Basic Facts about the IELTS Test
Overview of the IELTS Assessment
The International English Language Testing System, or IELTS, is intended to evaluate the English language proficiency of native speakers of other languages. Prospective university students who are not from English-speaking countries and have completed a large portion of their prior education in another language will have to demonstrate the requisite language skills, and the IELTS is one of the most common means of doing so. Passing IELTS scores are set by individual institutions, and the score expectations of degree programs can therefore vary. There are three versions of the IELTS: academic, general training, and life skills. University applicants take the academic test, while the general training exam is intended for professional purposes (such as skilled worker immigration visas). The IELTS life skills test assesses basic language skills for United Kingdom visas or citizenship.
IELTS Structure and Timing
The IELTS academic and general training tests (often referred to as "modules") consist of four sections that evaluate listening, reading, speaking, and writing in English. The listening and speaking sections are identical on both tests. The listening section is 40 questions in 30 minutes, while the speaking section is an 11-14-minute interview with a trained IELTS examiner. The academic reading module includes 40 questions on three different texts, which students are given one hour to complete. Academic writing, also one hour, presents two separate writing tasks (a description of visually presented information and a "discursive essay"). The general training reading section differs from the academic test in terms of length (40 minutes) and reading topics (which are more general). The general training writing section, like the academic writing assessment, lasts for one hour, but the first writing task is a letter about a given situation rather than a description.
Test-takers receive IELTS "band" scores for each section, which range from 0 to 9 in half-point increments (with 9 being the highest possible score). The IELTS total score is the average of all four section scores, rounded to the nearest half-point. Score classifications are given for each score level of a full point. Students who receive top scores of 9 are considered "expert" users, while scores of 8 and 7 are designated "very good" and "good" respectively. A score of 6 is regarded as "competent," and a score of 5 is "moderate." The lower score classifications are "limited" (4), "extremely limited" (3), "intermittent" (2), and "non-user" (1). Only students who do not attempt the test at all receive the lowest possible score of 0. Half-point scores are associated with the same classification as the next-lowest full-point score (e.g. a score of 7.5 would be considered "good").
The IELTS is available up to 4 times per month and 48 times per year at test centers around the world. The exam can be taken by anyone and without prerequisites. There are approximately 1,100 test centers in 140 countries, and availability may be searched online via the IELTS website.
IELTS Acceptance and Requirements at Universities
The IELTS is widely but not universally accepted by universities in the major English-speaking countries. In the United Kingdom, students can usually assume that the IELTS will be considered, but many universities in the United States insist on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), an American standardized assessment. According to IELTS, their exam is accepted at 3,000 postsecondary institutions in the United States, but this figure excludes a large segment of the country's nearly 5,000 colleges and universities. Minimum IELTS scores can vary even within the same school or department. At Harvard Divinity School, for example, the IELTS requirement for master of divinity students is a total score of 7.5, but master of theology students are expected to receive total IELTS band scores of at least 8. IELTS score requirements at selective universities tend to be in the 6-7 range, such as the University of Chicago (7.0), Cambridge (6.5), McGill (6.5), and Monash (6.0), although scores may vary by degree program and level.
IELTS Validity Research
The IELTS has been widely studied by independent educational researchers. Some of these studies show correlations between IELTS scores and academic performance. One study conducted at Worcester Business School, where the minimum IELTS standard is a relatively low 6.0, found that international students often struggled with their English skills, and this was one of the "key obstacles in learning and teaching activities." Another study conducted at the University of Sydney asserted "significant correlations between writing, speaking, and listening subtests and GPA."