Retake Limits for the IELTS
IELTS will allow anyone to retake the IELTS an unlimited number of times and without a mandatory waiting period. Testing is effectively limited, however, by the number of open test dates at the individual test centers. In major cities, students will likely be able to find a new test date within a few weeks and they will not be prevented from signing up, but for a variety of reasons, IELTS advises registration at least two months in advance. Test-takers should note that there is no fee discount for IELTS retakes, and they must pay all applicable charges for subsequent test attempts.
Test-takers who receive total and sectional IELTS scores that are at or above the requirements of their degree programs, visa applications, or licensing bodies will not necessarily accrue any additional benefits with those entities from higher scores. Second test attempts are not likely to make a candidate for university admission more likely to gain acceptance to a degree program, although there are a handful of university departments that weigh relative rather than absolute test scores. Candidates are advised to thoroughly review the IELTS requirements that apply to their situations. Test-takers with scores below the necessary levels will probably need to take the exam a second time, because the alternatives can be highly unfavorable (see below).
It should almost never be necessary to take the IELTS more than three times. Students who continue to receive low scores should respond by addressing their difficulties with the English language rather than hoping that their scores will improve by sheer repetition. The "testing effect," a well-established principle of educational psychology, shows that formatted repetition of IELTS exercises can be helpful, but this is better done with practice tests than actual IELTS administrations. Furthermore, practice tests are most useful if done after periods of careful study, especially with respect to areas of weakness.
The cost of IELTS retakes will include registration fees, travel expenses, and any money spent on additional preparation. These costs can add up, and the best approach is to limit retakes by undergoing rigorous preparation. The main risk of an IELTS retake is a decline in sectional or total scores. Although IELTS research has demonstrated that further test attempts produce modest average score gains, some students do worse the second or third time around, especially if their study strategies continue to be inadequate. Reflection and preparation are ultimately the keys to test score gains.
At some universities, the consequence of low IELTS scores is outright rejection of the applicant. Many schools will grant conditional acceptance to students who are not too far below a given program's sectional or total score benchmarks. Some test-takers derive a sense of security from these sorts of policies, but they must understand that this conditional admission is granted only if the student agrees to some form of English language remediation. Sometimes this is an additional language test administered after arrival on campus, but most frequently, the student must take courses in basic English. These courses may carry full tuition charges and last for a full semester or more, depending on how the student performs. Professional IELTS prep courses or tutoring are much less expensive and much more practical options. Students who effectively prepare for the IELTS before taking the exam will be much better equipped to succeed in their degree programs.
IELTS scores are officially considered valid for two years from the date of the test. Compared to some standardized tests, this is a relatively short period. The main reason for this is the fact that language skills must be maintained and can deteriorate rather quickly if they aren't used regularly. There are a few organizations that have established longer windows of score validity. Applicants for General Skilled Migration (GSM) visas to Australia, for example, enjoy a validity period of three years. Students retaking the IELTS due to expired scores will probably have to spend some time reacquiring IELTS skills, even if their ability to speak English is still strong. Although IELTS exercises attempt to imitate academic and everyday situations, receiving high IELTS scores nonetheless requires a unique skillset that must be practiced and refined.