IELTS Skills is the award winning app from Macmillan, helping learners with skills and techniques necessary for achieving high scores in all four papers of the academic IELTS exam. The app goes into detail about what to expect in the exam, helps improve necessary skills and gives tips and guidance to help learners on the day they actually take the exam.
There is a free version of the app, with a limited amount of content for each of the four skills, and a full version priced at £3.99 that gives full content in all of the four skills. Alternatively, each skill can be purchased separately for £1.49.
The website doesn’t specify the level of learner being aimed at with this app, but based on the complexity of the language in the app it seems that it would be suitable for candidates already above the 6.0 mark.
The main positive for this app is the high quality of the content. Each section of the app (Reading, Listening, Speaking, Writing) has a summary letting the learners know what to expect from that section, and then a ‘golden rules’ section giving tips and techniques to help learners in the exam. Each section is then broken down into sub sections, relating to the different subsections of the exam and the different subkills and techniques needed or suggested for tackling those sections. There is a huge amount of detail in these explanations and the exercises that the learners are asked to do relate well to the exam itself and so train learners for what to expect when actually sitting down to the IELTS exam. The subject matter depth and breadth is very impressive, and puts the app up there with a full IELTS coursebook in terms of content.
There are also some really nice features in terms of promoting learner autonomy. For example, at the end of each section there is a list of Can Do statements that ask the user to rate their own ability relating to the things that have been taught in that section. There is also a progress indicator, so that learners can see how much they have completed of a subsection, section or the entire app.
The app is very specific in how it helps learners and therefore has very obvious value for people taking the IELTS exam. The fact that the app can be bought as a bundle or for a specific section of the exam means that learners don’t need to spend more than necessary to get the value that they feel that they need most. And given the quality of the content, the app is solid value for money, especially in relation to the cost of taking the exam itself.
There are lots of opportunities to practice, check answers and monitor progress through the content. Plus some really nice features, such as learners being able to record themselves answering speaking questions, adding to the variety of the app in terms of interaction types.
The the main weakness with this app is the lack of consideration of the medium through which the content is delivered. There are literally pages and pages of dense text, requiring the user to scroll up and down through the different sections and then navigate backwards and forwards through obscure menu hierarchies as they try to negotiate all the material. In some cases the exercises require scrolling up and down from images to questions repeatedly in order to complete them.
There is also no way of the learner diagnosing which sections may be of more or less use to them, resulting in the load of content maybe seeming even more daunting. Even in the Can Do sections there is no suggested unit that would help with an area in which the learn deems themselves to be weak. So cutting through the noise to the area that would have the biggest impact on the learner becomes a challenge, and I imagine that many learners would stop short of getting the most out of the content available
Due to the format of the content and the large amount of metalanguage used, even in the section titles, it’s unlikely that a learner will be able to pick and choose which bits of the different sections of the course are most relevant unless they go through in a linear fashion and skip over the things that they find superfluous. Whilst this does encourage learners to deal with a variety of content, it seems to have missed an opportunity to present the information in a more personalised or piecemeal format.
From a design perspective, the user experience feels too similar throughout the app. There is no visual representation of the section you are in, or what is expected of the user in each. Should they be processing info here, or answering a question, or getting exam tips? Each page has the same informational hierarchy and a lack of clear signals for the user to latch onto in terms of knowing what is expected of them.
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IELTS Skills App
The IELTS Skills app does a great job on the content front, and has some really nice features. The material is of very high quality and there is enough of it to ensure that all IELTS test-takers would find something of use in the app. The fact that the learners can record their speaking answers and listen back is nice and the indirect testing of the writing is probably as much as could be expected given the technology available at that price.
Unfortunately, on the down side, the app falls short in terms of the user experience and the ability to access and process the information in the app. Fairly simple things like the placement of the navigation buttons lack consistency, and it is hard for the user to know how to behave in each of the pages as there are no strong visual cues informing them one way or the other.
With a teacher by their side to guide them through the content, this would be an invaluable resource for students getting to grips with the IELTS exam. As it is, the UX and visual design of the app have to take the place of the absent teacher in order for the learner to make to most of the materials, and I fear that in this case, they’re letting the side down.