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TOEFL Tip #76: What Is IELTS?

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on August 18, 2010

We at Strictly English have been curious about other English proficiency tests that compete with the TOEFL (in particular the IELTS and the PTE), so we’ve done some research ourselves, and we’ve also asked professional tutors who specialize in these other tests to write about them. What follows below comes from Alanna Carysforth, founder of lead tutor at Best IELTS. If you have any questions about IELTS, please visit her website!


The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) examination is primarily designed to assess the ability of candidates to study at a higher education level in the English language.


The examination lasts 2 hours and 45 minutes and consists of 4 tests in the following skills; listening (approx 30 minutes), reading (1 hour), writing (1 hour) and speaking (approx 15 minutes).


The IELTS test is available in two different formats; Academic or General Training.  Academic IELTS is usually used to determine the suitability of a candidate to study at undergraduate or postgraduate level.  General Training IELTS is used for candidates wishing to continue their studies to diploma level or complete their secondary education in an English-speaking country and also for immigration to Australia, New Zealand and Canada.  The listening and speaking tests are the same for both formats but the reading and writing tests are different.  The reading and writing tests for General Training IELTS are less demanding than for Academic IELTS.


There is no pass or fail grade in IELTS; the institution to which you are applying informs you of the IELTS Band Score they require.


You are given a grade between 0 and 9 for each of the four skills tests and this is then averaged out for an overall band score.

e.g.

Listening          6

Reading            5

Writing            5.5

Speaking          6

Total                   22.5

So the overall band score would be 5.5       (5.63 rounded down)


In my experience, universities often require an overall score of 6.5, and often specify a particular band score in certain skills.


Here are the IELTS band score descriptors; it is worth noting, however, that the IELTS test is pitched at intermediate level.


Band 9: Expert user: has fully operational command of the language: appropriate, accurate and fluent with complete understanding.

Band 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.

Band 7: Good user: has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally handles complex language well and understands detailed reasoning.

Band 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.

Band 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.

Band 4: Limited user: basic competence is limited to familiar situations. Has frequent problems in understanding and expression. Is not able to use complex language.

Band 3: Extremely limited user: conveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations. Frequent breakdowns in communication occur.

Band 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.

Band 1: Non-user: essentially has no ability to use the language beyond possibly a few isolated words.

Band 0: Did not attempt the test: No assessable information provided.


How is the IELTS test marked?

The IELTS Listening and Reading Tests are marked absolutely objectively.  The IELTS Writing Tests and IELTS Speaking Tests are marked by a certified examiner.


I have had a number of people ask me my opinion on the objectivity of the writing and speaking scoring.  What I do know is that the examiners have to follow strict criteria when assigning their grades and I understand that examiners are also monitored from time to time (the speaking test is recorded).


The assessment criteria that examiners use are strictly confidential and do not leave the test centre.  There are, however, public versions of these descriptors:

IELTS Speaking Test Band Descriptors

(There are two IELTS Writing Tasks to complete)

IELTS Writing Test Task 1 Band Descriptors

IELTS Writing Test Task 2 Band Descriptors

The public versions of these descriptors give some idea of the criteria involved in different band scores.


Categories: Non-TOEFL English Proficiency Exams

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