Washback effects of the IELTS test
: Views and experiences of Chinese students in the context of a Sino-UK joint programme with English as the medium of instruction

  • Hui Ma

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education


The aim of this research is to come to a better understanding of how certain factors and conditions can work together to contribute to the washback of the IELTS test from students’ perspectives. I investigated, within a consequential validity framework, how the high-stakes and high predictability aspects of the IELTS test in my research context can shape the washback of the test on students’ learning activities and their affective factors.

This research contributes to the field of washback studies by using a mixed methods design to investigate students’ views and experiences of the IELTS test in an English as the medium of instruction (EMI) context in higher education in China. The data collection was organised in two concurrent strands: in Strand 1, an online survey was issued to students to gain their general views and opinions; in Strand 2, group interviews were conducted to get much richer data through interaction with students.

The research results contribute further to our understanding of the consequential validity of IELTS tests and suggest that the IELTS test can generate positive results for students, as it can motivate them and can lead to an improvement in their understanding of English in an academic context. Conversely, their IELTS test scores can also be improved after attending the EMI courses. The IELTS test can also impact students negatively by narrowing their English learning, driving them into a self-isolating way of study, causing them pressure, test anxiety and a loss of confidence. In addition, it can also lead students to repeated test-taking, buying predicted answers and increasing the financial burden on them.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorJannette Elwood (Supervisor) & Aisling O'Boyle (Supervisor)


  • washback
  • EMI
  • students' perspective

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