all the information of what you need to know: before, on the day of, and after—you take IELTS. No fluff, just facts. I promise!


Until next time, happy IELTSing!

©2020 by Lori Llarena, The IELTS Whisperer.