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  • Writer's pictureSte Sharpe

What is the IELTS test?


Empty chairs in a test hall
Test hall


In my 18 years of teaching, I’ve always been asked about IELTS…What is the IELTS test? What does IELTS stand for? Why do universities ask for an IELTS test score? Why do I need IELTS to move abroad? What is an IELTS test band score? Read on to learn more…


What is the IELTS test and what does it stand for?

IELTS stands for the ‘International English Language Testing System’. It’s an internationally recognised English-language test that evaluates your listening, reading, writing and speaking ability in English.


Why do universities ask for IELTS?

Universities require a band score to show that the individual has an appropriate level of English to participate in a university course (undergraduate or postgraduate) taught in English. If students don’t have an appropriate level of English, they’ll struggle to follow the course and complete the assessments.


Why do I need the IELTS test to move abroad?

Just like universities, immigration bodies in different countries need to know that individuals have the appropriate level of English to integrate into an English-speaking culture.


Over 3 million people worldwide take the IELTS test and is recognised by over 11,000 employers, educational institutes and immigration bodies, so this test means business.


What is an IELTS test band score?

When it comes to a ‘grade’ or ‘mark’ for the test, the IELTS test provides ‘band scores’ from 0 (did not take the attempt the test) to 9 (expert user). The higher the band score, the better your ability in English is. Test takers are given a band score for each test (listening, reading, writing and speaking) which is then averaged into an overall band score. The band score you require depends on the where and what you’re applying for, so it’s important you find out this information before you apply.


Now that you know what the IELTS test is, the big question is…

How can you prepare for the IELTS test?


There’s a lot of information on the Internet about preparing for the IELTS test, with adverts promising you how to get IELTS band 9 in 7 days, providing you with lists of keywords to learn to achieve IELTS band 9, offering practice test after practice test to help you get IELTS band 9…but honestly, it’s all rubbish!


Over the years, I’ve learnt that the key to IELTS success is…


'IELTS test familiarisation + language development'


To put this formula into another perspective, let’s think about learning to drive. When you first learn, do you just take driving test after driving test until you’ve passed? No! You take lessons to learn about how to operate the car, practise your driving skills and improve them based on feedback from a qualified driving instructor.


IELTS test preparation is very similar. You need to know about the test format (e.g., how long each test is, how many questions there are, what different types of questions you answer, what the criteria for marking is) so you know HOW to pass the test successfully.


As IELTS is ‘an evaluation of your current level of English’, it’s important to develop your language skills. Remember, the higher the band score, the better your ability in English is.


So, what’s next for you?

Now that you’ve got a general understanding of what the IELTS test is and how best to prepare, follow my blog for weekly updates on IELTS test tips and how to develop your language skills.


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