IELTS - easier in Taiwan?

I teach adults in Taiwan, and have done for 4 years. I’ve been told on several occasions, by students, that the IELTS marking in Taiwan is more lenient than in UK. Two of the people who told me this have first-hand experience, having sat the exam in both places. One guy scored 5.5 in London and 3 months later, with no extra studying, 7.0 in Taipei.
I’ve always taken this ‘myth’ with a pinch of salt, but after hearing it again from 3 different students in the past 2 days I’m beginning to wonder.
Are there any IELTS examiners out there who could shed some light?

the reading and listening tests are marked to the same guidelines the world over and I would doubt if the examiners in Taiwan are so way off the mark to result in such a large increase in scores.
I was an examiner in Taipei and am looking to regain my examining ticket here in the UK. Hope I haven’t been too affected by this apparant leniency.

There should be no such discrepancy, however to be an examiner in the UK, you probably need to be an ESL teacher. ESL teachers in the West have to have formal qualifications, whereas, they don’t in the East, because there is too much demand, and the working conditions are poor etc. So on average the standard of teachers would be lower in Taiwan, as there have been less demands in certain ways placed on them (and less pay) than in the West. (Although all IELTS examiners need some qualifications.) Also, the standard of English here is the second lowest in the world, so it may seem right to give a higher score to some indidviduals, as noone else came anywhere close to getting the score, and there can be large differences between people who got the same score. Also, each test is different, and perhaps these people got easier tests in Taipei.

I asked an IELTS examiner of ten years’ standing about this and he said the statistics don’t bear this out, and that some Taiwanese students will believe anything if it sounds like they can pass an exam without doing any work. So they fly back here to take the tests.

as I understand IELTS tests all take place on the same dates around the world and all candidates take the same reading/writing/listening tests on the same day and since the speaking test questions are mostly read off a standard script there shouldn’t be an issue of the test being easier in any place.

[/quote]Simmie wrote;

‘as I understand IELTS tests all take place on the same dates around the world and all candidates take the same reading/writing/listening tests on the same day and since the speaking test questions are mostly read off a standard script there shouldn’t be an issue of the test being easier in any place’.

With respect, I think you’ve missed the point.
Maybe my heading ‘IELTS-easier in Taiwan’ misled you.
Nobody is saying the tests are easier in Taiwan, I know they’re the same.
The perception in some quarters is that the marking is more lenient here. I accept the listening and reading sections require absolute answers. However, the marking of the writing and speaking sections, that is to say 50% of the final score, are susceptible to ‘human frailty’. Whilst both these sections purportedly test ‘good English’, the examiners are not robotic, as you know! Indeed, they must come from an extremely wide variety of backgrounds.
For instance, anyone who has taught English in Taiwan has come across students who have otherwise excellent English but still mix-up their pronouns and past tense verbs. These mistakes may be regarded with some mitigation locally but received with shock and horror by a British examiner with no Asian experience.
When it comes to the writing section, I believe style carries some weight in the marking process. Surely this is also open to individual opinion.
Also, it’s worth considering that the writing and speaking sections are only scored in whole bands and not half bands, which is not conducive to close correlation of scores.
Just a thought.

hexuan wrote;

‘I asked an IELTS examiner of ten years’ standing about this and he said the statistics don’t bear this out, and that some Taiwanese students will believe anything if it sounds like they can pass an exam without doing any work. So they fly back here to take the tests’.

Which statistics is he referring to? I’d like to get a copy to show to my students to finally debunk this theory.

I know there is an issue that when people get accustomed to the type of English produced in a particular setting that they may tend to overlook/not notice certain mistakes and this may taint the scores given by examiners who have lived in a particular country for a long time. But given that the Reading/Listening tests are marked to standard criteria and allowing for marker subjectivity I would doubt that the interpretations of the IELTS marking codes for the Speaking and Writing tests by examiners would result in such a huge increase in the overall IELTS grade. I reckon that if a students’ realistic IELTS level is 5.5 then it would take over a years committed study to raise this to 7.0.
I’ve heard stories about miracle increases in scores in short periods of time too but put this down to underestimation of the exam at the 1st time of sitting resulting in a lower than expected score. 2nd time round, the candidate knows what to expect and gets a more realistic grade.

I too have talked to individuals who have come back to Taiwan to take the IELTS test because they or their teachers in the UK believed the test was easier in Taiwan. In one way maybe it is. If people feel more comfortable back in their home environment perhaps the whole experience of preparing for and taking the test is less stressful. This might translate into a better test score, but I can’t see it being responsible for a jump of 1.5 Bands in a few months.

I know we can’t conclude much from a few isolated cases, but it does raise the interesting question of how widespread this perception is. Do other nationalities return home to take the test, or is Taiwan unique in this matter? I would guess the former (no actual hard evidence for support, I just refuse to believe that the Taiwan examiners are uniquely remiss). If this is the case then it could be argued that examiners in the UK are marking too strictly!

However, I don’t think any significant disrepancies between test centres actually exist, for two reasons. First, the performance of examiners is monitored at two levels: centrally through IDP and Cambridge, and also locally at the test centres (but this may differ from place to place). Second, examiners do have to go through training, certification and then re-certification every two years. These procedures are aimed at maintaining rater reliability - a sort of exercise in quality assurance, I suppose you could say. This may not be a perfect solution - double marking would be an added safeguard IMHO, but I think it works fairly well, which is why I have to take issue with Europa regarding the qualifications of IELTS examiners. It may be intuitively attractive to think that highly qualified teachers make good examiners, but I don’t think that is necessarily the case. I have met examiners with all kinds of paper qualifications, but they all had one thing in common - they got their IELTS certification by being able to assess candidates’ language skills to a standard deemed acceptable by the IELTS owners. That is a performance criterion which doesn’t seem to have much to do with paper qualifications.

Lastly, I think the question raised by Simmie is a really important one.
Measuring the degree to which long-term exposure to a particular language and culture may effect an examiner’s rating performance is an issue I think IELTS should address (but as far as I know isn’t).