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Washback to learning outcomes: a comparative study of IELTS preparation and university pre-sessional language coursesThis study investigated whether dedicated test preparation classes gave learners an advantage in improving their writing test scores. Score gains following instruction on a measure of academic writing skills—the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) academic writing test—were compared across language courses of three types; all designed for international students preparing for entry to UK universities. Course types included those with a test preparation focus, those designed to introduce students to academic writing in the university setting and those combining the two. In addition to IELTS academic writing test scores, data relating to differences in participants and practices across courses were collected through supplementary questionnaire and test instruments. To take account of the large number of moderating variables and non-linearity in the data, a neural network approach was used in the analysis. Findings indicated no clear advantage for focused test preparation.