IELTS 101: What you need to know

What exactly is IELTS?

IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is a Language Proficiency Exam which measures your communication skills in English. A test taker is assessed on four different components: Speaking, Writing, Listening and Reading.

According to British Council, there were about 2.5 million tests that were taken around the world in 2015 alone, making IELTS the most popular English language test.

IELTS has two different versions (modules): Academic Module and General Training Module. The Academic Module is recommended (and most of the time required) for those who are going to study in an English-speaking country. For work and immigration purposes, the General Module is recommended.

 

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ACADEMIC AND GENERAL TRAINING MODULE OF THE IELTS?

As mentioned earlier on this page, the Academic Module of the test is for those who would like to study in an English-speaking country while the General Training Module is for immigration and work purposes. As to content and difficulty level, both modules have the same Speaking and Listening subjects or topics. The difference lies on the Reading and Writing components. The Academic Module consists of tasks or subjects designed for undergraduate or postgraduate test takers. On the other hand, the General Training Module consists of topics that are more inclined to daily activities and work life.

The British Council summarizes the two modules as below:

academic vs general module

 

HOW ARE TEST TAKERS ASSESSED?

Test takers are assessed on four different components: Speaking, Writing, Listening and Reading. IELTS has its unique test format which is designed to accurately measure someone’s competency on all the mentioned skills including Grammar and Vocabulary. It is therefore essential to be familiar with this format and to be able meet the established standards.

You are also not assessed based on your accent and knowledge of the subject. The examiner will measure your ability to communicate your opinion or your thoughts using the appropriate words and phrases. Fluency and accuracy matter in this type of test, so don’t be concerned about whether the examiner would agree or disagree with your answers.

 

WHAT IS THE PASSING SCORE FOR IELTS?

Although you get scores on each component, there is no such thing as passing or failing score. You raw scores (1-40) are converted into BANDS (0-9). Each skill has its own marking scheme. It is possible to have Band 7 on Reading, 6.5 on Speaking, 5.0 on Listening and 7.5 on Writing. Your individual results will then be averaged to produce the overall band score.

The table below from the British Council IELTS Primer shows how your scores are interpreted:

 IELTS 101_scoring

 

WHICH ORGANIZATIONS ACCEPT IELTS AS PROOF OF LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY?

IELTS is accepted around the world although each organization has a required minimum score that you have to meet. For example, some universities require a score of 6.0 on each skill and a minimum overall band score of 6.5. Some organizations only require a minimum of 5.5. It is important for the candidates to know their specific score requirements.

 

WHICH TYPE OF ENGLISH IS BETTER FOR IELTS?

The IELTS test questions are developed, using authentic materials, by language experts from different English-speaking countries like the UK, the US, New Zealand, Australia and Canada. It means that there is no established “standard English” used in the test. The listening test for example uses audio materials involving native speakers from the above mentioned countries. The key therefore is for the test taker to be familiar with these different accents. In my experience, the accents of the speakers in the audio materials are pretty much understandable.

 

WHERE CAN I TAKE IELTS?

There are authorized IELTS test centers around the world. You just have to find out where are the nearest test centers in your area. The British Council alone has test centers in 140 countries worldwide. Take note that you can take IELTS with other test centers. Some local test centers schedule IELTS exams once a week, some once a month, etc. Usually the Speaking Test is scheduled on a different day while the Reading, Listening and Writing tests are done on the same day. In some test centers, it is possible to have all components done in one day. You are free to choose your preferred exam date based on the test center’s schedule.

 

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