IELTS Scoring Overview

IELTS Band Scores

IELTS scores are straightforward and easy to understand, and the same scoring system is used for the academic and general training tests. Students are awarded a band score for each of the exam's four sections, which ranges from 0 to 9 in half-point intervals (9 is the highest possible score). Test-takers are also given a total band score of 0 to 9 that is calculated by adding the four section scores together, dividing the total by four, and rounding up or down to the nearest half-point. For example, sectional band scores of 6.5, 5.5, 6.0, and 6.5 add up to 24.5, and dividing this total by four equals 6.125, which would produce a total band score of 6.0.

IELTS Scoring Classification

IELTS has published descriptions of the skill levels associated with each full-point band score. The lowest band score of 0 is given to students who "did not attempt the test" and "did not answer any questions." Test-takers who receive band scores of 1 are considered "non-users" who have "no ability to use the language." A band score of 2 is associated with "intermittent" usership by students who have "great difficulty understanding spoken and written English." Band 3 students, or "extremely limited" users, are capable of "convey[ing] and understand[ing] only general meaning in very familiar situations." Band 4 ("limited" users) possess "basic competence" in "familiar situations," but with "frequent problems in understanding and expression." "Partial command of the language," the ability to "cope with overall meaning in most situations," and "basic communication in [one's] own field," but with "many mistakes," is the description of band 5 scores, or "modest" usership. A band 6 user is regarded as "competent," with "effective command of language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriate usage, and misunderstandings." Band 7, or "good" users, also show "effective command," but with only "occasional inaccuracies, inappropriate usage, and misunderstandings in some situations." Band 8 ("very good") users have "fully operational command" with only "occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriate usage." Band 9 ("expert") is characterized by "full operational command" and "complete understanding" of written and spoken English.

IELTS Scoring Procedure

Band scores for the IELTS reading and listening papers are drawn from the total number of correct answers, or "raw scores," for these sections. IELTS does not disclose the conversion formula, but it does report the average number of correct answers associated with the band scores. 23 correct answers out of 40, for example, is likely to be awarded a band score of 6 on the listening and academic reading papers and band score of 5 on the general training reading paper. The writing and speaking sections are graded according to assessment criteria published by IELTS. Scores for these two sections are based on the judgments of trained graders.

Examples of IELTS Score Requirements for Undergraduate and Graduate Study

Although many universities have a single IELTS requirement for all undergraduates, some universities establish IELTS score requirements for undergraduates within the institution's constituent colleges. At the University of Missouri, the minimum standard is either 6.5 or 7.0, with sectional requirements between 6.0 and 6.5 each. Missouri's College of Education and School of Journalism are two divisions with the highest mandates, at 7.0 total and 6.5 per section. The College of Engineering and College of Arts and Science have lower minimum requirements of 6.5 total and 6.0 for each section. IELTS score benchmarks at the graduate level are usually set by specific university departments, and requirements can therefore have even more variety. The University of Georgia's Department of Statistics expects total band scores of at least 6.5, with no section score below 6. Applicants to the full-time MBA program at Georgia's Terry College of Business, however, must produce total band scores of 7 or higher.

The IELTS and Professional Licenses

A number of professional organizations use the IELTS to evaluate suitability for employment and licensing in English-speaking countries. The General Medical Council (GMC), for example, is responsible for licensing doctors from overseas to practice medicine in the United Kingdom. GMC will only register physicians who score at least 7.0 per IELTS section and 7.5 overall. The UK's Nursing and Midwifery Council is another licensing body, and its minimum IELTS scores are 7.0 total and 7.0 per section. A similar organization in the United States is the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, an umbrella group for all 50 state boards. In Florida, the IELTS benchmark for nursing license candidates is an overall score of 6.5 and a speaking paper score of 7.