If you are planning to study on a vocational or academic course in English or if you want to apply for a visa to live in an English speaking country, you may be told that you need to gain a particular IELTS score.
If this is you, it can be quite confusing at first to work out exactly what that means. So, below, I’ll explain what an IELTS score actually is, and also provide some advice on the first steps you need to take.
What is an IELTS score?
IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is scored from 0-9, with 0 meaning that no evidence of any English level was submitted (or you cheated) and 9 being a highly-literate native speaker level. You can also be rated at a half-band e.g. 6.5. There is no pass or fail mark; success depends or whether you manage to get the band score that you need.
There are two different IELTS exams: General (which is normally used for visa purposes) and Academic (which is usually required for further study). So, for example, you could be told that you need a minimum of IELTS Academic 6.5 or IELTS General 7.
Both tests have papers for Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. The Listening and Speaking component is the same for both the General and Academic test. Each paper is given a band score e.g. Reading 6, Writing 5.5, Speaking 6.5 and Listening 5.5 and then the average of these four scores gives your overall band score (in this case 6).
Your first steps
- Know exactly what you need to attain.
Clarify which test you need to take – IELTS General or IELTS Academic – and what overall band score you need. Also check whether there is a minimum band score for each component. For example, you might need an IELTS General 6 with no lower than 5 in each paper.
It’s also worth finding out what other tests are recognised instead of IELTS. In most cases, PTE (the Pearson Test of English) and CAE (Cambridge Advanced English) are also accepted. Depending on your current location, the location of the test centre, how soon you need your results, and whether you’ll need to do additional study to reach the level required, one of these tests might suit you better. (I’ll write another blog comparing these options soon.)
- Know your current level.
As mentioned above, IELTS is scored in bands from 0-9. An IELTS score of 5 roughly corresponds to Intermediate level, 6 to Upper Intermediate level and 7 to Advanced. Be honest with yourself, does your current level of English match the score that you need? You can test your current English level at lexisenglish.com/course/general-english-test/
- Accept you may need to improve your English level before studying IELTS.
Some candidates try to improve simply by doing practice tests over and over again. This will not help if your overall knowledge of English is not good enough. Studying IELTS will increase your score by one band at best. If you need to improve more than that, enrolling in a general English course at your level will help you progress much faster.
- Familiarise yourself with the IELTS
Even if your English is already at the right level, it’s still a good idea to spend some time getting used to the IELTS test format and doing some practice runs. The first time you do an IELTS test, you might find the reading questions confusing, the listening hard to follow, or the writing difficult to achieve in the given time. However, once you get familiar with the different question types, it all becomes much easier. You can find sample test questions at www.IELTS.org/about-the-test/sample-test-questions, borrow a book from your local library or join an IELTS class.
- Choose between sitting the paper-based or computer based exam and find a test centre.
Some test centres offer the choice of paper-based or computer-based, others are still paper-based only. You might have a strong preference so make sure you research what’s available in your area. You can find out more about these options at IELTS.org/about-the-test/paper-or-computer and find a test centre at www.IELTS.org/book-a-test/find-a-test-location.
Hopefully, now you understand what score you need and what your next steps are order to achieve it. Like most good things in life, it can feel challenging at first but such an achievement when you finally reach your goals. Happy testing!
Learn English in Byron Bay. Lexis English students study General English, IELTS, FCE, CAE, and English plus Surfing and Yoga in a friendly and professional school right in the heart of Byron Bay and only 15 minutes from the beach.