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IELTS for the blind – what to expect

Before I met T, a blind student from Indonesia, I’ve never thought about how blind people can take the IELTS test. No wonder – 99.9% of the people I’ve helped with IELTS preparation could see, and therefore read. When T wrote to me asking whether my book Target Band 7 was suitable for blind people, I was puzzled because frankly – I had no idea. All I knew about how blind people read was that they use Braille . After a quick trial T wrote back and told me that he could “read” Target Band 7 perfectly well – using a certain software.

It turns out these days the technology helps, and blind people can use screen readers to “read” books, in addition to Braille – in fact, the young prefer screen readers and their Braille skills can be not very good. In terms of IELTS this can pose a problem.

T prepared for the IELTS test using the materials I supplied him with and later on shared his exam experience. With his permission I am posting it here, hoping that it would help more visually impaired students to get an idea of what the exam is like.

Here is how T describes his IELTS exam:

“I cannot read Braille materials fast; in fact, I’m rather slow. So, I consider myself not a Braille reader, but an audio reader. Getting information from digital materials read out by a screen reader allowing me to “read” far faster. As a result, I could not even finish reading a single text out of three given texts. Furthermore, psychologically, after the one-hour reminder, I got frustrated and was consequently not focused when working on the subsequent problems. It was all in Braille.

If only Cambridge allowed me to just work with electronic materials, I would have been able to do the test far better with optimal attainment. So, the reading score I would later get does not actually measure my real reading ability because I hardly ever use Braille and obviously never use Braille for long reading passages like articles, journals, books. Braille, for me, is just for small notes when I urgently need to make whenever using a laptop is not possible. What a waste of time and money!

As far as I can remember, in my case as a blind applicant, there were three different texts. The first was about the planning of constructing a castle somewhere in France proposed by someone whose name was Guyot or else (not sure). The second was about the importance of bees in relation to human’s lives. The third I didn’t know because I did not even open the page. In Braille, a paragraph takes almost a page of the bulky booklet. So, one might be able to guess how many pages it takes for the whole text, with each passage lasting for around nine paragraphs.

In this way, I’ll never be able to win any scholarships requiring me to take the IELTS test. I just can never know my actual reading ability unless I’m given a realistic alternative which is through digital means instead of Braille, it is impossible and frustrating!

The writing was divided into two tasks. The first task was to write a report on the rates of government spending on education and training and 18-24 years old participating in education and training in five different European countries in 2002. The second task was to compare two perspectives of whether greater international cooperation mainly brings about protection of environment or world of business instead. I felt my writing was not bad.

In regard to speaking, I found your blog and book were very useful. You are right; the outset of the test was just to tell my complete name for the sake of recording so I didn’t talk about anything else. I could tell this because the examiner sounded quite rushing while setting his recorder and spoke in his own voice labeling the date and other required information of the day’s date with me before asking my full name. Afterward, he asked me to introduce where I am originally from and asked me to give the complete information like what, where precisely. So, I told him what city and where it is geographically located in the country. Just after I finished he jumped to a question of whether the city where I am from is a good place to grow up. Then, I tried to answer diplomatically, by saying “it depends on how we see the city”. So, I gave him two possible perspectives on answering the question.

When I was done, he gave me a topic written in Braille. It was about a famous person whom I want to meet and I had to give some arguments why. Overall, I found the speaking test was relatively easy.

I got a lot of help from all the tips from your blog and the self study book. I was luckily able to answer perfectly and more importantly, I didn’t forget to always elaborate my answers contextually, logically, and comprehensively. I was definitely reminded by your blog and Target Band 7 book to be aware of important elements in all aspects: reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

I hope this sharing can be useful for other people. Many thanks for your help”

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