Following a general language course, gaining a qualification in an internationally recognised language exam is the logical next step for an international student. Not only are they beneficial for those looking to enter higher education in a host country, but some carry leverage where immigration and employment are concerned.
According to Geoff Butler, Director at Mount Maunganui Language Centre in Mount Maunganui, the school has been running preparatory exam courses for over 18 years and he notes that demand has always been consistent. “We generally have good demand for each course we run, with the spring and summer sessions occasionally over-subscribed. It pays to book early!” he affirms. Offering Cambridge First Certificate of English (FCE), Ielts and Toeic preparation courses, he adds that the FCE is by far the most popular elective requested by study abroad students.
Indeed, Cambridge Esol produces an extensive selection of tests including general English exams such as the aforementioned FCE, the Preliminary English Test (PET), Certificate in Advanced English Test (CAE), the Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) and the Key English Test (KET), as well as professional English exams such as the Business English Certificates (BEC). At CPIT School of English, the language arm of the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology in Christchurch, International Director, Beth Knowles, notes the range a majority of which are readily available at CPIT are typically suited to students who “want an academically demanding course and are interested in English for work or for further studies at tertiary level”. Owing perhaps to its association with a university campus, Knowles adds that a bulk of their students are already at pre-intermediate or intermediate level and therefore often opt for the Cambridge PET or FCE models, which the school runs twice a year.
On average, uptake of preparation courses for the Cambridge upper main suite of examinations at Languages International in Auckland and Christchurch accounts for 13 to 14 per cent of all international student weeks. “In the last quarter of the year, 25 per cent of students are involved in those courses,” adds Brett Shirreffs, Marketing Manager. However, in terms of sheer student numbers, Ielts is the popular choice. “We offer the course as one of the options for the afternoon part of a general, business or academic English course, so many of our students opt for it after they have arrived at the school,” says Shirreffs.
However, according to Katie Peckitt from Eurocentres in Auckland, there has been a noticeable drop in the number of students signing up to take a preparation course in FCE and CAE of late, with students drawn instead to the Ielts exam. “It tends to attract a wider variety of nationalities and is more for academic purposes so for university age students… I think [Ielts] is more adaptable to different countries and student needs than the Cambridge exams,” she muses. Knowles too has seen an upturn in demand for Ielts courses and she reasons direct entry into a New Zealand tertiary institution helps fuel this appeal.
Responding to nationality trends, Knowles observes that different exams suit different nationalities, with Chinese candidates preferring the Ielts model and Japanese students favouring the Cambridge suite of courses, “although both suites of courses attract a range of nationalities,” she adds. Meanwhile, William Neale, Director of Seafield School of English in Christchurch, comments that Cambridge FCE, CAE and CPE attracts a strong Swiss crowd, while Toeic and Ielts typically appeal to Asian nationalities. “Saudis are now keen to do Ielts,” he adds. Butler, however, sees student understanding concerning the FCE exam spreading throughout parts of Northern Asia. “We are also noticing more students wishing to transfer into exam preparation courses after a certain period of general English study something we encourage them to do,” adds Butler.
Aside from the mainstream Cambridge and Ielts prep, some providers see the value in offering alternative models. Eurocentres in Auckland started offering Toeic preparation after the number of students studying Business English spiked. TKT the Cambridge Teaching Knowledge Test was another recent addition and, says Peckitt, has already proven popular with the Korean market. Others are less assured. Shirreffs notes that demand for Toeic preparation has “fallen right away” recently while Toefl’s scheduling, payment and reporting system, makes it “extremely cumbersome compared with Ielts, so it is failing to reach its potential in New Zealand at least”.