International English Language Testing System

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International English Language Testing System
IELTS logo.svg
Acronym IELTS
Type Standardized test. Available in 2 versions: "Academic" and "General training".
Developer / administrator Cambridge English Language Assessment, British Council, IDP Education.
Knowledge/skill(s) tested Listening, reading, writing and speaking of the English language.
Purpose To assess the English language proficiency of non-native English speakers.
Duration Listening: 40 minutes,
Reading: 60 minutes,
Writing: 60 minutes,
Speaking: 11–15 minutes.
Total: about 3 hours.
Score/grade range 0 to 9, in 0.5 band increments.
Score/grade validity 2 years
Offered Multiple times a year.
Country(ies) / region(s) More than 900 test centers in over 130 countries.[1]
Language(s) English
Annual no. of test takers Increase Over 2 million in 2012.[2]
Prerequisites / eligibility criteria No official prerequisite. Intended for non-native English speakers.
Fee May vary from centre-to-centre and time-to-time. May accept local currency. Example cost: 10400 (about US$ 165) in Punjab, India, in April 2015.
Scores/grades used by More than 8000 education institutions, governments, professional registration bodies and employers worldwide.[2][3]

The International English Language Testing System,[4] or IELTS /ˈ.ɛlts/, is an international standardised test of English language proficiency for non-native English language speakers. It is jointly managed by Cambridge English Language Assessment, the British Council and IDP Education Pvt Ltd,[4] and was established in 1989. IELTS is one of the major English-language tests in the world, others being the TOEFL, TOEIC and OPI/OPIc.

There are two versions of the IELTS: the Academic Version and the General Training Version:

  • The Academic Version 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.
  • The General Training Version is intended for those planning to undertake non-academic training or to gain work experience, or for immigration purposes.

IELTS is accepted by most Australian, British, Canadian, Irish, New Zealand and South African academic institutions, over 3,000 academic institutions in the United States, and various professional organisations across the world. It is also a requirement for immigration to Australia and New Zealand. In Canada, IELTS, TEF, or CELPIP are accepted by the immigration authority.[5]

No minimum score is required to pass the test. An IELTS result or Test Report Form is issued to all candidates 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 he has worked to maintain his level.[6][7]

In 2007, IELTS tested over a million candidates 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. In theory tests performed on native English speakers must show 9.0 results in 100%. However, this result has never been achieved.[8]

In 2009, 1.4 million candidates took the IELTS test in over 130 countries, in 2011 there were 1.7 million candidates whereas in 2012, 2 million candidates were tested.[9]

IELTS characteristics[edit]

The IELTS incorporates the following features:

  • A variety of accents and writing styles have been presented in test materials in order to minimise linguistic bias.
  • IELTS tests the ability to listen, read, write and speak in English.
  • 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").
  • 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 candidate as he or she is speaking, but the speaking session is also recorded for monitoring as well as re-marking in case of an appeal against the banding given.
  • IELTS is developed 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.

IELTS test structure[edit]

All candidates must complete four Modules - Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking - to obtain a band score, which is shown on the IELTS Test Report Form (TRF). All candidates take the same Listening and Speaking Modules, while the Reading and Writing Modules differ depending on whether the candidate is taking the Academic or General Training Versions of the Test. The first 3 parts are given without breaks, which makes the IELTS the longest test without breaks (160 minutes). This test structure provokes absent-mindedness, and according to statistics, the results of the second and third parts are generally lower than the results of the first part.


The module comprises four sections of increasing difficulty.[10] It takes 40 minutes: 30 - for testing, plus 10 for transferring the answers to an answer sheet. Each section, which can be either a monologue or dialogue,[10] begins with a short introduction telling the candidates about the situation and the speakers. Then they have some time to look through the questions. The first three sections have a break in the middle allowing candidates to look at the remaining questions. Each section is heard only once. At the end of this section students are given 10 minutes to transfer their answers to an answer sheet.[11] Answers should be grammatically correct including capital letters for countries, streets, names and places.


In the academic module the reading test comprises three sections, with 3 texts normally followed by 13 or 14 questions for a total of 40 questions overall. The General test also has 3 sections. However the texts are shorter, so there can be up to 5 texts to read.


In the Academic module, there are two tasks: in Task 1 candidates describe a diagram, graph, process or chart, and in Task 2 they respond to an argument. In the General Training module, there are also two tasks: in Task 1 candidates write a letter or explain a situation, and in Task 2 they write an essay.


The speaking test contains three sections. The first section takes the form of an interview during which candidates may be asked about their hobbies, interests, reasons for taking IELTS exam as well as other general topics such as clothing, free time, computers and the internet or family. In the second section candidates are given a topic booklet and then have one minute to prepare after which they must speak about the given topic. The third section involves a discussion between the examiner and the candidate, generally on questions relating to the theme which they have already spoken about in part 2. This last section is more abstract, and, by that, is usually considered[who?] the most difficult.


The total test duration is around 2 hours and 55 minutes for Listening, Reading and Writing modules.

  • Listening: 40 minutes, 30 minutes for which a recording is played centrally and additional 10 minutes for transferring answers onto the OMR answer sheet.
  • Reading: 60 minutes.
  • Writing: 60 minutes.
  • Break: 10 minutes or so
  • Speaking: 11–15 minutes.

(Note: No additional time is given for transfer of answers in Reading and Writing modules)

The first three modules - Listening, Reading and Writing (always in that order) - are completed in one day, and in fact are taken with no break in between. The Speaking Module may be taken, at the discretion of the test center, in the period seven days before or after the other Modules.

The tests are designed to cover the full range of ability from non-user to expert user.

Band scale[edit]

IELTS is scored on a nine-band scale, with each band corresponding to a specified competence in English. Overall Band Scores are reported to the nearest half band.

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 .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 full 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 using complex language.
3 Extremely Limited User Conveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations.
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.
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.

A 6.5 IELTS score lies roughly between B2 and C1 levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and scores higher than band 8 are C2.[12] A score of 5~6 in IELTS lies in B2 of Common European Framework and less than that of 4 lies roughly between A1 and A2.

Conversion table[edit]

This table can be used for the Listening tests to convert raw scores to band scores. This chart is a guide only, because sometimes the scores adjust slightly depending on how difficult the exam is.

Band Score 9.0 8.5 8.0 7.5 7.0 6.5 6.0 5.5 5.0 4.5 4.0 3.5 3.0 2.5
Raw score 39 – 40 37 – 38 35 – 36 32 – 34 30 – 31 26 – 29 23 – 25 18 – 22 16 – 17 13 – 15 10 – 12 8 – 9 6 – 7 4 – 5

Locations and test dates[edit]

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. 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.

Global test scores[edit]

Countries with highest academic averages[edit]

In 2012, of the 40 most common places of origin, the top 5 countries for mean band scores for the Academic IELTS test were:[13]

Ranking Countries Band Score
1 Germany 7.2
2 Greece 6.8
- Malaysia 6.8
- Philippines 6.8
5 France 6.7

Results by first language of candidate (academic)[edit]

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:[13]

Ranking Languages Band Score
1 German 7.2
2 English 7.1
3 Romanian 6.9
4 Tagalog 6.8
5 French 6.6
- Greek 6.6
- Lithuanian 6.6
- Malay 6.6
- Marathi 6.6

IELTS level required by academic institutions for admission[edit]

Just over half (51%) of candidates take the test to enter higher education in a foreign country.[8] The IELTS minimum scores required by academic institutions vary. As a general rule, institutions from English-speaking countries require a higher IELTS band.

United States[edit]

The highest IELTS Band required by a university is 8.5,[14] by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University; the only US institution to require this band.

While Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law is listed as requiring an 8.5 on the IELTS website, the school lists an 8.0.[15]

United Kingdom[edit]

The highest IELTS Band required is 8 by the Master of Science degree in Marketing at the University of Warwick.

Most IELTS requirements by universities fall between 5.5 and 7.0. For example:

University Minimum IELTS score
Oxford University 7.0[16]
London School of Economics 7.0/7.5 (depends on LSE's individual department requirement)
University of St. Andrews 7.0/7.5 (depends on St. Andrews individual department requirement)
University of Edinburgh 7.0 (All programmes in Business, Management, Finance, Law, English Literature and Celtic/Scottish Studies)[17]
Cambridge University 7.0/7.5[18]
Glasgow University 6.5 (General)/ 7.0 (Faculty of Arts & Humanities)[19]
University of Bristol 6.5 (General) (May be required to attend university's internal courses depending on program/department) [20]
University College London 6.5/7.0/7.5 (depends on UCL's individual faculty/department requirement)
Imperial College London 6.5 (7.0 for the Life Sciences Department and Imperial College Business School)
Exeter University 7.0
Liverpool University 6.0[21]
Birmingham University 6.5
Essex University 5.5
Cranfield University 6.5/7.0 (depends on MSc)
Robert Gordon University 6.5


The University of Buenos Aires requires an IELTS minimum of 7.5 for entry into the School of English as a foreign language.


Sibelius Academy requires an IELTS minimum of 5.5 to a Bachelor's and Master's degree and 6.0 to a Master's degree.


Pantheon-Sorbonne University requires an IELTS minimum of 7.5 for entry into its four-year French and English law course with King's College London.[22]


University of Bamberg requires an IELTS (academic or general test) minimum of 7.0 (program in European Joint Master’s Degree in English and American Studies). Most German universities require an IELTS minimum of 6.0 or 6.5 for their master's students.


Bilkent University requires an IELTS academic test - minimum of 5.0 for each field and an average of 6.5 of all fields (program in Master’s and Doctorate Degree in all fields except M.A in Curriculum and Instruction with Teaching Certificate program).[23] IELTS is no longer considered equivalent to TOEFL and their own YDS exam by the Turkish government.[24]

Hong Kong[edit]

The Law Society of Hong Kong requires applicants to achieve a minimum score of 7.0 for entry into the Postgraduate Certificate in Laws course, taught at University of Hong Kong, Chinese University of Hong Kong and City University of Hong Kong. Chinese University of Hong Kong requires an overall band score of 7.0 for entry via Early Admission Scheme into two of its business subjects, "Global Business Studies" and "International Business and Chinese Enterprise".


Both Polytechnic University of Milan and Polytechnic University of Turin require an IELTS minimum of 5.0.[25][26] Most Italian universities generally require an IELTS minimum of 4.5 for their undergraduate students and 6.5 for their master's students.


Nazarbayev University requires an IELTS minimum of 6.5 for entry into The Schools of Medicine, Engineering and Science & Technology and 7.0 for entry to The School of Humanities and Social Sciences. KIMEP requires an IELTS minimum of 6.0.

The Netherlands[edit]

TU Delft requires an IELTS minimum of 5.5 for all BSc courses except Aerospace Engineering and Nanobiology, for which a 6.5 overall band score is required. The Graduate School of Social Sciences, part of the University of Amsterdam, requires a minimum band score of 6.5 with a minimum of 6.0 for each test component for all its international master programmes.[27] This criterium also applies to local students who want to participate in the international master programmes.


KU Leuven requires an IELTS minimum of 6.5-7.5 for most master programmes.[28] Ghent University requires an IELTS minimum of 5.5-6.5 for most master programmes. Doctoral programmes may require 7.0.[29]


Chulalongkorn University requires an IELTS minimum of 6.0 for all international Bachelor courses and requires a minimum band score of 6.5 with a minimum of 6.0 for each test component for all its international master programmes.[30] This criterium also applies to local students who want to participate in the international programmes.


RMIT Vietnam requires an IELTS minimum of 6.5 for all students. No sub-score should be below 6.0.[31]International University asks for at least 6.0 for all applicants.[32]

IELTS use for immigration purposes[edit]

A number of Commonwealth countries use IELTS scores as a proof of prospective immigrants' competence in English.[33]


Australia's immigration authorities have used IELTS to assess English proficiency of prospective migrants since May 1998, when this test replaced the access: test that had been previously used.[34]

As of July 2012, applicants for Australia's Independent Migrant visa (permanent residence) must either score at least 6 on each of the modules of IELTS, or score at least "A" on Australia's Occupational English Test.[35]

One can receive a "partial credit" (fewer points on the point test that determines one's eligibility for the migrant's visa) for having merely a "competent" level of English, which requires scoring at least 6 on each of the modules of IELTS. Prospective migrants who are citizens of the majority-English-speaking countries (United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, the United States or Ireland) may choose to automatically receive the credit for the "competent" level of English merely by virtue of their citizenship, without taking tests; however, if they desire to show the "proficient" level (e.g. in order to obtain a sufficiently high overall score on the migration point test) they still must take the IELTS or OET.[35]

New Zealand[edit]

New Zealand has used the IELTS test since 1995. Initially, level 5 scores in each of the four modules were required of the prospective applicants; those who could not achieve required scores 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.[36]

Presently, applicants desiring to achieve permanent residence in New Zealand via the "Entrepreneur Category" migration programme must prove a "reasonable" level of competence in English. Unless the applicant has studied and/or worked for a sufficiently long period in New Zealand or other English-speaking countries, this normally should be demonstrated by achieving the overall band of 6.5 on the IELTS.[37]


Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) uses the results of IELTS and/or TEF as a conclusive evidence of one's ability to communicate in English and/or French.[38] For the purposes of the skill-based immigration points test, one receives separate points based on his or her performance on each of the four modules (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) of IELTS.

CIC then uses Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLBs) points as an intermediate to determine candidate's result. The score of 7 on a particular IELTS module is sufficient to earn the CLB 9 for this particular capacity, except for the listening module, which requires the score of 8.[39]

To earn the maximum, which is CLB 10, however, one needs to receive a score of 8.0 for reading, 7.5 for writing, 8.5 for listening and 7.5 for speaking.[39][40]

The CELPIP (Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program) test scores are an alternative to IELTS.[39]

Submitting one's IELTS scores is also one of the several ways to evidence one's proficiency in an official language when applying for Canadian citizenship.[41]

United Kingdom[edit]

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.

To be used for visa and immigration purposes, IELTS and IELTS Life Skills must be taken in test centres approved by the UKVI.[42]

Other English proficiency tests[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b "". Retrieved 2012-11-04. 
  5. ^ "Language testing". Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Retrieved 27 November 2013. 
  6. ^ FAQS - Institutions - Test scores "IELTS FAQS - Institutions - Test scores". Retrieved 9 December 2011. 
  7. ^ "IELTS Information_for_Candidates_booklet" (PDF). Retrieved 26 February 2011. 
  8. ^ a b "Unitec". Retrieved 2 May 2015. 
  9. ^ Over 1.7 million tests were taken last year
  10. ^ a b "IELTS Exam Preparation - IELTS Listening Preparation". Retrieved 2012-11-04. 
  11. ^ IELTS Practice Tests Plus 2, Morgan Terry and Judith Wilson, Pearson and Longman, ISBN 1-4058-3312-2
  12. ^ "Common European Framework comparison". Retrieved 6 February 2011. 
  13. ^ a b "IELTS: Researchers - Test taker performance 2012". Retrieved 8 April 2014. 
  14. ^ "Institutions". Retrieved 2012-11-04. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ "English language requirements". Retrieved 2 May 2015. 
  17. ^ "Language requirements". 16 February 2015. Retrieved 2 May 2015. 
  18. ^ "International entrance requirements". Retrieved 2 May 2015. 
  19. ^ Glasgow University, English as a foreign language
  20. ^ "English language entry requirements policy". University of Bristol. Retrieved 19 September 2014. 
  21. ^ "University of Liverpool - 404 Error Page - 404 Error Page". Retrieved 2 May 2015. 
  22. ^ [1]
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ "Apply@polito". Retrieved 2 May 2015. 
  27. ^ Universiteit van Amsterdam. "English language proficiency". Retrieved 2 May 2015. 
  28. ^ Proficiency tests in English, KU Leuven. Retrieved 2013-05-17.
  29. ^ Specific Language Requirements 2012-2013, Ghent University. Retrieved 2013-05-17.
  30. ^ IELTS Thailand Admission, BBA Chula.
  31. ^ "Entry requirements for local students". RMIT University Vietnam. Retrieved 2 May 2015. 
  32. ^
  33. ^ "Institutions". Retrieved 2 May 2015. 
  34. ^ O'Loughlin, -=Kieran J. (2001), The equivalence of direct and semi-direct speaking tests, Cambridge University Press, p. ix 
  35. ^ a b Skilled – Independent (Migrant) Visa (Subclass 175): English language ability (Australia's Department of Immigration; checked 2010-07-08)
  36. ^ Hinkel, Eli (2005), Hinkel, Eli, ed., Handbook of research in second language teaching and learning, Routledge, p. 784, ISBN 0-8058-4180-6 
  37. ^ Applying for residence under the Entrepreneur Category: English language requirements (Immigration New Zealand; checked 2010-07-08)
  38. ^ Language Testing Date Modified: 2010-07-07. (CIC, checked 2010-07-17)
  39. ^ a b c Language test equivalency charts, Date Modified: 2010-06-24. (CIC, checked 2010-07-17)
  40. ^ "Express Entry – Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) Criteria". Retrieved 2 May 2015. 
  41. ^ Determine your eligibility – Citizenship (Date Modified: 2013-02-06)
  42. ^ Accessed 18 May 2015

External links[edit]