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STUDY ABROAD : Essentials - Must read

Essentials: IELTS - The International English Language Testing System

Read our guide to the IELTS English language test, including the structure of an IELTS test, the cost and more...


If you want to study in an English-speaking country, you'll have to prove that you can understand and communicate in English effectively before you commence your studies. We take a look at the all-important IELTS English language test and tell you everything you need to know...


Note: This is just a brief introduction to the IELTS test. You can read our full guide to IELTS which goes into more detail.


What is IELTS?

IELTS is a globally recognised English language proficiency test that tests all four language skills, assessing your ability to understand and communicate to a good enough standard to study and live in an English-speaking country. The test is split into four parts: Reading, writing, speaking and listening. IELTS is jointly owned by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge English Language Assessment. 

There are two types of IELTS test: Academic (for Institutions of Higher and Further Education) and General Training (for school, work or migration).


Who recognises IELTS?

IELTS is one of the most widely recognised English language tests. Educational institutions in the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong use the test as a means of ensuring students who come to study with them from abroad can communicate and understand to a sufficient level. Additionally, a number of professional bodies and organisations use the test when employing those from abroad. Overall, 9,000 institutions in 135 countries accept IELTS.


IELTS test components

Listening test: 30 minutes long, 4 sections (40 items)

What's involved? You'll be tested on specific and overall comprehension of English in a variety of contexts and formats.

Read our tips for the Listening portion of the test


Academic Reading OR General Training Reading test: 60 minutes long, 3 sections (40 items)

What's involved? You'll have to understand detailed text and demonstrate that you understand complicated information presented in the English language.

Read our tips for the Reading portion of the test


Academic Writing OR General Training Writing test: 60 minutes long, 2 tasks

What's involved? You'll be expected to use English for a variety of purposes and demonstrate that you can tailor your written English to suit a variety of topics and contexts. Your sentence structure, vocabulary, use of grammar and style will be assessed.

Read our tips for the Writing portion


Speaking test: 11-14 minutes long (3 parts to this test)

What's involved? This is the same for Academic and General Training candidates. It involves a one-to-one interview and covers a range of topics and contexts. You'll have to talk about personal topics, give an unassisted short talk on a selected topic and contribute to a two-way discussion on more abstract issues.

Read our tips for the Speaking portion of the test


IELTS bands: What do they mean?

After your English language test you'll be assessed and given a band score. This is how they define each of the nine bands:

• 9 - expert user

• 8 - very good user

• 7 - good user

• 6 - competent user

• 5 - modest user

• 4 - limited user

• 3 - extremely limited user

• 2 - intermittent user

• 1 - non-user


What score should I am for?

If you're aiming to study at an institution overseas, then you'll usually have to achieve an IELTS score of 6-6.5. However, slightly higher scores will be required by more esteemed institutions or for courses in fields which are especially competitive such as medicine or those where strong English skills are key, such as journalism. Postgraduate study will likely also demand a higher IELTS score of around 7.  However you should always check what score you need to get with the institution or department themselves, as it can vary between institutions and even between departments.


How much does an IELTS test cost?

At the moment, the International English Language Test costs around $160. However this will vary slightly from one country to another, depending on where you are taking the test. You can find out the exact cost for you by searching on the IELTS website.


What about the TOEFL test?

TOEFL is another English language test which, like the IELTS test, tests an individual’s ability to understand and communicate in English while studying in another country. TOEFL is similarly popular and accepted though it varies slightly; most notably, the TOEFL exam emphasises American English instead of British English – this might be beneficial depending on where you are planning to study.

Not sure which test you should take? Compare the two in our guide, ‘IELTS vs. TOEFL’.


Watch our videos all about IELTS, taking you behind-the-scenes of a real test:


Read more:

Alternatively, find out more about the TOEFL test.

If you have any questions about IELTS, you consult the official IELTS site.


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About Author

Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.