Hong Kong students ranked third in English proficiency in Asia in 2018, IELTS rankings reveal

Zoe Low

Hong Kong students’ English proficiency continued to rank third in Asia, behind Malaysia and the Philippines, in 2018, according to a global education consultant.

Education consultancy firm IDP, which administers the IELTS test for non-native English speakers, compiled the rankings based on reports from 20 countries – including Germany, Greece, Malaysia, Spain, and Canada – from where most people took the test.

Like 2017, Hong Kong ranked 13th on the global list in 2018 too.

Takers of the test from Hong Kong scored an average of 6.53, which remained unchanged from 2017, on the 9-band IELTS scale, where 1 indicates a “non-user” of the language and 9 means an “expert user”. The test comprises four sections – reading, listening, writing and speaking – each of which is graded separately.

Malaysian test takers scored an average of 6.88, while Filipino students scored 6.81. Photo: Shutterstock

Malaysian test takers scored an average of 6.88, while Filipino students scored 6.81, a drop from 6.84 in 2017. The two countries remained the two top scorers from Asia, despite the Philippines dropping in the global rankings from fifth to seventh.

Germans scored an average of 7.43, an improvement from 2017’s score of 7.37. IDP representatives said fluctuations in scores were normal, and usually depended on the quality of the test takers each year.

Hong Kong remained the top scorer in the Greater China region, with test takers from mainland China scoring 5.78 and Taiwan 6.1. But, Hong Kong lagged behind Brazil and Russia in the global list.

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“Test takers tend to do better in the listening and reading sections, because they can use the common test-taking tips which are taught in schools here,” Patrick Wan Ka-fai, the regional manager for IELTS for Greater China, said. “But they are weaker in speaking and writing, especially those Hongkongers who do not live in an environment where they use English often.”

Calvin Chan Shing-kit, IDP’s senior manager, said Hong Kong students needed to improve on their writing skills as universities in Australia and the UK tended to also look at the separate score for the writing section. “Even if the total score reaches the university’s requirement, a low writing score may cost students their admission,” Chan said.

Common mistakes made in the writing section included going off-topic and forming incorrect sentence structures, Wan said. “Hong Kong students need to practise their writing skills on their own if they want to do well since they generally only write essays in class,” he said.

More than 3.5 million people took the test from 140 countries last year, a majority of them being students aged 16 and above who wanted to pursue higher studies in English-speaking countries, such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada.

Hong Kong drops in global survey of English proficiency

The IDP, established in 1989, is one of three organisations that administers the test, the others being the British Council and Cambridge Assessment English.

There are two types of IELTS tests, one for testing academic language abilities and the other – IELTS General Training – tests practical uses of the language, which is mainly taken for migration or secondary-level education.

IDP country director for Hong Kong Emily Tse Hor-yee said some 76 per cent of the test takers opted for the IELTS Academic test in 2018.

Common mistakes made in the writing section of the test included going off-topic and forming incorrect sentence structures. Photo: Handout

However, Wan said the rankings could not be taken as an indicator of the overall English proficiency levels of an entire population, as the sample was limited only to people who had taken the test.

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“Our aim in releasing the results is to make students aware of the performance of the previous test takers and understand which sections they need to focus more on,” he said.

According to the English Proficiency Index compiled by international education company Education First, Hong Kong’s overall English proficiency was ranked fifth in Asia, behind Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia and India. Singapore is not included in the IELTS ranking as it does not have many test takers.

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