When looking to study in the UK, non-native speakers will often be required to sit a number of exams to test people’s understanding of the English language.
Not everyone has to sit the IELTS (sometimes known as the IELTS UKVI or IELTS for UKVI), however, many universities are starting to incorporate the test as part of their university admissions test for foreign students as the test covers everything from your listening skills, your reading and writing skills and general grasp of the English language.
We’ve got some useful tips, general information, how to prepare for IELTS, how to pass IELTS and some great resources to help you on your road to IELTS.
So just what is IELTS?
What does IELTS stand for?
IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System.
What is the IELTS?
The IELTS is a standardised test for non-native English speakers and was established in 1989. The test is designed for students to test their knowledge of your reading and writing skills, general grasp of the English language and listening skills. The test is run by a number of different council and education authorities, which are:
The IELTS is the only Secure English Language Test that is approved by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), the test will also meet any immigration requirements for Australia as well.
They will also have research and revision modules to help you with your IELTS preparation.
How long does IELTS last?
Your IELTS results do unfortunately have an expiration date. Your IELTS score or grade is only valid for two years. Any company or university are told not to consider anyone who scores are older than two years old, however, if the person is capable of proving that they have worked to maintain their level of English proficiency, then some companies or institutions may still accept these.
Some websites will even offer you an IELTS calculator, to help with your score, but these are more or less used for predictions since you will receive the score already and most likely won’t need to calculate it further.
Some companies may prefer you to have certain scores for certain things. For instance, some people might be more interested in your vocabulary skills, rather than your IELTS listening score.
How long is the IELTS exam?
The IELTS Test has a number of separate modules that run overall for two hours and fifty-five minutes. These sections are broken down into separate modules.
- Listening Task: 40 minutes (this also includes a 10 minute transfer time)
- Reading: 60 minutes
- Writing: 60 minutes
- Speaking: 15 minutes
These separate areas can all take different times, depending on your proficiency with the English Language, though this won’t be by much, in fact, the IELT exam will only allow an extra few minutes here or there.
How do I book an IELTS Test?
The kind of IELTS exam booking you choose will depend on what test you need. For those looking to sit the IELTS for university, will need to head to the IELTS site and follow the instructions from there.
Alternatively, you are able to head to the British Council website and book through there and you can manage your IELTS booking on the British Council IELTS.
Are there any modules for the IELTS?
The IELTS English test will cover two main modules:
- Academic Module
- General Training Module
However, the IELTS UK also offers three separate tests, which is offered by the IELTS Test Partners, which is called IELTS Life Skills, which are:
- IELTS Academic: This is a test that is geared specifically towards students who wish to study at university or work in higher education, it is also essential for those looking to become medical doctors or nurses.
- IELTS General Training: This is a test that is intended for people who are planning for non-academic training or are looking to gain work experience. This test is also useful for immigration purposes as well.
- IELTS Life Skills: This is a test for are required to show their English language proficiency (or IELTS vocabulary) at Common European Framework of References for Languages (CEFR) levels A1 or B1.
The IELTS Listening section, as mentioned above, is 40 minutes overall. 30 minutes for testing and then a further 10 minutes for transferring the answers onto the answer sheet provided.
This module of the test will have four separate sections. Section one of the test is a conversation between two speakers. Section two is just one person speaking, usually reading a speech.
Section three will cover a conversation between two main speakers (usually a discussion between two university students) and section four is a just one person speaking again, this time about an academic subject.
Each section will be introduced, you will then have time to study the questions before you answer them. Don’t worry, the IELTS English exam won’t ask you any questions out of order, you will be asked the questions in order of the conversational flow. You will only hear each section once.
You will lose marks for incorrect spelling and grammar, so make sure you take your time to sweat the small stuff!
Student Pro Tip
Since you're going to be studying the IELTS Exam, it makes sense to have some useful resources to help you out. Check out these useful IELTS resources and study hubs below.
IELTS Up: A free online IELTS preperation resource with tests, useful samples and lessons.
IELTS Simon: Help with IELTS writing, reading, listening and speaking modules.
IELTS Buddy: A useful preperation resource for students, complete with practice tests and sample essays.
IELTS Liz: Preperation for your IELTS Exam, complete with useful videos and exam questions and past papers.
IELTS Mentor: Offering a wide range of resources, including samples and past papers.
The reading section of the test will have around 2,800 words and is broken into three sections. These questions will be everything from multiple choice, short-answer or completing summaries.
For those doing the academic IELTS examination, you will have three texts which will be from a wide variety of different publications, such as magazines, journals, books, online resources and newspapers, All of the texts will be relevant to students.
For those doing the IELTS General Training test, the sections are somewhat different.
- Section one: This will have two or three short texts or several much shorter texts, these will all deal with everyday topics, like notices or timetables.
- Section two: This section will only have two sections and will deal with reading materials usually found in the workplace, such as an employee handbook, job descriptions, contracts and/or training materials.
- Section three: This is one long text and will usually be in the form of a newspaper or magazine article. The text will be much longer and far more descriptive than sections one or two.
This is a writing paper that has two tasks. As with the reading section, the writing section is split depending on what form of the exam you are sitting, usually into IELTS writing task 1 and IELTS writing task 2.
For those doing the IELTS Academic test, the first task will ask you to describe a graph, chart or table or any other form of data gathering, in your own words, whereas the second task will ask you to discuss or present solutions on certain arguments or problems.
For those doing the IELTS General Training module, the tasks are slightly different.
- Task one: You are asked to write a letter in response to an everyday situation. For example, you might be asked to write a letter to your local newspaper about the plans to build a new shopping centre near where you live.
- Task Two: This will ask you to write an essay about a topic of general interest, like the smoking ban or environmental issues.
These speaking tests are oral and are the same regardless of what form of the test you are taking. As with the reading section, you will have three sections to complete and will have a number of IELTS speaking topics to cover too.
- Section one: This will be an introduction and an interview and will last for around four or five minutes. You will be asked about home life, your hobbies, your reason for taking the IELTS, gaming and the internet.
- Section two: Here, you are given a task card about a certain topic. You will have one minute to prepare to talk about this topic and you will then have to talk on the topic for two minutes while covering certain points that are listed on the task card.
- Section three: This is a discussion between both the examiner and you, you will be asked about the theme of section two, whatever that was.
Can I take an IELTS practice test?
Practice makes perfect, or in this case, IELTS practice makes perfect, especially if you’re looking into how to prepare for IELTS at home.
You will be able to find an IELTS practice test online (just search for the IELTS online test and you’ll see it on the website). Of course, plenty of people look for an IELTS online test, and they’re usually disappointed to find that they can only find practice tests. IELTS preparation is key!
As you’ve seen above, you cannot take the IELTS test online, however, these IELTS practice tests can be found on the British Council website (which is essentially the IELTS official website) and can be downloaded and taken free of charge, although the oral portion might be hard to do, unless you have HAL 9000 installed, which chances are, you don’t!
You can find plenty of resources online, such as IELTS Buddy(https://www.ieltsbuddy.com/), which will give you a number of past papers and useful hints and tips to help you out and give you an IELTS advantage.
What if I fail the IELTS?
You cannot fail the UKVI IELTS, the IELTS is operated on a numbered score (or band score), the score does not correspond to a pass or fail grade in the same a normal examination might do.
There is also a way of being able to look into methods of rebooking etc on the IELTS British Council website too.
How are you scored for the IELTS?
The IETS English Test has ten different scores, which correspond to your performance within the IELTS English Test. You are scored using band scales, this means that you can score a 0.25, 0.5 or a 0.75 of a certain score.
For example, it is possible to receive an 8.5 or a 6.25 score, rather than just the round number. If your average across all of the four skills end in a 0.25 or a 0.75, then the score will be rounded up to the nearest half band or whole band.
- 0 - Did Not Attempt the Test: Not assessable information could be provided on your performance.
- 1 - Non-User: Has no ability to use the language beyond one or two words here or there.
- 2 - Intermittent User: Have no real communication skills, can only read or speak the most basic information. Have no real abilities with the English language.
- 3 - Extremely Limited User: You can understand only the general meaning of words or sentences in very familiar situations, breakdowns in communications are regular.
- 4 - Limited User: Basic competence is there, but limited. Cannot use complex language.
- 5 - Modest user: Have a good command of the language, but is still limited, will make many mistakes. Can handle basic communication in your field.
- 6 - Competent User: Effective command of the language, although there are some inaccuracies or misappropriations of words or sentences.
- 7 - Good User: You have operational command of the language, although there are some misunderstandings in some areas. Understand detailed reasoning.
- 8 - Very Good User: Very good understanding of the language with only occasional slip-ups.
- 9 - Expert User: Almost perfect commanding of the language, can be considered fluent.
What is an IELTS Test Report Form?
An IELTS Test Report Form is usually posted to you about thirteen days after you’be taken your test. As the name suggests, it is used to show you your IELTS score from the IELTS. This will cover:
- Your overall band score
- A band score (1-9) for each section of the test (IELTS Listening, IELTS Writing, IELTS Reading and IELTS Speaking)
- Confirmation of completion on whether or not the IELTS Academic or General Training modules were completed
- Your photo, nationality, first language and your date of birth
You will receive only the one copy of your Test Report Form unless you are applying to either the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) or to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), then you will receive two copies of the IELTS result.
As mentioned above, these scores are only valid for two years.
Where can I sit the IELTS Exam?
You can sir the IELTS in over 140 countries and in over 1,200 locations worldwide. The IELTS will have 48 dates available per year and each centre will offer tests up to four times a month depending on how local the demand is. Academic tests are available 48 dates a year and the general training date is available for 24 dates of the year.
Previously, applicants had to wait 90 days before being allowed to retake the test, however, the restrictions have since changed and you can resit whenever you like, providing it falls on the date it’s being run!
IELTS exam dates are, to say the least, a bit temperamental, so bare than in mind and don’t be surprised if they come back with some odd IELTS test dates.
As for where you will sit the IELTS exam, you will have the chance to select your test centre, when IELTS test booking online.
Do universities require a certain score from the IELTS Exam?
The phrase "different strokes for different folks" is pretty relevant here. Each university will have a different requirement, depending on where you apply, however, some universities (mainly those associated with the Russell Group of Universities), will have scores already set, which may change depending on the IELTS course you choose.
- University of Bristol: 6.5 (apart for Law, Economics, English and Medicine: 7.0)
- University of Cambridge: 7.0
- University of Durham: 6.5
- University of Edinburgh: 6.5
- Imperial College London: 6.0 (undergraduate admissions) (School of Medicine: 6.5)
- King’s College London: 7.0 (Medicine, Physiotherapy, Law, Humanities, Dentistry and Physiotherapy: 7.5)
- London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE): 6.5
- University of Manchester: 7.0 (Manchester Business School: 6.5)
- University of Oxford: 7.0 (Graduate admissions: 6.5)
- University College London (UCL): 6.5 (UPSCE: 5.5)
These scores are correct as of May 2015.
Immigration and IELTS Requirements
Immigration with the IELTS has become a very important part of immigration as well, more specifically, those looking to study or work in countries where English is required, an IELTS score is required.
We’ve got the scores for the most common countries that people look to work, live or study in and their corresponding IELTS scores.
- What is the minimum IELTS score required for Canada immigration: Overall band score of 6.5, with minimum score of 6.0 in each test.
- What is the minimum IELTS score required for US immigration: A minimum score of 6.5 overall.
- What is the minimum IELTS score required for Australian immigration: For a student visa, you are required to have a minimum test score of 5.5, for general immigration purposes, you need a 6.0 or more.
- What is the minimum IELTS score required for UK immigration: This depends on a number of different factors, such as your tier of visa (such as a Tier 4 Student Visa). For those with a Tier 1 visa or general visa, you need a 7.0, for those with a Tier 2 or Tier 4 Student Visa, you need to have a an overall score of 4.0 (and in each category too), for those on a general Tier 4 visa (not a student one), you need a 5.5 overall and in each category or higher.
The IELTS Exam is being rolled out across the UK at a very quick rate, so for foreign students looking to study in the UK, we recommend looking into the IELTS Exam as soon as possible, good luck!