The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is a standardised English language test designed for foreign speakers who wish to study, work and live in an English-speaking environment. The IELTS language certificate can open doors to international academic and professional opportunities in many institutions and places in the world where English is used.
Established in 1989, IELTS has become the most popular high-stakes English-language certificate in the world. There are currently around 1,000 test locations in more than 140 countries, carrying out over two million tests each year. Over 9,000 organisations worldwide accept the certificate as a proof of proficiency in the English language.
IELTS is jointly owned and managed by the British Council, Cambridge English Language Assessment and IDP Education Australia. IELTS testing materials are written by international teams of writers from different English-speaking countries, so the content reflects real-life situations. The Speaking part of the IELTS test is a one-to-one assessment with a real person, not with a computer. You will thus have conversations with an examiner who can effectively evaluate your language skills, without being distracted by other candidates or technical problems.
Types of IELTS tests
There are currently three versions of the IELTS test: Academic, General Training and Life Skills. These differ in content and address different target groups.
- IELTS Academic is intended for people who want to attend study programmes at universities and other institutions of higher education which are taught in English. You will need an Academic test band score to enrol for an undergraduate or graduate degree where the teaching is in English. You can also take this version of IELTS to register within a professional body in an English-speaking country. Therefore, if you intend to join professional associations in disciplines such as medicine, nursing, law or engineering, you may need to pass the IELTS Academic exam.
- IELTS General Training is a good choice if you want to migrate to an English-speaking country and work there, or if you plan to attend a secondary school. An IELTS score is often required by the government authorities of English-speaking countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. These countries accept the General Training certificate as evidence of language competences on the part of immigration and study visa applicants. Sometimes, even native English speakers need an English language qualification to migrate to certain English-speaking countries.
- IELTS Life Skills, the test for UK Visas and Immigration, is appropriate if you wish to immigrate to or obtain citizenship in the United Kingdom. Unlike the other two versions, the Life Skills test assesses only your speaking and listening English skills, at levels A1 or B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). You will need IELTS Life Skills A1 to apply for a UK Visas and Immigration family, spouse or partner visa, and IELTS Life Skills B1 to obtain citizenship or the right to permanent residence. The purpose of this exam is to determine how well you communicate with other people in everyday English.
The three IELTS versions do not all have the same scoring system. There is no minimum score required to pass the Academic or General Training tests. You will be graded with band scores ranging from 1 to 9 for each of the four parts of the test: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking.
After the examination, you will be given a total score in whole or half bands, e.g. 6.5 or 8.0. Essentially, band 1 indicates non-speakers, while band score 9 means an expert level of competence. Band 6 corresponds to a ’competent user’, who generally has an effective command of the English language. IELTS Life Skills has only two possible results: pass/fail.
Universities, colleges, governments and employers around the world require different levels of English depending on their profile and objectives. It is therefore very important to check what test score you need before taking one of the IELTS exams. The IELTS Academic and General Training test scores are valid for two years from the day you receive your results. Similarly, a candidate who has passed an IELTS Life Skills A1 or Life Skills B1 test cannot retake the exam within two years. If you do not pass, there are no restrictions on retaking the test.