Your Insider Guide to the IELTS

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All About the IELTS Test

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What is the IELTS?

The IELTS is a language assessment for non-native speakers of English. The test is offered up to four times per month and 48 times throughout the year. Exam dates are available at test centers around the world, and students may register with the individual testing locations via the IELTS website. The IELTS is one of the two most popular English language tests in the world (the other is the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL). The administrators of the IELTS are the British Council, IDP Education, and Cambridge English Language Assessment, all of which are educational organizations.

Summary of IELTS Content

The IELTS academic test is used to evaluate prospective university students, while the general training test is intended for various non-academic purposes. Both tests are built on a four-part structure, with one section (or "paper") each on listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Academic and general training test-takers complete identical listening and speaking papers, but the reading and writing assessments are specific to each version. The IELTS academic and general training tests take approximately three hours to complete, but students are not required to take the speaking paper on the same day as the other three sections. The IELTS life skills test, which is used for some types of immigration visas, is a much shorter exam. It assesses listening and speaking skills simultaneously and can be finished in 16-22 minutes.

IELTS Formats and Scoring

For the vast majority of test-takers, the IELTS is a paper-and-pencil exam, in which responses are filled in by hand on an answer sheet. Since 2015, a computerized version of the IELTS life skills test has been available in some countries. Scoring for the academic and general training tests is on the 9-point "band" scale. Sectional and total scores are reported between 0 and 9 in half-point increments (9 is the highest possible score). The total IELTS score is the average of the four paper scores, rounded up or down to the closest half-point. Passing scores for most university degree programs are established by individual schools or departments, and they are usually somewhere between 5.5 and 7.0. The only possible outcomes for the life skills test are "pass" and "fail."

The IELTS and the TOEFL

The IELTS and the TOEFL share a four-section structure devoted to the core skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. The reading and writing sections, based on multiple-choice questions and essays respectively, are fairly similar on both exams. The IELTS and TOEFL listening sections both feature questions on a variety of different listening passages in academic and non-academic contexts, although the IELTS in general has a greater number of question types. The most important content distinction between the TOEFL and the IELTS is in the speaking assessment. TOEFL students audio-record their responses to speaking exercises, while the IELTS speaking paper is a live conversation with an examiner. The TOEFL also uses a different scoring system, where each section is scored from 0 to 30, for a total score of 0 to 120.

IELTS Acceptance at Universities

Applicants to universities in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand can be certain that their programs will accept IELTS scores. The majority of postsecondary institutions in the United States will also consider IELTS scores, but a handful of American schools either require or express a clear preference for the TOEFL. The testing policies of individual degree offerings are easily viewable on university websites, and these policies should obviously factor into student decisions on which assessment to take.

IELTS Acceptance for Immigration and Work

Immigrants to the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada may use the IELTS to qualify for many different types of visas, including those for permanent residence. Additionally, the IELTS is considered by a variety of professional organizations in countries around the world, including educational institutions, businesses, professional registration bodies, and government agencies.

IELTS Scoring Classifications

Although individual organizations make their own decisions about minimum test scores, IELTS has associated each full-point band score with a specific level of language ability. The highest band score of 9 is classified as the "expert" level, while band scores of 8 and 7 are considered "very good" and "good" respectively. A band score of 6 is characterized as "competent," and a band score of 5 is regarded as "modest." The lower classification levels are "limited" (band score of 4), "extremely limited" (3), "intermittent" (2), and "non-user" (1 and 0).