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What does an IELTS overall band score of 7.0 really mean? Or a 6.5? Is it possible to get a 9.0? What is a good score in IELTS? Questions I'm sure we've all asked or heard. Forget for a moment the score you might need to obtain a visa or to start that postgraduate course and just remember that your IELTS score is a trusted snapshot of your competence in English at a particular moment in time. It's a description of what you can do in English.
So, a "good" overall score is 7.0 or higher. In fact, a band 7.0 is described as a "good user", a band 8.0 a "very good user" and a 9.0 an "expert" user. But even a 6.0 is a "competent" user. Not very descriptive at all until we begin reading the fuller descriptions at each overall level and then the descriptions for each section: listening, reading, writing and speaking. The overall IELTS 8.0 band score for example states:
"You have a fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriate usage. You may misunderstand some things in unfamiliar situations. You handle complex detailed argumentation well." Taken from (https://takeielts.britishcouncil.org/teach-ielts/test-information/scores-explained), where you can also read how IELTS band scores match up with the CEFR (Council of Europe Framework of Reference) international standard language ability scales.
In the end though, remember that IELTS is a tool to help you get to where you want to go. For example, if you need a 7.0 to study economics in London at a good university, then aiming for a 7.5 is a good idea - there is no need to be disappointed if you do not get a 9.0
If you love statistics, then you'll enjoy these test statistics. In fact, they make interesting reading, giving average scores according to gender (I probably don't have to tell you that female candidates get slightly higher scores!), nationality, first language, as well as global mean scores for IELTS academic and general training. They are, for the year 2018:
Remember, these are just averages and IELTS is not a competition in the traditional sense. It's a standardized test to assess an individual in both language fluency and competence. But these averages and the competencies they reflect help you to know your level and to set your own standards.
For anyone preparing to take either version of IELTS with whatever aim in mind, it is essential to know from the start what your strengths and weaknesses are in English. You can do that by:
Let's say I need help with IELTS listening. I find it hard to follow the IELTS listening sections when it's 2 or more speakers, I always miss out on a couple of questions. That can be remedied with effort and expert help.
Vinod a student from India, shared how he got 8.5 in the IELTS listening. Here is the full story but he first built his concentration skills by breaking the IELTS listening exam up and concentrating intensely on each 10-minute section. Meditation helped him achieve this.
He then did the same practice test until he reached about 39/40. Sometimes he’d complete the test 6 times. Then he’d write down all the synonyms from the test, about 25. He said after about 4 tests, he had 100 synonyms which more than prepared him for the test.
The same can be said if it's IELTS reading that's giving me trouble. These are the 2 IELTS reading areas where I should be scoring high.
For his reading test, Vinod said he went for the questions first and then looked at the paragraph.
Each IELTS reading test has 40 questions. A "very good" score in listening or reading is 34 correct answers out of 40. In listening, that would mean an overall 7.5 (just one more correct would give you 8.0). In reading, if it's academic IELTS it would be the same whereas in the slightly easier general training version it would mean a 7.0 while 36 out of 40 gives you 7.5.
Writing and speaking are both graded by examiners trained to assess a range of skills essentially centered on your fluency and accuracy in both areas.
Examiners work with a precise set of descriptors for each band score from 0-9 in 4 areas for both writing and speaking. When grading they tend to fix the descriptors for band 6 as a measure. Has the candidate satisfied the requirements at this level?
If yes, go higher to find the best possible description. If not, go down a level until the description fits. Read these descriptors for both writing and speaking (https://takeielts.britishcouncil.org/) and judge yourself in their terms. How far do you need to go before reaching your targets?
IELTS has become the world's main instrument for English language assessment, accepted in more than 140 countries by over 10,000 organisations. That includes the USA where an increasing number of universities accept IELTS. For study purposes, the criteria that any given university sets depends on several factors such as the country, the institution, the course level (undergraduate, Masters or Doctorate) and the course of study itself. Obviously, to study at a university or college you will need to sit the IELTS academic test, as the General test is more commonly used for immigration.
It's really important to understand what is meant by the 'overall score'. Some courses that require a heavier reading and writing load might demand a higher overall IELTS band score than others that are more "numbers oriented", even at the same institution.
On the whole, an overall minimum score of 6.0 is common, even accounting for many that insist on "at least a 6.5 in reading and writing", for example. So a score of 6.5 might be seen as a 'good score' for further study.
The lowest overall band score for college entry at levels no higher than undergraduate is 5.5 for IELTS academic in some institutions in the USA, Canada, the UK and both Australia and New Zealand.
The same applies to a large extent to those taking IELTS, either academic or general training, as support to obtain a work visa or to take up permanent residence. Depending on the country and your profession, requirements vary, the lowest being a 4.0 average which is classified as a "limited" user.
We could also add to the list the UK requirements mainly for those seeking permanent residence, most often the spouses of UK citizens, through the IELTS Life Skills test which only covers speaking and listening skills and has its own rating system, equivalent to the CEFR A1 or B1 levels, according to the test taken.
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