Testing Office Offers New English Proficiency Exam for International Community

Testing Office Offers New English Proficiency Exam for International Community

By Alexis BlueUniversity Communications
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In an effort to allow more international students to meet college admission requirements, The University of Arizona has begun offering a new English language proficiency exam that is available nowhere else in the state.

The UA Testing Office administered the first round of International English Language Testing System, or IELTS, exams in October with the help of a team of faculty members, trained as certified examiners, from the Center for English as a Second Language.

"All of our students are non-native English speakers and we're looking for opportunities for them to show their English proficiency," said certified IELTS examiner Suzanne Panferov. She's also the director of CESL – a center that works with many students who have been conditionally admitted to the UA, pending passage of an English language proficiency exam.

All international students must pass either the IELTS test or the TOEFL, the Test of English as a Foreign Language, before they can be admitted to the University, or they can complete an eight-week endorsement program through CESL.

While the UA Testing Office has offered the TOEFL for several years, the test's conversion to an Internet-based format in recent years has limited its offering times so that no more than 28 people a month can take the test on campus. Prior to the format change, at least 80 people took the exam each month, said Marcela MacCullagh, Testing Office program director.

Because of the limited availability, students needing to complete the test by a certain date have often been forced to travel to other testing sites in the state, and sometimes even out of state, to take the exam, said Jodi Bunting, Testing Office program coordinator and IELTS testing administrator.

"The demand was there, and the supply went away, and we saw the anxieties," Bunting said. "To have to travel to take a test was stressful when the test was already a lot of stress."

To help meet on-campus need and encourage student diversity, MacCullagh and Bunting set out to bring the IELTS to campus by doing extensive research, completing an IELTS training program and observing the nearest testing site in San Diego.

The test is offered in 120 countries, and the UA is one of 38 testing sites in the United States.

Unlike the TOEFL, a computer-based exam in which students type answers and speak into a microphone, the IELTS – which tests students in listening, reading, writing and speaking – relies on live examiners to administer the written and oral portions test, including a face-to-face interview.

Bunting and MacCullagh recruited a team of 10 examiners – eight CESL faculty members and two faculty members from Pima Community College – to complete a training to become certified examiners.

Bunting said the IELTS organization was interested in establishing a testing site at the UA because of its close proximity to the Mexican border.

"We're really in a multicultural area," said Panferov, one of the CESL faculty members who became a certified examiner, adding that she thinks a lot of people will choose to take the test at the UA center.

A version of the test for the general public is also available and may be taken by individuals whose jobs or memberships in organizations require official demonstration of English proficiency.

The Testing Office is currently offering the IELTS test to 20 people once a month and plans to add more testing times for a larger audience in the future, Bunting said. The office continues to offer the TOEFL four times monthly to a maximum of seven people per test session.

More information is available on the Testing Office Web site.

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