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After moving to Australia in 2013, Neha successfully completed two masters’ degrees in Education and teaching from Victoria University and RMIT.
Since then, she has attempted the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test over 20 times but hasn’t been successful in scoring the required score for her permanent residency.
She needs a score of 7 bands in two and 8 in the other two modules of the test in order to be eligible for permanent residency as an early childhood teacher. But in all the attempts she had at the test, she missed the mark by a whisker in writing but scored well above the required level in the remaining three.
“I have so far spent approximately $8,000 on tests and coaching but every time I have fallen short by a very small margin, something that I fail to understand is how come I haven’t been able to improve my writing despite having improvement in all other areas,” Neha tells SBS Punjabi.
"It's so stressful. I feel they are harassing me. I get bands in every module except writing."
"When I have studied here, completed two masters degrees, taken this test a number of times and improved in all areas, and I am still given the same score in writing." she adds.
"It costs me too much because every time I pay $330 for the exam and the travel expenses. My husband has to leave work in order to take care of our baby every Saturday while I take this exam."
Neha believes something's not right with the way the test is marked.
After having taken the test repeatedly, Neha has got a near perfect score in speaking, listening and reading modules.
IDP (International Development Program), the co-owner of IELTS, says it introduced feedback on results in Australia last year which gives a brief explanation of the band score and a general advice on how to improve the test performance. It also says test takers can utilise tools, such as free face-to-face masterclasses, a 25-hour free online preparation course.
“I paid $50 [to IDP] to get feedback on my writing performance and I was told everything with my writing was fine except a little bit of punctuation,” she says. “If it’s just punctuation, you can't give me just 6- 6.5 [bands] every time?.... I think it's not fair,” Neha says.
Hear Neha's interview in Punjabi:
Neha, who has worked in public-facing customer service jobs in Australia, says she has experienced depression and mental trauma because of the stress caused by her repeated failure in the test.
IDP said 2.9 million people take the test worldwide every year. When asked about the psychological pressure and financial impost young migrants experience when they are unable to achieve the desired score, IDP did not comment.
Frustrated with her repeated failure to get through the English requirement, Neha is now planning to enrol herself for another masters’ degree which may waive her IELTS requirement. But she questions the very logic of adding different layers of language tests at different levels.
“When someone has successfully completed a master's degree from an Australian university, this means their English is good enough. Had it not been so, the universities wouldn’t allow them entry in the first place,” she says.
The Australian parliament is debating a change in the citizenship law to introduce a similar stand-alone English language test for new migrants wanting to become Australian citizens, a move staunchly opposed by the opposition.