Introduction to IELTS

IELTS, the International English Language Testing System, is a test of English language proficiency and one of the world’s most popular and respected forms of English in education and migration.

Intended for non-native speakers who are looking to study or work in an English-speaking environment, IELTS training is an internationally recognised system for testing English language ability in four categories:

  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking

Since its introduction in 1989, IELTS preparation has become one of the most trusted forms of English-language assessment and is accepted by over 8,000 universities, employers and immigration organisations worldwide. IELTS testing methods focus on the candidate’s practical ability to use English in real-life situations.

IELTS Test Types

There are two different types of IELTS test and once graded, your IELTS score is valid for two years.

  • Academic IELTS is for international students who wish to study at a UK university or join an institute of higher education.
  • General IELTS classes focus on English survival skills and social and workplace language, ideal for those who are planning to migrate to English-speaking countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

IELTS 9-Band Scale

Students will be given a score of 1-9 for each part of the test. Your average score produces an overall IELTS band score, and you can be graded on whole or half points.

ScoreSkillSkill Overview
Band 9Expert userFully operational command of the language: appropriate, accurate and fluent with complete understanding.
Band 8Very good userFully operational command of the language with only occasional inaccuracies and inappropriacies. Misunderstandings may occur in unfamiliar situations. Handles complex detailed argumentation well.
Band 7Good userOperational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally handles complex language well and understands detailed reasoning.
Band 6Competent userGenerally effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.
Band 5Modest userPartial 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 4Limited userBasic competence is limited to familiar situations. Has frequent problems in understanding and expression. Is not able to use complex language.
Band 3Extremely limited userConveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations. Frequent breakdowns in communication occur.
Band 2Intermittent userNo 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 1Non-userEssentially has no ability to use the language beyond possibly a few isolated words.
Band 0Did not attempt the testNo assessable information provided. Did not take the test.


Answers to common questions about IELTS preparation and the IELTS exam.

What is IELTS and why is it important?

IELTS stands for “International English Language Testing System” and is an exam to judge English language ability. It is accepted by institutes of higher education and immigration authorities in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Universities in the UK will not be able to issue you a final offer without a valid IELTS score.

Over 10,000 organisations worldwide, including educational institutions, employers, governments, immigration authorities and professional bodies, accept IELTS.

What is the test format and how long will it take?

The test has four parts; listening, reading, writing and speaking and lasts three hours. Listening takes place first and lasts 40 minutes, then reading and writing (one hour each) and speaking which last up to 15 minutes.

Which IELTS exam should I take, General or Academic?

There are two versions of IELTS, General and Academic. If applying to a university, a student will need to take Academic lessons. If only taking IELTS for a citizenship application or to study at below degree level, the General test is suitable. If you are unsure, academic IELTS covers both study and immigration needs. The format for both exams is the same, with the reading and writing elements slightly easier in the General test.

When should I start preparing for the IELTS exam?

When you should take the exam and how long you need to prepare depends on your current ability. It is advisable however that you begin preparation lessons two months before your exam date. To learn your current IELTS score, take a practice test.

How far in advance do I need to book the exam?

In the UK, IELTS exams are held every Saturday throughout the year, and can be booked as late as a week before the intended exam date. It is advisable to book well in advance though as spaces fill up quickly, especially during July and August.

How many classes do I need to take to improve my IELTS score?

This depends on your current level and the score you wish to achieve. To improve your IELTS score by 1 point, the average student will need to take ten lessons at SI-UK’s Language Centre, as well as complete homework assignments.

When do I get my test results?

You will receive your results two weeks after you take the exam.

How long is my IELTS score valid?

Your IELTS score is valid for two years after your test.

I think my English is good enough. Do I still need to take the IELTS exam?

Even if your English is of a high level, you will still need a score which can only be achieved by taking the IELTS exam. The writing part of the exam in particular has very specific requirements for students to meet and learning specific strategies and techniques with teachers will help you reach your goals.