IDP or British Council? Which Is Easier?
Is it better to take the IELTS test with IDP than with British Council? Or should it be the other way around? This question keeps haunting a number of test takers in Asian countries where both the British Council and IDP conduct the exam.
The discussion is going hilariously viral. Unaware of the reality, many people preparing for the test these days spend a lot of time comparing and contrasting IDP and the British Council instead of practicing for the test. The official IELTS website and the respective websites of the British Council and IDP clearly say that IELTS is jointly owned by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations. All official literature carry the stamps of all the three bodies – Cambridge IELTS books, promotional materials and the official answer/transfer sheets used in the real test, to name but a few. What’s more, the TRF (Test Report Form) also comes with the official stamps of the three organizations involved in the test irrespective of whether the test is conducted by the British Council or IDP.
So what’s all the fuss about? Having been an IELTS trainer for many years, I am often asked this question. So, I dug a little deeper into the matter. ELTS (no, not a spelling mistake; it was the name back then, which stood for English Language Testing Services) was launched in 1980 by Cambridge English Language Assessment (also known as UCLES) and the British Council. Soon the test started to receive worldwide popularity and acceptance, both by test takers and various recognizing bodies. It resulted in an increasing number of people sitting the exam year after year. With the increasing demand came a bundle of practical difficulties administering the test. As a result, the ELTS Revision Project was set up. The test content was revamped to ensure international participation. It was done in collaboration with the International Development Program of Australian Universities and Colleges (IDP), now known as IDP: IELTS Australia. This collaboration facilitated the process of administering the test worldwide and partnership is reflected in its new name: the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).
So, it is clear that the entry of IDP: IELTS Australia was to promote international participation and for the smooth administration of the test worldwide together with the British Council. Not to make the test simpler or more difficult – contrary to popular conflicting beliefs! So, it boils down to this: The University of Cambridge’s UCLES (University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate) constructs the exam material. It is a multi-stage process that includes commissioning, editing, pretesting, analysis and banking of the material and standards fixing. Well, what is the role of the British Council and IDP then? They conduct the test in different countries throughout the year. Managing test centers, scheduling test dates, maintaining quality, processing applications, etc. are some of their responsibilities. Remember: neither the British Council nor the IDP constructs test material, and hence it’s foolish to think one is more difficult than the other. If you are still doubtful but lucky, try to find two candidates who sat the test on the same day in your country – one with the British Council and the other with the IDP. Ask them what the reading passages or the writing tasks were, for example. They will be the same.
The complaining folks
Just google ‘British Council or IDP IELTS easy.' You will see many links to seriously funny discussions on this matter. Most people who comment and share their experience are IELTS test re-takers. Some had a better experience with the British Council. They abuse the IDP test. The supporters of IDP mud-sling the British Council. The third group (who couldn’t make it with either) curses both of them. It’s quite natural that a good number of candidates score better when they repeat a test but it doesn’t prove that their first testing body was difficult. It only shows that they practiced a little more, gained a pinch more confidence by facing the real thing once, and got a better band score the second time. That’s it.
Another interesting thing about most commenters is that many of them seem to be self-styled examiners. They write their scores and argue that they deserve more but, unfortunately, the language of their comments itself doesn’t attest to their claims.
Is the IELTS test easier in some cities than in others?
Not at all. Incidentally, this question is out of the scope of this article yet worth answering for the benefit of test takers. The exam is an international standardized test with the same difficulty level across the world. It doesn’t matter whether you take the test in Denmark or Delhi; Peru or Peshawar; north or south. Period! Many in South Asia think certain cities are easier than big ones for weird reasons. Here is an interesting example: Punjab is an Indian state with the highest number of test-takers in the sub-continent. Many candidates from Amritsar (a city in Punjab) believe that the exam in Jalandhar (another nearby city) is easier, while those in Jalandhar go to Amritsar thinking the opposite. When asked why they believe that, they could not say anything more than ‘my friends told me.' Is that all? After trying both centers in quick succession (instead of working on their English), many Punjabi brethren often wonder, is there a much easier third option? Just to add to the confusion, even some IELTS trainers misinform their students by advising them to prefer a particular test city to other. Believe me, choosing a test center over another one in search of an easy version of IELTS is utter stupidity.
To sum up...
IELTS, the world's most popular high-stakes English-language exam for study, work and migration is designed to assess how well you understand, read, write and speak English. Learn as much English as possible and take the test. You can’t fail. Both the British Council and IDP IELTS examiners who give you the test are highly trained ELT professionals. Brush up on your language skills, prepare for the test and take it confidently. Success will not elude you.