Demystifying the Complexity of Washback Effect on Learners in the IELTS Academic Writing Test

Masoomeh Estaji


Test-takers’ perceptions of the tests can often provide abundant information for the test designers. This study sought to explore the perspectives of learners involved in the IELTS Academic Writing Module (AWM) courses. In particular, the study explored learner perspectives of motivation, test-taking anxiety, test-taking strategies and the expectations students bring to their courses. This study adopted a mixed methodology and collected data through questionnaires, observations, and interviews. The results didn’t indicate a statistically significant difference for the within-subjects variable of learners’ perspectives, meaning that the learner perspectives’ mean and change from one time to another was not noticeably significant. Further, it indicated a complex relationship between exams and learners’ perspectives. However, Analysis of Covariance revealed significant effects for IELTS Writing Preparation course and the learners’ improvements in their Writing scores. These findings led to the proposal of a new model for washback which took into account learners’ perspectives and provided what should prove to be a useful framework for future studies in the emerging field of washback. The picture that emerged from this study is that the IELTS tests and preparation courses, powerful as they are, cannot be efficient agents for profound changes in learners’ perspectives.

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