The 5 W’s of the IELTS
(International English Language Testing System)


Who takes the IELTS exam?

The IELTS is taken by 1.4 million people in 130 countries every year. Like all English language exams, the IELTS was created with a particular audience in mind. However, the IELTS is unique in that it is one of the only English language exams that has two different formats that aren’t just different in the structure they are given, but vastly different in purpose. In other words, depending on which format you choose to take, your results will indicate what kind of jobs and institutions you are applying to and how proficient your level of English is. These two tests are the Academic and the General Training.

But before we get into what makes the formats different and especially before taking the IELTS, it is crucial to identify whether you fall into either of the following two categories:

1. Someone who wants to enroll into a an institution of higher education in an English speaking country or professional in the medical field who also wish to practice their English in such countries (note: all Ivy League colleges accept it.)

2. Someone who wishes to practice his/her English not so much through academic pursuits but through work and/or to oblige by certain immigration requirements (note: IELTS is used for English measuring proof for immigration to Australia, New Zealand and Canada.)

If you do, keep reading!

Why should you take the International English Language Testing System Test?

Well, if you fall into any of the categories mentioned above, then the IELTS is definitely worth researching (and considering). Much like the TOEFL exam, the IELTS is widely accepted worldwide and regarded as one of the most important English language exams. Your results on the IELTS will indicate that you are a proficient English speaker who is either ready to take on a rigorous academic journey or join the hustle and bustle of every day work among native English speakers (Or hey, even both!)

When weighing your different English language exam options, it is also important to remember that the IELTS, for instance, is accepted in over 6,000 institutions around the world (half of those in the U.S. alone) – everywhere from universities, immigration offices, private business companies, and government agencies. English language exams don’t test your math skills (thank goodness for most of us), but if you think about it, the probability that 6,000 people are wrong about the exam is highly unlikely!

What can I expect to see on the IELTS?

The IELTS is basically an exam that will assure your future employer or university that you have the ability to communicate in English proficiently, and thus, excel in your new English-speaking environment. The exam will specifically test your ability to listen, read, write and speak in English.

Something to be prepared for and to really consider before signing up for the IELTS is the fact that it uses a variety of different accents. That’s right – don’t be shocked to hear British accents (after all, the test is in fact managed by the University of Cambridge and the British Council). To shake things up even more, Australian and Irish accents may also be thrown into the mix. While this might scare off a few potential test-takers, it also makes sense from the perspective of the employer or University you are applying to. Do they want someone whose proficiency in English is limited to just one accent and sound? Living in a multicultural world where English is a leading language in both academic and business, you should be ready to hear and be familiarized with all sorts of accents.

The price for the exam is both the same for the Academic version and the General Training version. To find out about the IELTS cost, here is a worldwide chart in your local currency. To give you an example, in the United States, the test fee is set to $185 USD.

Click here to view the IELTS format to familiarize yourself with the exam.

Understanding your score

The IELTS is scored through a nine-band scale, each number being representative of your level of English proficiency (1 being the lowest and 9 the highest) in each skill module.

According to the IELTS official website, the band numbers are described as the following:

Band 9 Expert user At this level, you have proven that you have fully operational command of the language: appropriate, accurate and fluent with complete understanding.
Band 8 Very good user At this level, you have proven that you have fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriacies. Misunderstandings may occur in unfamiliar situations. Handles complex detailed argumentation well.
Band 7 Good user At this level, you have proven that you have operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally handles complex language well and understands detailed reasoning.
Band 6 Competent user At this level, you have proven that you have generally effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.
Band 5 Modest user At this level, you have proven that you have 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.
Band 4 Limited user At this level, you have proven that you have basic competence which is limited to familiar situations. Has frequent problems in understanding and expression. Is not able to use complex language.
Band 3 Extremely limited user At this level, you have proven that you can convey and understand only general meaning in very familiar situations. Frequent breakdowns in communication occur.
Band 2 Intermittent user At this level, you have proven that you have no real communication except for the most basic information using isolated words or short formula in familiar situations and to meet immediate needs. Has great difficulty understanding spoken and written English.
Band 1 Non-user At this level, you have proven that you have essentially no ability to use the language beyond possibly a few isolated words.
Band 0 Did not attempt the test No assessable information provided.

* 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.

Each university you apply to will have a set of required IELTS scores. To get a general idea, let’s use the University of Miami* as an example, whose program offers admission to Graduate and undergraduate students on the basis of their scores on the Academic version of the IELTS.

The minimum requirement for both is a 6.5 on the IELTS.

Luckily for you, almost every college has their test score requirements easily searchable on their website. Just go to your search engine and type the name of the college/university/program you are applying to and ‘IELTS requirements’. Or search the requirements through the IELTS Global Recognition System.

*Each programs test score requirements may vary. Make sure to verify with the program you are applying to.

Where and When can you take the International English Language Testing System Test?

So now that you’re more familiar with the test, what’s next? Well, signing up! Luckily for you, the test is offered in over 500 locations in 130 countries around the world. Just check out the official IELTS Test Centre Search database. The IELTS exam is offered on 48 fixed dates a year, sometimes even up to four times a month. You can check all the test dates for the year or go to your nearest center to see its next test date.

>> Learn more about other English language exams