About the IELTS Academic Test

The IELTS academic test is specifically designed to evaluate English language abilities in prospective undergraduate or graduate university students (the IELTS general training and life skills tests are taken for other reasons). The IELTS academic test consists of four sections (or "papers") that assess reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Each paper has its own distinct exercises, question types, and structure.

IELTS Academic Test Scoring

Test-takers receive a band score of 0 to 9 for each paper (in half-point intervals), and each paper is an equal factor in the total band score (which is simply the average of all four paper scores, rounded to the nearest half-point). The listening and reading band scores are calculated from the total number of correct answers (raw scores). According to IELTS, raw reading and listening scores of 23, 30, and 35 (out of 40) are equivalent to respective band scores of 6, 7, and 8. The writing and speaking sections are graded by IELTS examiners. The scoring criteria for writing include coherence and cohesion, lexical resource, and grammatical range and accuracy. Speaking exercises are evaluated in terms of fluency and coherence, lexical resource, grammatical range and accuracy, and pronunciation. All writing and speaking scoring criteria count equally toward the final paper scores.

IELTS Academic Reading and Writing

The reading and writing sections of the IELTS academic test are unique to this version of the assessment. Exercises on these sections are intended to reflect material that is likely to be encountered in college coursework. Reading paper passages are taken from a number of different subjects in the liberal arts and sciences, but it is not necessary to have detailed knowledge of those subjects. Test-takers answer 12-14 questions for each reading passage, and question types can range from multiple choice and short-answer to flow charts and choosing the best text excerpts. Students are allowed one hour to complete the 40 total questions on the IELTS academic reading paper. Two essays must be written on the IELTS academic writing paper: a prose summary of a chart, graph, or table (150 words in 20 minutes) and a "discursive" essay (250 words in 40 minutes).

IELTS Listening and Speaking

IELTS listening paper questions are based on listening passages that have either one, two, or three speakers, and test-takers can expect to hear one dialogue and one monologue each on academic and general topics. Each audio excerpt is associated with 10 questions, and students are given 30 minutes to complete all exercises plus 10 minutes to fill out the answer sheet. The IELTS speaking assessment is administered by a live examiner, and this portion of the exam can be taken on a different day than the other sections (up to seven days before or after). The three-part speaking section (11-14 minutes total) includes questions on familiar topics, discussion of a given topic, and more detailed questions on that same topic. There is no difference between the listening and speaking sections on the IELTS academic and general training tests.

IELTS Academic Test Acceptance at Universities

Before beginning the lengthy process of preparing for the IELTS academic test, students must first make sure that this English language assessment is accepted by the specific degree programs they are considering. IELTS acceptance can vary by school and department, especially in the United States. Many degree offerings at Stanford University, for example, will accept TOEFL scores only and will not allow their applicants to submit scores for the IELTS, but the master of science in management program in the Graduate School of Business is willing to admit students with an overall IELTS band score of at least 7.0. Other prominent programs in the United States that partially or entirely refuse to consider IELTS scores include all undergraduate degree offerings at the California Institute of Technology, the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University, and Harvard Law School. The University of Pennsylvania is an example of a school that accepts the IELTS only with great reluctance; this institution has a strongly stated preference for the TOEFL.

Minimum IELTS Academic Test Scores at Major Universities

An IELTS average band score of 7.0 will be accepted by the vast majority of universities in English-speaking countries. The IELTS minimum standards tend to be higher in the United States, where some highly selective programs expect higher scores. Harvard Business School, for example, "discourages" applications from students below 7.5. IELTS academic test-takers should also note that some schools have additional subtest requirements (such as the University of Cambridge, which mandates a total score of 6.5 with no subscore lower than 6.0).

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