If you are considering becoming a speaking and/or writing examiner for IELTS, let me tell you that I recommend it.
In short, I found the rubrics (examination criteria) understandable (i.e. a fairly objective measurement tool), the wage good, and the job enjoyable (speaking examining in particular). I was a speaking and writing examiner for 1.5 years and below are more details of my experience.
Qualification Considerations: Skills
This is only my opinion and not a job posting, but to be an examiner in general, you would need the following skillset:
- a strong grammatical foundation to be able to distinguish verb tense in addition to simple (and compound) and complex sentences (speaking and writing)
- knowledge of transition signals (conjunctive adverbs, signposting) (speaking and writing)
- an understanding of tone and formality appropriate to different writing situations (writing)
- ability to critique letters, summaries, and essays in terms of content/argument (writing)
- familiarity with natural word stress and connected speech (speaking)
Having a warm personality can also be an asset as it helps the candidate relax in the speaking interview.
(Assumption: all centres have a similar training program)
The speaking training took place over a weekend, and the writing another. To be honest, there was a lot of material to cover and they were long'ish days (for ESL teachers at least). At the end of the weekend, there was an assessment task to determine if we qualified. Generally speaking, if you have the above qualifications that come from several years of teaching speaking and writing, then you should be able to make sense of the rubrics and pass. For writing examining, you really need to understand the components of a good essay (e.g. topic development, transitions, organization). If you have this experience, you should be able to pass and gradually become more and more standard in your grading.
Note that even if you fail one type of examiner certification (e.g. writing), that doesn't disqualify you from being an examiner for the other skill (e.g. speaking) or attempting the certification again at a later date.
The Biggest Challenge: Diving into Actual Speaking Examining
To pass the examiner training, you only have to grade some recorded candidates. At our centre, I was fortunate that I also got to practice one speaking interview with a volunteer.
Next, if you pass the certification, your next interview is a real high-stakes examining situation with a real candidate. At this point you may have only practiced the speaking interview process once! (And there's a lot going on in terms of language assessment and timing in speaking.) Needless to say, you're forced to make a quick (and daunting) leap into your first examiner experience. For some, the greatest challenge may be trying not to appear as nervous as the candidate.
You may make a few mistakes on your first day (e.g. particularly with timing each section), but you will soon get the hang of it. Because of the fixed/scripted nature of what you can say as a speaking examiner (especially in parts I and II), there's not that much room for verbal error thankfully. This may be a drawback for examiners who prefer to freely converse with their candidate, but for me (someone who likes structure), it was comforting.
Other Notes on Speaking Examining
Once you become comfortable with the speaking examining (the script will become ingrained in your brain), then it can actually be a lot of fun. You get to listen to candidates speak (for roughly 14 minutes) and enjoy their stories. You'll often laugh and meet intelligent people who have great ideas. It's definitely not the worst way to spend a weekend day, and the best part about it is that unlike teaching English, there is no prep and it pays well.
Other Notes on Writing Examining
For me, writing was a bit draining (I'm not a quick reader) but it is also a good way to make money, especially if you are fast. While I didn't find any particular enjoyment in writing, again, the pay is good and you don't need to prep or think about it after you're done.
- The pay is worthwhile.
- Speaking examining is enjoyable.
- There is no prep or after-thought.
- The rubrics allow you to feel confident in your grading.
- Being thrown in on your first day can be stressful.
- The scripted nature of the speaking examination can be robotic for some (not me).
Those are my thoughts that I felt were worth sharing. If you are eligible, I suggest you apply at your local testing centre as it's a great way to supplement your teaching income.
All the best.
-- M. Barton / Creator of Englishcurrent.com