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Study harder, not smarter: Vietnamese learners risk it all to achieve high IELTS scores

Study harder, not smarter: Vietnamese learners risk it all to achieve high IELTS scores

Wednesday, October 19, 2022, 09:00 GMT+7
Study harder, not smarter: Vietnamese learners risk it all to achieve high IELTS scores
Candidates participate in the IELTS exam. Photo: British Council

Many students in Vietnam are now chasing rote learning in order to achieve a high band score in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam, regardless of their ability to actually utilize the language in daily life. Furthermore, some learners are willing to pay a fortune merely to purchase a forecast test from numerous online English learning fan pages.

Minh Huyen, 17, an eleventh grader at a high school in Thu Duc City under Ho Chi Minh City, has spent roughly VND115 million (US$4,724) on IELTS training courses over the past year but has yet to reach her desired score.

Spending fortune on preparation courses, forecast exams

At the start of tenth grade, Huyen's parents pushed her to take the IELTS exam in order to obtain an international language certificate in case she wants to study abroad, or at the very least to have an advantage during the university admissions process.

In August last year, Huyen started enrolling in an one-on-one online IELTS preparation class, with a monthly fee of VND7 million ($290).

Only good at natural science subjects, Huyen asked her lecturer to build her own learning path in order for her to obtain the 6.5-7.0 overall band in IELTS after a year.

This screenshot shows an advertisement from a fanpage selling IELTS exam predictions with a guarantee.

This screenshot shows an advertisement from a fan page selling IELTS exam predictions with a guarantee.

Huyen attended the online session three times each week, focusing on reading and listening simulation tests. For other components, she solely memorized the examples provided by her teacher.

She took the IELTS paper-based test in Ho Chi Minh City in the middle of this year, but only gained an overall score of 5.0.

As a result, Huyen continued to register for another group cram course for the IELTS exam in person beginning in June, for a monthly charge of VND4 million ($164), in addition to her personal online class.

Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters asked Huyen whether she felt pressured to acquire a high IELTS band in a short time despite not being proficient in English. 

“It’s challenging, but I’m out of time. The sooner I achieve the target score, the more relieved I will be,” Huyen stated.

According to the director of a well-known English center in Ho Chi Minh City, the number of students enrolling in IELTS training classes at the center has skyrocketed since most universities began to add the international language certificate as one of the admissions requirements.

During peak demand periods, K-12 students studying IELTS far outnumber college students or working learners.

Aside from throwing money into learning courses, with the demand to achieve high band scores in the test as fast as possible, some test takers also squander a packet to buy forecast exams.

A.T., 25, a former student of Ho Chi Minh City University of Law, said that she used to spend money buying forecast tests from two different online fan pages.

T. split the fee with four other students so each had to pay VND2 million ($82) for the first fan page.

She was then given a packet of 80 test samples to practice, which included all of the components of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The dealer guaranteed that when the actual test was conducted, each component would match at least one part of the samples.

For the other fan page, T. signed up for the test by herself, with the price of VND8 million ($330).

On the morning of the test day, the dealer instructed T. to keep an eye on her phone and wait for the answer message, which was sent as a string of letters A, B, C, and D in the order of the test's multiple-choice questions. 

The closer the exam time comes, the more accurate answers the supplier would provide.

“At that time, the forecast tests that I bought matched one reading part and all the listening parts,” T. said.

On social media platforms, nowadays, it is not difficult to come across sites that promote IELTS test prediction packages.

Depending on how accurate the forecast is, the cost of each package varies from a few million VND to tens of millions of VND. (VND1 million = $41)

One page, for example, promotes a package of nine practice exams that are claimed to have a 100 percent probability of matching the actual test.

Some pages even offer candidates a VIP practice test, promising that the test takers will only need to review a single sample exam.

If the predicted exam does not correspond to the actual paper, the merchant will reimburse all payments.

Flattered with certificate but stuttering to use language

Phung Quang Huy, an English teacher at the High School of Education Sciences under the Vietnam National University-Hanoi, claimed that a large number people are looking to purchase IELTS prediction tests. 

One time, four of his students walked into the IELTS exam room with a set of forecast answers in hand.

There is a chance that the predicted samples will match the actual test, but the likelihood is not high, especially considering that IELTS exam organizers have increased security procedures in recent times.

If there is any indication that the official test has been leaked, they can alter the test materials at the eleventh hour.

This screenshot shows an advertisement from a fanpage selling IELTS exam predictions with a guarantee.

This screenshot shows an advertisement from a fan page selling IELTS exam predictions with a guarantee.

According to Huy, the vast majority of candidates study IELTS solely to achieve the desired band score without understanding the test's primary purpose.

Furthermore, some well-to-do parents believe that their children will need to take the IELTS exam sooner or later, therefore they encourage them by investing a substantial amount of money in learning courses at once.

Tran Tin Nghi, head of the foreign language department at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Food Industry, indicated that despite achieving a high score in IELTS or another international or domestic English language tests, some individuals still face various obstacles in the workplace or academic setting.

Meanwhile, Pham Vu Phi Ho, deputy head of the foreign language department at Van Lang University in Ho Chi Minh City, explained that IELTS or any language tests are all forms to test learners' ability to use the language.

Therefore, if a person's English proficiency is average, they can score between 6.0 and 6.5 on the IELTS.

Consequently, the approach of rote learning that focuses solely on memorizing sample exams in order to achieve a high score misrepresents the original purpose of the IELTS test.

According to Ho, in order for students to enhance their English skills, they should spend more time practicing the language or join an online English-learning group where they will have the opportunity to communicate in English.

Be wary of getting banned from taking the exam

The British Council and IDP Education, who administer IELTS alongside Cambridge English Language Assessment, have sent a notification to test takers in Vietnam of numerous violations of the reputation of the IELTS exam, including claims to supply test papers before the official test date.

The British Council and IDP both require candidates to be vigilant when receiving such information and confirm that major cases of cheating may result in the cancelation of test results, a two-year test suspension, and denial of approval for a length of time determined by the worldwide IELTS certifying authorities.

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Linh To - Trong Nhan / Tuoi Tre News

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