International English Language Testing System

International English Language Testing System
Acronym IELTS

Standardised test. Available in 2 modules: "Academic", "General training".

The IELTS test partners also offer IELTS Life Skills, a speaking and listening test used for UK Visas and Immigration.
Developer / administrator British Council, IDP Education, Cambridge English Language Assessment.
Knowledge / skills tested Listening, reading, writing and speaking of the English language.
Purpose To assess the English language proficiency of non-native English speakers.
Duration Listening: 40 minutes (including the 10-minute transfer time),
Reading: 60 minutes,
Writing: 60 minutes,
Speaking: 11–14 minutes.
Total: 2 hours, 44 minutes.
Score / grade range 0 to 9, in 0.5 band increments.
Score / grade validity 2 years
Offered Up to 4 times a month. Up to 48 times a year.[1]
Countries / regions More than 1,000 test centres in over 140 countries.[2]
Languages English
Annual no. of test takers Increase Over 2.5 million in 2014.[3]
Prerequisites / eligibility criteria No official prerequisite. Intended for non-native English speakers.
Fee To find out the test fee in local currency, use the IELTS Worldwide search to identify a local centre.[4]
Scores / grades used by More than 9,000 education institutions, governments, professional registration bodies and employers worldwide.[5]

The International English Language Testing System,[6] or IELTS /ˈ.ɛlts/, is an international standardised test of English language proficiency for non-native English language speakers. It is jointly managed by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge English Language Assessment,[6] and was established in 1989. IELTS is one of the major English-language tests in the world, others being the TOEFL, TOEIC, PTE:A and OPI/OPIc.

IELTS is accepted by most Australian, British, Canadian and New Zealand academic institutions, by over 3,000 academic institutions in the United States, and by various professional organisations across the world.

IELTS is the only Secure English Language Test approved by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) for visa customers applying both outside and inside the UK. It is also a requirement for immigration to Australia and New Zealand. In Canada, IELTS, TEF, or CELPIP are accepted by the immigration authority.[7]

No minimum score is required to pass the test. An IELTS result or Test Report Form is issued to all test takers with a score from "band 1" ("non-user") to "band 9" ("expert user") and each institution sets a different threshold. There is also a "band 0" score for those who did not attempt the test. Institutions are advised not to consider a report older than two years to be valid, unless the user proves that they have worked to maintain their level.[8][9]

In 2014, 2.5 million tests were taken in more than 140 countries, up from 2 million tests in 2012, 1.7 million tests in 2011 and 1.4 million tests in 2009. In 2007, IELTS administered more than one million tests in a single 12-month period for the first time ever, making it the world's most popular English language test for higher education and immigration.[3]


The English Language Testing Service (ELTS), as IELTS was then known, was launched in 1980 by Cambridge English Language Assessment (then known as UCLES) and the British Council. It had an innovative format, which reflected changes in language learning and teaching, including the growth in ‘communicative’ language learning and ‘English for specific purposes’. Test tasks were intended to reflect the use of language in the ‘real world’.

During the 1980s, test taker numbers were low (4,000 in 1981 rising to 10,000 in 1985) and there were practical difficulties administering the test. As a result, the ELTS Revision Project was set up to oversee the redesign of the test. In order to have international participation in the redesign, the International Development Program of Australian Universities and Colleges (IDP), now known as IDP: IELTS Australia, joined Cambridge English Language Assessment and the British Council to form the international IELTS partnership which delivers the test to this day. This international partnership was reflected in the new name for the test: The International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

IELTS went live in 1989. Test takers took two non-specialised modules, Listening and Speaking, and two specialised modules, Reading and Writing. Test taker numbers rose by approximately 15% per year and by 1995 there were 43,000 test takers in 210 test centres around the world.

IELTS was revised again in 1995, with three main changes:

Further revisions went live in 2001 (revised Speaking Test) and 2005 (new assessment criteria for the Writing test).[10]

IELTS characteristics

IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training are designed to cover the full range of ability from non-user to expert user. The Academic version is for test takers who want to study at tertiary level in an English-speaking country or seek professional registration. The General Training version is for test takers who want to work, train, study at a secondary school or migrate to an English-speaking country.[11]

The difference between the Academic and General Training versions is the content, context and purpose of the tasks. All other features, such as timing allocation, length of written responses and reporting of scores, are the same.[10]

IELTS Academic and General Training both incorporate the following features:

IELTS test structure


There are two modules of the IELTS:

There is also a separate test offered by the IELTS test partners, called IELTS Life Skills:

The IELTS test has four parts

The test total time is: 2 hours and 44 minutes.[11]

Listening, Reading and Writing are completed in one sitting. The Speaking test may be taken on the same day or up to seven days before or after the other tests.

All test takers take the same Listening and Speaking tests, while the Reading and Writing tests differ depending on whether the test taker is taking the Academic or General Training versions of the test.


The module comprises four sections, with ten questions in each section.[14] It takes 40 minutes: 30 - for testing, plus 10 for transferring the answers to an answer sheet.

Sections 1 and 2 are about everyday, social situations.

Sections 3 and 4 are about educational and training situations

Each section begins with a short introduction telling the test taker about the situation and the speakers. Then they have some time to look through the questions. The questions are in the same order as the information in the recording, so the answer to the first question will be before the answer to the second question, and so on.[13] The first three sections have a break in the middle allowing test takers to look at the remaining questions. Each section is heard only once.

At the end of the test students are given 10 minutes to transfer their answers to an answer sheet.[15] Test takers will lose marks for incorrect spelling and grammar.[16]


The Reading paper has three sections and texts totaling 2,150-2,750 words. There will be a variety of question types, such as multiple choice, short-answer questions, identifying information, identifying writer’s views, labeling diagrams, completing a summary using words taken from the text and matching information/headings/features in the text/sentence endings. Test takers should be careful when writing down their answers as they will lose marks for incorrect spelling and grammar.

Texts in IELTS Academic

Texts in IELTS General Training


The Writing paper has two tasks which must both be completed. In task 1 test takers write at least 150 words in about 20 minutes. In task 2 test takers write at least 250 words in about 40 minutes. Test takers will be penalised if their answer is too short or does not relate to the topic. Answers should be written in full sentences (test takers must not use notes or bullet points).

IELTS Academic

IELTS General Training


The speaking test is a face-to-face interview between the test taker and an examiner.

The speaking test contains three sections.


Test takers receive a score for each test component – Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. The individual scores are then averaged and rounded to produce an Overall Band Score.[22]

Band scale

There is no pass or fail.[23] IELTS is scored on a nine-band scale, with each band corresponding to a specified competence in English. Overall Band Scores are reported to the nearest half band.

The following rounding convention applies: if the average across the four skills ends in .25, it is rounded up to the next half band, and if it ends in 5.75, it is rounded up to the next whole band.

The nine bands are described as follows:

9 Expert User Has full operational command of the language: appropriate, accurate and fluent with complete understanding.
8 Very Good User Has fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriacies. Misunderstandings may occur in unfamiliar situations. Handles complex detailed argumentation well.
7 Good User Has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriateness and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally handles complex language well and understands detailed reasoning.
6 Competent User Has generally effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.
5 Modest user Has partial command of the language, coping with overall meaning in most situations, though is likely to make many mistakes. Should be able to handle basic communication in own field.
4 Limited User Basic competence is limited to familiar situations. Has frequent problems in understanding and expression. Is not able to use complex language.
3 Extremely Limited User Conveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations. Frequent breakdowns in communication occur.
2 Intermittent User No real communication is possible except for the most basic information using isolated words or short formulae in familiar situations and to meet immediate needs. Has great difficulty understanding spoken and written English.
1 Non User Essentially has no ability to use the language beyond possibly a few isolated words.
0 Did not attempt the test No assessable information provided at all.

IELTS and the CEFR

IELTS Band Score CEFR Level[24]
8.5 and higher C2
8.0 Borderline C2/C1
7.5 C1
7.0 C1
6.5 Borderline C1/B2
6.0 B2
5.5 B2
5.0 Borderline B2/B1
4.5 B1
4.0 B1

For more information on how IELTS band scores correspond to levels on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), please see the official conversion diagram on the IELTS website.

Conversion table

This table can be used to convert raw scores (out of 40) to band scores (out of 9). This helps test takers understand how many correct answers they need to achieve a particular band score. This chart is a guide only because sometimes the scores adjust slightly depending on how difficult the test is.[25]

Band Score 9.0 8.5 8.0 7.5 7.0 6.5 6.0 5.5 5.0 4.5 4.0 3.5 3.0 2.5
Listening raw score (Academic and General Training) 3940 3738 3536 3334 3032 2729 2326 2022 1619 1315 1012 79 46 3
Reading raw score (Academic) 3940 3738 3536 3334 3032 2729 2326 2022 1619 1315 1012 79 46 3
Reading raw score (General Training) 40 39 38 3637 3435 3233 3031 2729 2326 1922 1518 1214 811 57


A Test Report Form is posted to test takers 13 days after their test. It shows:

Test takers receive one copy of their Test Report Form, apart from test takers who are applying to the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) or UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) who receive two copies.

Test Report Forms are valid for two years.[26]

Locations and test dates

Test takers can take IELTS in more than 140 countries and in over 1,000 locations.[27]

There are up to 48 test dates available per year. Each test centre offers tests up to four times a month depending on local demand. The Academic version is available on all 48 dates per year and the General Training version is available on 24 dates.[28]

There used to be a minimum time limit of 90 days before which a person was not allowed to retake the test. However this restriction has been withdrawn and currently there is no limit for applicants to retake the test.

Linking IELTS Scores to TOEFL iBT Score Ranges[29]

IELTS Score TOEFL Score IELTS Description
9 118-120 Expert User
8.5 115-117 Very Good User
8 110-114
7.5 102-109 Good User
7 94-101
6.5 79-93 Competent User
6 60-78
5.5 42-59 Modest User
5 35-41
4.5 32-34 Limited User
0-4 0-31 Extremely Limited/Intermittent/Non User

Global test scores

In 2013, approximately 80% of test takers took the Academic version and 20% of test takers took the General Training version

The average Overall Band Score in the Academic version was 6.0 for female test takers and 5.8 for male test takers. The average overall band score in the General Training version was 6.1 for female test takers and 6.2 for male test takers.[30]

Countries with highest average scores (Academic)

In 2013, of the 40 most common places of origin, the top 5 countries for mean band scores for the Academic IELTS test were:

Ranking Countries Band Score
2 Malaysia 6.8
- Philippines 6.8
4 France 6.7
- Greece 6.7

Countries with highest average scores (General Training)

In 2013, of the 40 most common places of origin, the top 5 countries for mean band scores for the General Training IELTS test were:

Ranking Countries Band Score
1 Ireland 8.0
2 South Africa 7.5
3 Singapore 7.3
4 Malaysia 7.0
5 Australia 6.9

Results by first language of test taker (Academic)

Of the 40 most common self-reported first language backgrounds, the top 5 highest average scores in the Academic IELTS test were from test takers whose first languages were:

Ranking Languages Band Score
1 German 7.3
2 English 7.0
3 Romanian 6.9
4 Tagalog 6.8
- Filipino 6.8

Results by first language of test taker (General Training)

Of the 40 most common self-reported first language backgrounds, the top 5 highest average scores in the General Training IELTS test were from test takers whose first languages were:

Ranking Languages Band Score
1 English 7.2
- Afrikaans 7.2
3 German 7.0
4 Malay 6.8
5 Tamil 6.7

Level required by academic institutions for admission

Just over half (51%) of test takers take IELTS to enter higher education in a foreign country.[31] The IELTS minimum scores required by academic institutions and by course vary. As a general rule, the top ranked universities in the United States tend to require a higher IELTS band (typically 7.0). Most universities accept scores between 6-7 as being suitable for undergraduate study in English.[32]

IELTS is used by over 9,000 educational institutions worldwide. This section provides just a few examples of IELTS requirements in different countries. Full details about the organisations which accept IELTS and the scores they require can be found on the IELTS Global Recognition System.

United States

IELTS is accepted by over 3,000 U.S. institutions.[33] The highest IELTS Band required by a university is 8.5,[34] by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.

Most top ranked U.S. universities,[35] as listed by the TES 2015 World University Rankings, require a minimum score of around 7.0. For example:

University Minimum IELTS score (May 2015)
California Institute of Technology 7.0[36]
Columbia University 7.0–8.5[37]
Harvard University 7.0 (apart from Graduate School of Education: 7.5)[38]
Johns Hopkins University 7.0 (apart from Peabody Conservatory: 6.5)[39]
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 6.0–7.5[40]
Stanford University 7.0[41]
Princeton University 7.0[42]
University of California, Berkeley 7.0 (apart from Professional Diploma/Joint Programs: 6.5)[43]
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) 7.0 (apart from Luskin School of Public Affairs: 8.0)[44]
University of Chicago 7.0[45]
Yale University 7.0[46]

United Kingdom

Most top ranked UK universities,[35] as listed by the TES 2015 World University Rankings, require a minimum score of 6.5-7.0. For example:

University Minimum IELTS score (May 2015)
University of Bristol 6.5 (apart from Law, Econ, Medicine and English: 7.0)[47]
University of Cambridge 6.5 (no subscore less than 6.0)[48]
University of Durham 6.5[49]
University of Edinburgh 6.5[50]
Imperial College London 6.0 undergraduate admissions (School of Medicine: 6.5)[51]
King's College London 7.0 (apart from Medicine, Dentistry, Physiotherapy, Law and Humanities: 7.5)[52]
London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) 6.5[53]
University of Manchester 7.0 (apart from Manchester Business School: 6.5)[54]
University of Oxford 7.0 (no subscore less than 6.0). Graduate admissions: 6.5[55]
University College London (UCL) 6.5 (apart from UPSCE: 5.5)[56]


Most top ranked Canadian universities,[35] as listed by the TES 2015 World University Rankings, require a minimum score of 6.5. For example:

University Minimum IELTS score (May 2015)
McGill University 6.5[57]
McMaster University 6.5[58]
University of British Columbia 6.5 (no subscore less than 6.0)[59]
University of Toronto 6.5[60]
University of Waterloo 7.0


Most top ranked Australian universities,[35] as listed by the TES 2015 World University Rankings, require a minimum score of approximately 6.5. For example:

University Minimum IELTS score (May 2015)
Australian National University 6.5[61]
Monash University 6.0 undergraduate admissions (no subscore less than 6.0)[62]

6.5 postgraduate admissions (no subscore less than 6.0)

University of Melbourne 6.5 (minimum 6.0 in writing)[63]
University of Sydney 6.5 undergraduate and postgraduate admissions (no subscore less than 6.0), Nursing / Vet Science: 7.0 (no subscore less than 7.0), Law and Media Communication: 7.5 (no subscore less than 7.0)[64]

Non-native English speaking countries

Most top ranked universities in non-native English speaking countries,[35] as listed by the TES 2015 World University Rankings, require a minimum score between 6.0-7.0 For example:

University Country World University Ranking 2014-15 Minimum IELTS score (May 2015)
KU Leuven Belgium 55 6.5[65]
Ghent University Belgium 90 5.5-7.0 depending on the course[66]
Peking University China 48 7.0 Master Programs in Public Policy and International Relations[67]
Tsinghua University China 49 6.5 Master of Public Administration in International Development[68]
University of Helsinki Finland 103 6.5 with a minimum score of 6.0 in writing[69]
Ecole Polytechnique France 61 6.5[70]
Ecole Normale Superieure France 78 6.5[71]
Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich Germany 29 6.5[72]
Georg-Autust-Universitat Göttingen Germany 67 6.0[73]
Heidelberg University Germany 70 6.5[74]
Humboldt University of Berlin Germany 80 6.5[75]
The University of Hong Kong Hong Kong 43 6.0–6.5[76]
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Hong Kong 51 6.5[77]
Kyoto University Japan 59 6.0[78]
Tokyo Institute of Technology Japan 141 6.5[79]
Leiden University Netherlands 64 6.0 undergraduate admissions, 6.5 postgraduate admissions[80]
Delft University of Technology Netherlands 71 6.5[81]
Erasmus University Rotterdam Netherlands 72 6.5[82]
Wageningen University and Research Center Netherlands 73 6.0 (minimum 6.0 in speaking)[83]
University of Amsterdam Netherlands 77 6.5[84]
Seoul National University Republic of Korea 50 6.5[85]
Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) Republic of Korea 52 6.5[86]

IELTS use for immigration purposes

A number of Commonwealth countries use IELTS scores as a proof of prospective immigrants' competence in English.[87]


Australia's immigration authorities have used IELTS to assess English proficiency of prospective migrants since May 1998, when this test replaced the access: test that had been previously used.[88]

There are different IELTS score requirements for different types of visa.[89]

Department of Immigration Level of English Minimum IELTS score (May 2015) Visas
Functional English 4.5 Permanent and provisional skilled visas (to avoid paying the English Language Charge)
Vocational English 5.0 457 visa, ENS and RSMS visas through the Temporary Residence Transitional stream for people who have held a 457 visa for 2 years with the employer
Competent English 6.0 ENS and RSMS visas through the Direct Entry Stream, Skilled migration (6.0 is the minimum threshold, but receives 0 points)
Proficient English 7.0 Points Tested Skilled visas (to obtain 10 points)
Superior English 8.0 Points Tested Skilled visas (to obtain 20 points)

New Zealand

New Zealand has used the IELTS test since 1995. There are different IELTS score requirements for different types of visa and type of applicant.[90]

Visa category Minimum IELTS score required if the applicant is not demonstrating the minimum standard in another way (May 2015)
Skilled Migrant Principal applicant: 6.5. Partners and children aged 16 and over: 5.0
Business categories (Investor, Entrepreneur, Long Term Business Visa, Employees of Relocating Business) Principal applicants: 5.0. Partners and children aged 16 and over: In some cases partners and children are not required to meet the minimum level of English at the time the application is lodged, but can provide evidence at a later stage.

Originally, applicants who could not achieve the required score could pay a NZ$20,000 fee instead, which would be fully or partially refunded later if the migrant were able to successfully take the test within a certain period (3 to 12 months) after his or her arrival to the country. A few years later, the policy was changed: the fee was reduced, and, instead of being potentially refundable, it became treated as a "pre-purchase" of post-arrival ESL tuition.[91]


Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) uses IELTS and/or TEF as evidence of one's ability to communicate in English and/or French. The CELPIP (Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program) test scores are an alternative to IELTS.[92]

The Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) are the national standards used in Canada for describing, measuring and recognizing the English language proficiency of prospective immigrants.[93] The following table shows the IELTS scores needed for each CLB level.[94]

Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) Reading Writing Listening Speaking
10 8.0 7.5 8.5 7.5
9 7.0 7.0 8.0 7.0
8 6.5 6.5 7.5 6.5
7 6.0 6.0 6.0 6.0
6 5.0 5.5 5.5 5.5
5 4.0 5.0 5.0 5.0
4 3.5 4.0 4.5 4.0

There are different language requirements for different types of immigration program as shown below:

Visa category Minimum Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) required (May 2015)
The Federal Skilled Worker Program CLB 7[95]
The Federal Skilled Trades Program CLB 5 for speaking and listening, CLB 4 for reading and writing[96]
The Canadian Experience Class CLB 7 for NOC 0 or A jobs, CLB 5 for NOC B jobs[97]
Business start-up visa CLB 5[98]
Provincial Nominee Programs CLB 4 for NOC C and D jobs[99]

Submitting one's IELTS scores is also one of the several ways to evidence one's proficiency in an official language when applying for Canadian citizenship (minimum of CLB level 4 required).[100]

United Kingdom

On 6 April 2015, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) changed its English language requirements for UK visa and immigration applications. IELTS tests are now one of only two exams included on the UK government list of Secure English Language Tests (SELTs).

IELTS assesses all four language skills and is accepted by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) at levels B1 to C2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

A new test, IELTS Life Skills, assesses Speaking and Listening at CEFR level A1 and at CEFR Level B1. IELTS Life Skills can be used to meet the English language requirements for some classes of visa application, including 'family of a settled person' visas and indefinite leave and citizenship.

To be used for visa and immigration purposes, IELTS and IELTS Life Skills must be taken in test centres approved by the UKVI.[101]

Visa Minimum CEFR level required (May 2015) Minimum IELTS score required overall and in each skill (May 2015)[102]
Tier 1 (General) visa C1 7.0 overall, and in each of the four skills
Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa B1 4.0 overall, and in each of the four skills
Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa B1 4.0 overall, and in each of the four skills
Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa B1 4.0 overall, and in each of the four skills
Tier 2 (General) visa B1 4.0 overall, and in each of the four skills
Tier 2 (Sportsperson) visa A1 4.0 overall, and in each of the four skills
Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) visa B2 5.5 overall, and in each of the four skills
Tier 4 (General) student visa - below degree level B1 4.0 overall, and in each of the four skills
Tier 4 (General) student visa - degree level and above and including some pre-sessional courses B2 5.5 overall, and in each of the four skills
‘Family of a settled person’ visa A1 IELTS Life Skills at A1 – Pass, IELTS – 4.0 in Speaking and Listening
Indefinite leave to remain (to settle) or citizenship B1 IELTS Life Skills at B1 – Pass, IELTS – 4.0 in Speaking and Listening

For UK visa purposes the test is designed to meet certain administrative requirements specified by UKVI. These Test Report Forms are slightly different, to show that the test taker has taken the test at an IELTS UKVI session. The actual test taken is the same – same content, examiners, format, level of difficulty, scoring and so on.[102]


IELTS is a handwritten test and as such the candidate's handwriting is critical and may result in poor grading if the examiner is unable to read a particular handwriting style. Examiners are required to make every effort to read handwriting. Marks are not awarded for good handwriting, and marks are not subtracted for poor handwriting. However, if handwriting is completely illegible, then examiners will need to consider the word as a misspelling.[103]

Careful attention must be paid to the type of English used to demonstrate either British English or American English spellings. British or American spelling can be used and they can be used together (in the way that Australian and New Zealanders will use American spellings for some words and British spellings for other words). However, once a test taker spells a word one way, they must continue to spell the word that way.[104]

Other English proficiency tests

See also


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  8. FAQS - Institutions - Test scores "IELTS FAQS - Institutions - Test scores" Check |url= value (help). Retrieved 9 December 2011.
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  15. IELTS Practice Tests Plus 2, Morgan Terry and Judith Wilson, Pearson and Longman, ISBN 1-4058-3312-2
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  29. "Linking TOEFL iBT Scores to IELTS Scores" (PDF). ETS. p. Retrieved 26 January 2012.
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  31. "Unitec". Retrieved 2 May 2015.
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  87. "Institutions". Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  88. O'Loughlin, -=Kieran J. (2001), The equivalence of direct and semi-direct speaking tests, Cambridge University Press, p. ix
  90. Accessed 08 July 2015
  91. Hinkel, Eli (2005), Hinkel, Eli, ed., Handbook of research in second language teaching and learning, Routledge, p. 784, ISBN 0-8058-4180-6
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  102. 1 2
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