International English Language Testing System
Standardised test. Available in 2 modules: "Academic", "General training".The IELTS test partners also offer IELTS Life Skills, a speaking and listening test used for UK Visas and Immigration.
|Developer / administrator||British Council, IDP Education, Cambridge English Language Assessment.|
|Knowledge / skills tested||Listening, reading, writing and speaking of the English language.|
|Purpose||To assess the English language proficiency of non-native English speakers.|
Listening: 40 minutes (including the 10-minute transfer time), |
Reading: 60 minutes,
Writing: 60 minutes,
Speaking: 11–14 minutes.
Total: 2 hours, 44 minutes.
|Score / grade range||0 to 9, in 0.5 band increments.|
|Score / grade validity||2 years|
|Offered||Up to 4 times a month. Up to 48 times a year.|
|Countries / regions||More than 1,000 test centres in over 140 countries.|
|Annual no. of test takers||Over 2.5 million in 2014.|
|Prerequisites / eligibility criteria||No official prerequisite. Intended for non-native English speakers.|
|Fee||To find out the test fee in local currency, use the IELTS Worldwide search to identify a local centre.|
|Scores / grades used by||More than 9,000 education institutions, governments, professional registration bodies and employers worldwide.|
The International English Language Testing System, or IELTS //, is an international standardised test of English language proficiency for non-native English language speakers. It is jointly managed by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge English Language Assessment, and was established in 1989. IELTS is one of the major English-language tests in the world, others being the TOEFL, TOEIC, PTE:A and OPI/OPIc.
IELTS is accepted by most Australian, British, Canadian and New Zealand academic institutions, by over 3,000 academic institutions in the United States, and by various professional organisations across the world.
IELTS is the only Secure English Language Test approved by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) for visa customers applying both outside and inside the UK. It is also a requirement for immigration to Australia and New Zealand. In Canada, IELTS, TEF, or CELPIP are accepted by the immigration authority.
No minimum score is required to pass the test. An IELTS result or Test Report Form is issued to all test takers with a score from "band 1" ("non-user") to "band 9" ("expert user") and each institution sets a different threshold. There is also a "band 0" score for those who did not attempt the test. Institutions are advised not to consider a report older than two years to be valid, unless the user proves that they have worked to maintain their level.
In 2014, 2.5 million tests were taken in more than 140 countries, up from 2 million tests in 2012, 1.7 million tests in 2011 and 1.4 million tests in 2009. In 2007, IELTS administered more than one million tests in a single 12-month period for the first time ever, making it the world's most popular English language test for higher education and immigration.
The English Language Testing Service (ELTS), as IELTS was then known, was launched in 1980 by Cambridge English Language Assessment (then known as UCLES) and the British Council. It had an innovative format, which reflected changes in language learning and teaching, including the growth in ‘communicative’ language learning and ‘English for specific purposes’. Test tasks were intended to reflect the use of language in the ‘real world’.
During the 1980s, test taker numbers were low (4,000 in 1981 rising to 10,000 in 1985) and there were practical difficulties administering the test. As a result, the ELTS Revision Project was set up to oversee the redesign of the test. In order to have international participation in the redesign, the International Development Program of Australian Universities and Colleges (IDP), now known as IDP: IELTS Australia, joined Cambridge English Language Assessment and the British Council to form the international IELTS partnership which delivers the test to this day. This international partnership was reflected in the new name for the test: The International English Language Testing System (IELTS).
IELTS went live in 1989. Test takers took two non-specialised modules, Listening and Speaking, and two specialised modules, Reading and Writing. Test taker numbers rose by approximately 15% per year and by 1995 there were 43,000 test takers in 210 test centres around the world.
IELTS was revised again in 1995, with three main changes:
- There was ONE Academic Reading Module and ONE Academic Writing Module (previously there had been a choice of three field-specific Reading and Writing modules)
- The thematic link between the Reading and Writing tasks was removed to avoid confusing the assessment of reading and writing ability
- The General Training Reading and Writing modules were brought into line with the Academic Reading and Writing modules (same timing, length of responses, reporting of scores).
IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training are designed to cover the full range of ability from non-user to expert user. The Academic version is for test takers who want to study at tertiary level in an English-speaking country or seek professional registration. The General Training version is for test takers who want to work, train, study at a secondary school or migrate to an English-speaking country.
The difference between the Academic and General Training versions is the content, context and purpose of the tasks. All other features, such as timing allocation, length of written responses and reporting of scores, are the same.
IELTS Academic and General Training both incorporate the following features:
- IELTS tests the ability to listen, read, write and speak in English.
- The speaking module is a key component of IELTS. It is conducted in the form of a one-to-one interview with an examiner. The examiner assesses the test taker as he or she is speaking. The speaking session is also recorded for monitoring and for re-marking in case of an appeal against the score given.
- A variety of accents and writing styles have been presented in test materials in order to minimise linguistic bias. The accents in the listening section are generally 80% British, Australian, New Zealander and 20% others (mostly American).
- IELTS is developed by experts at Cambridge English Language Assessment with input from item writers from around the world. Teams are located in the USA, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other English-speaking nations.
- Band scores are used for each language sub-skill (Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking). The Band Scale ranges from 0 ("Did not attempt the test") to 9 ("Expert User").
IELTS test structure
There are two modules of the IELTS:
- Academic Module and
- General Training Module
There is also a separate test offered by the IELTS test partners, called IELTS Life Skills:
- IELTS Academic is intended for those who want to enroll in universities and other institutions of higher education and for professionals such as medical doctors and nurses who want to study or practise in an English-speaking country.
- IELTS General Training is intended for those planning to undertake non-academic training or to gain work experience, or for immigration purposes.
- IELTS Life Skills is intended for those who need to prove their English speaking and listening skills at Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) levels A1 or B1 and can be used to apply for a ‘family of a settled person’ visa, indefinite leave to remain or citizenship in the UK.
The IELTS test has four parts
- Listening: 30 minutes (plus 10 minutes' transfer time)
- Reading: 60 minutes
- Writing: 60 minutes
- Speaking: 11–14 minutes
Listening, Reading and Writing are completed in one sitting. The Speaking test may be taken on the same day or up to seven days before or after the other tests.
All test takers take the same Listening and Speaking tests, while the Reading and Writing tests differ depending on whether the test taker is taking the Academic or General Training versions of the test.
Sections 1 and 2 are about everyday, social situations.
- Section 1 has a conversation between two speakers (for example, a conversation about travel arrangements)
- Section 2 has one person speaking (for example, a speech about local facilities).
Sections 3 and 4 are about educational and training situations
- Section 3 is a conversation between two main speakers (for example, a discussion between two university students, perhaps guided by a tutor)
- Section 4 has one person speaking about an academic subject.
Each section begins with a short introduction telling the test taker about the situation and the speakers. Then they have some time to look through the questions. The questions are in the same order as the information in the recording, so the answer to the first question will be before the answer to the second question, and so on. The first three sections have a break in the middle allowing test takers to look at the remaining questions. Each section is heard only once.
The Reading paper has three sections and texts totaling 2,150-2,750 words. There will be a variety of question types, such as multiple choice, short-answer questions, identifying information, identifying writer’s views, labeling diagrams, completing a summary using words taken from the text and matching information/headings/features in the text/sentence endings. Test takers should be careful when writing down their answers as they will lose marks for incorrect spelling and grammar.
Texts in IELTS Academic
- Three reading texts, which come from books, journals, magazines, newspapers and online resources written for non-specialist audiences. All the topics are of general interest to students at undergraduate or postgraduate level.
Texts in IELTS General Training
- Section 1 contains two or three short texts or several shorter texts, which deal with everyday topics. For example, timetables or notices – things a person would need to understand when living in an English-speaking country.
- Section 2 contains two texts, which deal with work. For example, job descriptions, contracts, training materials.
- Section 3 contains one long text about a topic of general interest. The text is generally descriptive, longer and more complex than the texts in Sections 1 and 2. The text will be taken from a newspaper, magazine, book or online resource.
The Writing paper has two tasks which must both be completed. In task 1 test takers write at least 150 words in about 20 minutes. In task 2 test takers write at least 250 words in about 40 minutes. Test takers will be penalised if their answer is too short or does not relate to the topic. Answers should be written in full sentences (test takers must not use notes or bullet points).
- Task 1: test takers describe a graph, table, chart or diagram in their own words.
- Task 2: test takers discuss a point of view, argument or problem. Depending on the task, test takers may be required to present a solution to a problem, present and justify an opinion, compare and contrast evidence, opinions and implications, and evaluate and challenge ideas, evidence or an argument.
IELTS General Training
- Task 1: test takers write a letter in response to a given everyday situation. For example, writing to an accommodation officer about problems with your accommodation, writing to a new employer about problems managing your time, writing to a local newspaper about a plan to develop a local airport.
- Task 2: test takers write an essay about a topic of general interests. For example, whether smoking should be banned in public places, whether children’s leisure activities should be educational, how environmental problems can be solved.
The speaking test is a face-to-face interview between the test taker and an examiner.
The speaking test contains three sections.
- Section 1: introduction and interview (4–5 minutes). Test takers may be asked about their home, family, work, studies, hobbies, interests, reasons for taking IELTS exam as well as other general topics such as clothing, free time, computers and the internet.
- Section 2: long turn (3–4 minutes). Test takers are given a task card about a particular topic. Test takers have one minute to prepare to talk about this topic. The task card states the points that should be included in the talk and one aspect of the topic which must be explained during the talk. Test takers are then expected to talk about the topic for 2 minutes, after which the examiner may ask one or two questions.
- Section 3: discussions (4–5 minutes). The third section involves a discussion between the examiner and the test taker, generally on questions relating to the theme which they have already spoken about in Section 2.
The following rounding convention applies: if the average across the four skills ends in .25, it is rounded up to the next half band, and if it ends in 5.75, it is rounded up to the next whole band.
The nine bands are described as follows:
|9||Expert User||Has full operational command of the language: appropriate, accurate and fluent with complete understanding.|
|8||Very Good User||Has fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriacies. Misunderstandings may occur in unfamiliar situations. Handles complex detailed argumentation well.|
|7||Good User||Has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriateness and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally handles complex language well and understands detailed reasoning.|
|6||Competent User||Has generally effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.|
|5||Modest user||Has partial command of the language, coping with overall meaning in most situations, though is likely to make many mistakes. Should be able to handle basic communication in own field.|
|4||Limited User||Basic competence is limited to familiar situations. Has frequent problems in understanding and expression. Is not able to use complex language.|
|3||Extremely Limited User||Conveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations. Frequent breakdowns in communication occur.|
|2||Intermittent User||No real communication is possible except for the most basic information using isolated words or short formulae in familiar situations and to meet immediate needs. Has great difficulty understanding spoken and written English.|
|1||Non User||Essentially has no ability to use the language beyond possibly a few isolated words.|
|0||Did not attempt the test||No assessable information provided at all.|
IELTS and the CEFR
|IELTS Band Score||CEFR Level|
|8.5 and higher||C2|
For more information on how IELTS band scores correspond to levels on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), please see the official conversion diagram on the IELTS website.
This table can be used to convert raw scores (out of 40) to band scores (out of 9). This helps test takers understand how many correct answers they need to achieve a particular band score. This chart is a guide only because sometimes the scores adjust slightly depending on how difficult the test is.
|Listening raw score (Academic and General Training)||39–40||37–38||35–36||33–34||30–32||27–29||23–26||20–22||16–19||13–15||10–12||7–9||4–6||3|
|Reading raw score (Academic)||39–40||37–38||35–36||33–34||30–32||27–29||23–26||20–22||16–19||13–15||10–12||7–9||4–6||3|
|Reading raw score (General Training)||40||39||38||36–37||34–35||32–33||30–31||27–29||23–26||19–22||15–18||12–14||8–11||5–7|
A Test Report Form is posted to test takers 13 days after their test. It shows:
- An Overall Band Score (from 1-9)
- A band score (from 1-9) for each section of the test (Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking)
- Whether IELTS Academic or General Training was completed
- The test taker’s photo, nationality, first language and date of birth.
Test takers receive one copy of their Test Report Form, apart from test takers who are applying to the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) or UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) who receive two copies.
Locations and test dates
There are up to 48 test dates available per year. Each test centre offers tests up to four times a month depending on local demand. The Academic version is available on all 48 dates per year and the General Training version is available on 24 dates.
There used to be a minimum time limit of 90 days before which a person was not allowed to retake the test. However this restriction has been withdrawn and currently there is no limit for applicants to retake the test.
|IELTS Score||TOEFL Score||IELTS Description|
|8.5||115-117||Very Good User|
|0-4||0-31||Extremely Limited/Intermittent/Non User|
Global test scores
In 2013, approximately 80% of test takers took the Academic version and 20% of test takers took the General Training version
The average Overall Band Score in the Academic version was 6.0 for female test takers and 5.8 for male test takers. The average overall band score in the General Training version was 6.1 for female test takers and 6.2 for male test takers.
Countries with highest average scores (Academic)
In 2013, of the 40 most common places of origin, the top 5 countries for mean band scores for the Academic IELTS test were:
Countries with highest average scores (General Training)
In 2013, of the 40 most common places of origin, the top 5 countries for mean band scores for the General Training IELTS test were:
Results by first language of test taker (Academic)
Of the 40 most common self-reported first language backgrounds, the top 5 highest average scores in the Academic IELTS test were from test takers whose first languages were:
Results by first language of test taker (General Training)
Of the 40 most common self-reported first language backgrounds, the top 5 highest average scores in the General Training IELTS test were from test takers whose first languages were:
Level required by academic institutions for admission
Just over half (51%) of test takers take IELTS to enter higher education in a foreign country. The IELTS minimum scores required by academic institutions and by course vary. As a general rule, the top ranked universities in the United States tend to require a higher IELTS band (typically 7.0). Most universities accept scores between 6-7 as being suitable for undergraduate study in English.
IELTS is used by over 9,000 educational institutions worldwide. This section provides just a few examples of IELTS requirements in different countries. Full details about the organisations which accept IELTS and the scores they require can be found on the IELTS Global Recognition System.
|University||Minimum IELTS score (May 2015)|
|California Institute of Technology||7.0|
|Harvard University||7.0 (apart from Graduate School of Education: 7.5)|
|Johns Hopkins University||7.0 (apart from Peabody Conservatory: 6.5)|
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology||6.0–7.5|
|University of California, Berkeley||7.0 (apart from Professional Diploma/Joint Programs: 6.5)|
|University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)||7.0 (apart from Luskin School of Public Affairs: 8.0)|
|University of Chicago||7.0|
|University||Minimum IELTS score (May 2015)|
|University of Bristol||6.5 (apart from Law, Econ, Medicine and English: 7.0)|
|University of Cambridge||6.5 (no subscore less than 6.0)|
|University of Durham||6.5|
|University of Edinburgh||6.5|
|Imperial College London||6.0 undergraduate admissions (School of Medicine: 6.5)|
|King's College London||7.0 (apart from Medicine, Dentistry, Physiotherapy, Law and Humanities: 7.5)|
|London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)||6.5|
|University of Manchester||7.0 (apart from Manchester Business School: 6.5)|
|University of Oxford||7.0 (no subscore less than 6.0). Graduate admissions: 6.5|
|University College London (UCL)||6.5 (apart from UPSCE: 5.5)|
|University||Minimum IELTS score (May 2015)|
|University of British Columbia||6.5 (no subscore less than 6.0)|
|University of Toronto||6.5|
|University of Waterloo||7.0|
|University||Minimum IELTS score (May 2015)|
|Australian National University||6.5|
|Monash University|| 6.0 undergraduate admissions (no subscore less than 6.0)
6.5 postgraduate admissions (no subscore less than 6.0)
|University of Melbourne||6.5 (minimum 6.0 in writing)|
|University of Sydney||6.5 undergraduate and postgraduate admissions (no subscore less than 6.0), Nursing / Vet Science: 7.0 (no subscore less than 7.0), Law and Media Communication: 7.5 (no subscore less than 7.0)|
Non-native English speaking countries
IELTS use for immigration purposes
A number of Commonwealth countries use IELTS scores as a proof of prospective immigrants' competence in English.
|Department of Immigration Level of English||Minimum IELTS score (May 2015)||Visas|
|Functional English||4.5||Permanent and provisional skilled visas (to avoid paying the English Language Charge)|
|Vocational English||5.0||457 visa, ENS and RSMS visas through the Temporary Residence Transitional stream for people who have held a 457 visa for 2 years with the employer|
|Competent English||6.0||ENS and RSMS visas through the Direct Entry Stream, Skilled migration (6.0 is the minimum threshold, but receives 0 points)|
|Proficient English||7.0||Points Tested Skilled visas (to obtain 10 points)|
|Superior English||8.0||Points Tested Skilled visas (to obtain 20 points)|
|Visa category||Minimum IELTS score required if the applicant is not demonstrating the minimum standard in another way (May 2015)|
|Skilled Migrant||Principal applicant: 6.5. Partners and children aged 16 and over: 5.0|
|Business categories (Investor, Entrepreneur, Long Term Business Visa, Employees of Relocating Business)||Principal applicants: 5.0. Partners and children aged 16 and over: In some cases partners and children are not required to meet the minimum level of English at the time the application is lodged, but can provide evidence at a later stage.|
Originally, applicants who could not achieve the required score could pay a NZ$20,000 fee instead, which would be fully or partially refunded later if the migrant were able to successfully take the test within a certain period (3 to 12 months) after his or her arrival to the country. A few years later, the policy was changed: the fee was reduced, and, instead of being potentially refundable, it became treated as a "pre-purchase" of post-arrival ESL tuition.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) uses IELTS and/or TEF as evidence of one's ability to communicate in English and/or French. The CELPIP (Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program) test scores are an alternative to IELTS.
The Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) are the national standards used in Canada for describing, measuring and recognizing the English language proficiency of prospective immigrants. The following table shows the IELTS scores needed for each CLB level.
|Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB)||Reading||Writing||Listening||Speaking|
There are different language requirements for different types of immigration program as shown below:
On 6 April 2015, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) changed its English language requirements for UK visa and immigration applications. IELTS tests are now one of only two exams included on the UK government list of Secure English Language Tests (SELTs).
IELTS assesses all four language skills and is accepted by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) at levels B1 to C2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).
A new test, IELTS Life Skills, assesses Speaking and Listening at CEFR level A1 and at CEFR Level B1. IELTS Life Skills can be used to meet the English language requirements for some classes of visa application, including 'family of a settled person' visas and indefinite leave and citizenship.
For UK visa purposes the test is designed to meet certain administrative requirements specified by UKVI. These Test Report Forms are slightly different, to show that the test taker has taken the test at an IELTS UKVI session. The actual test taken is the same – same content, examiners, format, level of difficulty, scoring and so on.
IELTS is a handwritten test and as such the candidate's handwriting is critical and may result in poor grading if the examiner is unable to read a particular handwriting style. Examiners are required to make every effort to read handwriting. Marks are not awarded for good handwriting, and marks are not subtracted for poor handwriting. However, if handwriting is completely illegible, then examiners will need to consider the word as a misspelling.
Careful attention must be paid to the type of English used to demonstrate either British English or American English spellings. British or American spelling can be used and they can be used together (in the way that Australian and New Zealanders will use American spellings for some words and British spellings for other words). However, once a test taker spells a word one way, they must continue to spell the word that way.
Other English proficiency tests
- Cambridge English Language Assessment
- Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)
- Cambridge English: First
- Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)
- CAEL, Canadian Academic English Language Assessment
- CELPIP, Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program
- EF Standard English Test, an open-access standardized English test
- Examination for the Certificate of Proficiency in English (ECPE), the Examination for the Certificate of Proficiency in English
- ITEP, International Test of English Proficiency.
- MUET, Malaysian University English Test
- OPI, OPIc
- PTE Academic - The Pearson Test of English
- STEP, Saudi Standardized Test for English Proficiency
- STEP Eiken, Test of English
- TELC, The European Language Certificates
- TOEFL, Test of English as a Foreign Language
- TOEIC, Test of English for International Communication
- TrackTest, English Proficiency Test Online (CEFR-based)
- Trinity College London ESOL
- TSE, Test of Spoken English
- UBELT University of Bath English Language Test.
- OCEAN EDU IELTS
- IELTS Life Skills
- English as a Foreign or Second Language
- Cambridge English Language Assessment
- British Council
- IDP: IELTS Australia
- International Student Admissions Test (ISAT)
- List of admissions tests
- National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI)
- Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE) Academic
- Standardised test
- Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL)
- Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP)
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to IELTS.|
- Official IELTS website
- Cambridge English Language Assessment's official site for IELTS
- IELTS Essentials - IDP: IELTS Australia's official site for IELTS test takers
- IELTS Training
- Take IELTS - The British Council's official site for IELTS test takers
- IELTS - International English Language test - British Council
- IELTS Online Preparation
- IELTS Band Score Calculator
- IELTS Exam Practice