IELTS, TOEFL, and other language proficiency tests form an important part of college admissions for study abroad aspirants. Most universities require international students to provide proof of English proficiency in the form of standardized language tests such as IELTS and TOEFL. For Indian students, this may seem mystifying considering many of them undergo years of schooling in English as the primary medium of instruction. Nevertheless, students from India are required to take language proficiency tests for college admissions abroad.
Of these tests, IELTS has been the benchmark for English language proficiency for many decades. The most widely accepted English test, IELTS scores serve as sufficient proof of English proficiency for admissions to thousands of universities across the globe. Getting a decent band in the IELTS, hence, has become an important rite of passage for Indian students who wish to study abroad in the UK, US, Canada, Australia or Europe.
IELTS – An Overview
IELTS, or as it is called in its expanded form, the International English Language Testing System, is the world’s most popular English language test. The test is conducted in over 140 countries across the globe, and each year millions of people take the IELTS for study, employment or immigration purposes.
The first iteration of the test was launched in 1980, under the moniker of English Language Testing Service (ELTS), and was dramatically different from its present version. It was after the formation of the international IELTS partnership, comprising Cambridge English Language Assessment, British Council, and International Development Program of Australian Universities and Colleges (IDP), that the test was renamed as the IELTS to reflect its international character.
Since then, the test has been the leading yardstick for measuring English proficiency. More than 10,000 universities across the world accept IELTS score as proof of English language skills for admissions, in addition to IELTS scores being accepted for immigration to multiple countries.
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IELTS Test Pattern
The test has been developed by the world’s leading experts in language assessment and evaluates the entire spectrum of a candidate’s English skills – in reading, writing, listening and speaking. The exam places equal importance to all of the above components, with a section devoted to each.
IELTS TEST PATTERN
|Section||Duration (in minutes)||No. of Questions/Tasks|
The test has four sections, as described hereunder:
- Listening – In this section, test takers listen to audio recordings and answer questions associated with them.
- Reading – Here, test takers must read passages and answer questions based on the given text.
- Writing – Test takers are given two separate writing tasks to demonstrate their English language writing ability.
- Speaking – This section of the test is conducted separately from the rest of the exam. Here, test takers undergo a one-on-one interaction in English with an interviewer.
For scores, the test uses a nine-band scale to mark the level of proficiency in each section, as well as overall proficiency.
|Score Band||User Level||Description|
|9||Expert||Has fully operational command of the language: appropriate, accurate and fluent with complete understanding.|
|8||Very Good||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.|
|7||Good||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.|
|6||Competent||Has generally effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.|
|5||Modest||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.|
|4||Limited||Basic competence is limited to familiar situations. Has frequent problems in understanding and expression. Is not able to use complex language.|
|3||Extremely Limited||Conveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations. Frequent breakdowns in communication occur.|
|2||Intermittent||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.|
|1||Non-User||Essentially has no ability to use the language beyond possibly a few isolated words.|
|0||Did not attempt the test||No assessable information provided.|
What is IELTS used for?
IELTS Scores are used for three main purposes, as detailed below:
- For Study: IELTS is the most widely accepted proof of English language proficiency in colleges and universities across the English-speaking world. It is accepted in thousands of educational institutions in Australia, Canada, the UK, the US, New Zealand, and Europe.
- For Work: Being the world’s leading English language test, IELTS is also accepted widely by employers and professional bodies in English-speaking counties worldwide.
- For Migration: For those who wish to immigrate to an English-speaking country, the IELTS is of utmost importance. To apply for a resident permit, the governments in many of these countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, make IELTS scores mandatory.
IELTS Types: IELTS Academic v IELTS General
There are two types of IELTS tests: IELTS Academic and IELTS General. Which one you should choose to take depends entirely on your purpose for taking the IELTS.
IELTS Academic is designed for people planning to study in higher education or those seeking professional registration in an English-speaking country. The Academic test assesses a student’s readiness for studies or training in an environment where English is the primary language used. For those who are seeking to register themselves professionally in an English-speaking foreign country, the IELTS Academic can serve as sufficient evidence of English language ability.
IELTS General Training
IELTS General Training measures test a candidate’s English language proficiency in a practical, everyday context. For those planning to study in high school or a vocational training program, IELTS General Training can be taken in lieu of IELTS Academic. For migration to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK, too, immigration rules require candidates to take the IELTS General Training test.
The formats of both the tests are similar. In fact, the content for Listening and Speaking sections are common to both, while the Reading and Writing sections are the only parts that differ.
IELTS ACADEMIC v IELTS GENERAL TRAINING
|Purpose of taking the test||Test you should take|
|Study Abroad (Undergraduate or Postgraduate level)||IELTS Academic|
|Join a Professional Organization||IELTS Academic|
|Train or Study at below degree level||IELTS General Training|
|Work or undertake work-related training||IELTS General Training|
|Emigrate to an English-speaking Country||IELTS General Training|
IELTS Format: IELTS Paper-based v IELTS Computer
Apart from taking two separate types of IELTS, test takers also have the option to choose the format for their test – whether paper-based, or computer-delivered. Each format has its own advantages and a test taker is advised to choose the one they are most comfortable with.
The Paper-based IELTS is the traditional test format that provides hard copies of question papers and blank answer sheets to test takers and requires them to write their answers by using a pen or HB pencil. There is no difference to the Speaking section which is carried out face-to-face with a trained IELTS examiner in both the paper-based and computer-delivered formats.
For those more comfortable with typing on a computer, the computer-delivered format would be more convenient. In this format, the Reading, Listening and Writing sections of the test are assessed on a computer. The questions for each section are presented on the screen and the test takers then submit their answers using a keyboard and mouse. The screen also displays the remaining time for each section and candidates will only see the next section once the time for the first section is over. For any help on how to use the test interface, candidates can click on a help option shown on the screen. There is also an option to adjust the font size or background for increased visibility. Each candidate also receives a set of headphones for the Listening section.
The content for both the formats is the same and there is no difference in the level of difficulty. The scores, however, are received sooner in case of computer-delivered IELTS. While candidates receive their score 5-7 days after the computer-delivered IELTS test, in case of the paper-based test, results usually take a minimum of 13 days. The computer-delivered test is also held more frequently than the paper-based version.
|Paper-based IELTS||Computer-delivered IELTS|
|Listening Section||Pen and Paper||On a Computer|
|Reading Section||Pen and Paper||On a Computer|
|Writing Section||Pen and Paper||On a Computer|
|Results||5-7 days||13 days|
|Test Availability||Up to 5 days a week||Up to 48 days per year|