Fonts on the IELTS

26 Feb 2006

I’ve been helping a student prepare for the IELTS (雅思 in Chinese), and she recently brought an interesting point to my attention. In her book of practice tests (a quality book published by Oxford University Press), different fonts were used for different reading selections. For example, a selection about biology was written in Times New Roman, whereas an article about education was written in Arial, and a passage about blindness and visualization was written in Verdana. She wanted to know if the real test was going to be like that.

I was impressed by her observation, but I had no idea to respond. Does the IELTS use a standard font, or does it vary the font from passage to passage? I’ve done some preliminary research, but I’ve been having trouble finding an answer because when I use “font” as a search term, Google ever so helpfully includes font tags and CSS text in its search, rendering the search results useless.

I asked my student if she thought the choice of font affected her performance. She responded, “Yes, it does. Sorry, I’m sensitive.” Heh. It would probably affect anyone at least somewhat on the unconscious level, but her years of experience in the marketing industry brought it to her conscious attention.

So, I’d just like to know… does anyone know if the IELTS actually varies the fonts of the passages on the real test? If not, which font does it use? If so, why does a respectable publisher vary the font in the practice test?? I think it’s good practice to expose students to different fonts, but in a test prep book, I don’t think it’s justifiable unless the test itself uses various fonts.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. Fonts on the IELTS…

    I just got an email from John at Sinosplice asking if I could help with a question he had from one of his students. I’ve been helping a student prepare for the IELTS (雅思 in Chinese), and she recently brought an interesting point to …

  2. I’ve found a couple examples of frustration expressed online at the different fonts used for the reading passages by people who’ve taken the exam. 1, 2.

  3. Why don’t you just email Oxford University Press and ask them?

    Earlier, when I was working on some improvements for my schools curriculum, I decided to introduce extensive reading at a lower level than we had been before. I needed to know which 400 headwords they used in their Bookworms collection at level one and which 700 words they used at level two, so I sent them an email asking about it. It took a day or two, but they actually gave me their master lists that they use internally! They included the words, including parts of speech, the directional compliments (i.e. turn off, turn up, pick up, etc..), and tenses used at each level of their series. I was sold on the OUP Bookworms already, but with that kind of service there’s no way I could wish for better.

  4. zhwj,

    Searching in Chinese? Now that’s just crazy.

    That seems to answer the question, though. Thanks!

  5. Mark,

    You’re such a direct American. I like your idea. I’ll try it.

  6. Since I was senstive to art , I do think the fonts would affect my reading performance. Normally I would use Arial for English, but if there are text in ugly “songti ” I would find it unpleasant to read. Most books published in China doesn’t have a great concern about fonts but I have noticed the books published abroad such as my Human Development psychology books have very nice fonts for different sections. That’s very nice. 😀

  7. Dear John,

    I represent IELTS and I will direct this enquiry to our team in Cambridge University. IELTS is a global collaborative test with input from Camrbidge ESOL, IDP: IELTS Australia and British Council.

    We have not had this quetion raised before, to my knowledge, however it is a very interesting one. I will endeavour to find out what we can to assist you and the respondents on your web site.

    There are more than half a million students and candidates taking IELTS around the world. The question appears to be, does it affect different cultures and if so how? We conduct the test through 150 countries.

    The initial response is that the test is conducted to determine English proficiency. It is designed for those needing to show a level of English proficiency for study in key countries or organisations where subject matter is provided in English.

    No matter where the candidate goes to study, they will encounter similar issues to the one raised. If they wish to study at Princeton in the USA, or University of Sydney in Australia, Univerisity of Ontario in Canada, or Cambridge University in the UK, each university will have material in differing type fonts and styles.

    We do not see away around this, short to say that IELTS is still a test of real life English proficiency and the candidate will still encounter type face differences in real life.

    I can imagine how difficult it would be for me to both study and understand text written in China, Japan, India, the middle east and so forth. Many cultures have a different written script, coming from an English background I would find it difficult to master the subtleties and complexity of other writing styles.

    It is a very good question.

    Regards,

    Adrian

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