I’ve recently encountered a number of essays that were written for the CELPIP but that seemed to have been produced by candidates who appeared to have switched from the IELTS (GT) and were still writing essays geared more to that test, or to have been advised by people who did not fully understand how the two tests differ.
To be sure, there is significant overlap between IELTS and CELPIP writing, particularly in terms of Task 1 (formal, semi-formal, or informal letter in both cases; approximately 20 minutes for IELTS, 27 minutes for CELPIP). However, there are real differences when it comes to Task 2. Candidates who are either trying to decide which exam to take, or switching from one to the other, must understand the expectations and criteria for each.
IELTS GT Task 2: Approximately 40 minutes, 250+ words, no spell check on computer-based exam.
This assignment requires test-takers to present a point of view about a question involving a broad theme such as education, technology, health, or government. For example, candidates might be asked to discuss the advantages of team sports or weigh in on who should be responsible for funding eldercare.
CELPIP Task 2: 26 minutes, 150-200 words, spell check (computer-based exam only).
This prompt is always in the form of a survey: test-takers are given two options in response to a scenario involving an issue of personal, professional, or local/civic concern (e.g., would it be better to have a recreational park or a mall built in your small town?) and must write a response arguing in favor of one of the options.
When trying to understand the respective style and tone expected on each of the Writing sections, it can be helpful to consider them in the context of each exam’s primary purpose and use.
On one hand, the IELTS is primarily used for academic purposes: in 2019, 77% of test-takers took the Academic Training module, whereas only 23% sat for General Training. While GT essay questions are more straightforward and less complex than the ones that appear on the AT exam, GT questions are essentially simplified versions of AT questions (e.g., instead of asking for both advantages and disadvantages, GT questions may ask for advantages only). The test still targets candidates’ ability to think and write about broad topics in a general, relatively abstract way. While personal examples are usually permitted, they are not required, and do not necessarily have to involve direct personal experiences had by test-takers and their families, colleagues, etc.
So even though IELTS GT is used for immigration and citizenship purposes, the overall thrust of the exam remains fairly academic. A moderately formal, impersonal style is expected in Task 2, equivalent to what would be used in a school essay. If you do not read a newspaper or a serious news site such as the BBC regularly, or give little thought to social issues, you may find it difficult to obtain a 7+ IELTS Writing score. Note that while more time is allowed for IELTS Task 2 than for CELPIP Task 2, the former is also longer by 50-100 words.
The CELPIP, on the other hand, is an exceedingly practical exam, designed to assess candidates’ ability to function in a variety of everyday, real-life situations. Its sole purpose is to determine whether prospective Canadian immigrants have the necessary skills to communicate in daily life using topic-specific vocabulary and an appropriate tone/level of formality and politeness with people such as friends, extended family members, colleagues, teachers, and retail workers.
Although it may make sense to discuss some ideas in a general/abstract manner, the emphasis is more on the personal experiences of the writer as well as specific people he or she knows. The point is not to opine (incidentally, a word that should never be used on either exam!) about large-scale social phenomena. On the contrary, scoring well in CELPIP Writing is in large part a matter of being able to imagine oneself in a given scenario and to invent convincing details about it, all while composing largely error-free and stylistically appropriate prose. If you have difficulty with this type of creative assignment, you may find it very challenging to score Band 9 (out of 12) or higher. The fact that CELPIP Writing questions are more concrete and straightforward does not necessarily make them easier!
Compare, for example, the following sample opening paragraphs, one IELTS, one CELPIP. As you will see, the questions require two very different types of writing, and you may find one significantly easier or more appealing to you than the other.
Question: In Britain, when someone gets old they often go to live in a home with other old people where there are nurses to look after them. Sometimes the government has to pay for this care.
Who do you think should pay for this care, the government or the family?
Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.
Sample Paragraph (focus on people in general):
As people age, they become progressively less able to care for themselves and must often enter a nursing home where medical support is continuously available. This type of service is quite costly, and the question of who should pay for it is a matter of some debate. While certain forms of care are so expensive that only the government can reasonably be expected to cover them, I believe that it is also reasonable for families to contribute to a portion of the costs, provided that they can afford to do so.
Question: You work in a small office. The boss wants to reduce vacation time by four days but send everyone to a nice beachside hotel for 4 days of job training. Some of the staff are happy with this idea. Others are upset. Choose the option you prefer. Why do you prefer your choice? Explain the reasons for your choice.
Option A: I think we should keep our vacation time instead of going to the training.
Option B: I think we should do the training and cut back our vacation time.
Sample Paragraph (focus on self and colleagues):
While the Playa del Sol hotel appears to be a lovely spot, I think that it is best for me and my colleagues to retain our vacation time and attend the training in a more professional setting during regular working hours. The past few months have been particularly stressful for all of us, with several major projects requiring considerable overtime. I am sure that I and my co-workers would benefit physically and mentally from being able to fully relax during our current allotment of vacation days, free from any work-related responsibilities.