The production of IELTS question papers is a lengthy process which includes a number of quality checks. The objective of these checks is to ensure that the material in each test is suitable for the test purpose in terms of topics, focus, level of language, length, style and technical measurement properties.
We apply both qualitative standards for the production of test material involving the judgement of qualified professionals, and quantitative, statistical standards for the selection of suitable test material and the maintenance of consistent levels of test difficulty over time.
The stages in the process of producing question papers are shown in Figure 1 below. The first three stages of commissioning, pre-editing and editing involve gathering and choosing appropriate test content that reflects the aims of the Academic and General Training modules.
Once the best material has been selected, it is then given to representative groups of language learners to check that each question – or item – is at an appropriate difficulty level for IELTS; that candidates will be able to understand the questions and that each question can help us to differentiate between more and less able candidates. This stage is known as pretesting. Approved material is stored in an item bank and can then be introduced to live tests – tests that are used as the basis for awarding official IELTS certificates – through a process known as standards fixing. Each of these stages is explained in more detail below.