Category Archives: IELTS Information

The difference between IELTS and TOEFL – a student’s perspective

video-imageRecently, a huge number of people have asked me what the difference between IELTS and TOEFL is.  I recently came upon this ‘youtube’ video of a Belgian guy who has taken both tests and thought you might find it interesting. I have just one point to add, though, and that is that some of his comments are more specifically related to taking the tests in Belgium.

Here’s to the best IELTS (or best TOEFL!) score possible!

How is my IELTS result calculated?

info-31185_1280Over the years, nearly all my IELTS students have asked me “How is my IELTS result calculated?” I’ve also had a few requests from visitors to this site to write a post about the answer to this question. So, here it is…

IELTS Listening and Reading Tests.

In the Listening and Reading Tests, each correct answer is awarded one point. A conversion table is then used to translate this number into a band score, which will either be a whole or a half band. The marking is absolutely objective as answer papers are marked against a set of model answers.

IELTS Writing and Speaking Tests.

The Writing and Speaking Tests are marked by a specially-trained examiner who uses a set of descriptors: different ones for Writing Task 1, Writing Task 2 and Speaking.

As can be seen from the descriptors, the examiner considers a number of criteria when deciding which band you fall into.


The final band score for each writing task is an average of the scores for each of the following criteria.

• Task Achievement (Task 1) or Task Response (Task 2)
• Coherence and Cohesion
• Lexical Resource
• Grammatical Range and Accuracy

Task 1 carries one third of the final score and Task 2 carries two-thirds. The final score is rounded to a whole or half band.


The Speaking Test is marked according to the following criteria and the final band score is an average of the scores for each of the following criteria. The final score is rounded to a whole or half band.

• Fluency and Coherence
• Lexical Resource
• Grammatical Range and Accuracy
• Pronunciation

The criteria and the band descriptors are designed to make the marking of the speaking and writing Tests as objective as possible.

Overall Score.

Your overall IELTS band score is calculated by averaging the scores for each of the different Skills tests and rounding to the nearest half band.

For example:
Listening: 6.5
Reading: 6.5
Writing: 6
Speaking: 7
Overall: 6.5


Here’s to the best IELTS score possible!

The IELTS Test – What do I need to know for success?

info-31185_1280OK, so the most obvious thing is to do lots of practice and make sure your reading, writing, listening and speaking skills are good enough to get the IELTS Band Score you need.

In the last post, I suggested that you familiarise yourself with what’s expected in the test at the official IELTS website but in the meantime, I’m going to make it really easy for you by giving you some information about what to expect.

As I said in my last post, in my opinion half the battle is knowing the IELTS test procedure.  If you’ve ever had to sit a test more than once, think how much easier it was the second time because you knew what to expect!  I should know; I failed my driving test FOUR times!


What is the IELTS test?

The first thing to do is to check that IELTS is actually the test you need.

IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System; it is an English testing system which assesses the language ability of people who want/need to study in an English speaking environment. Many employers, universities and immigration authorities require that you have a certain IELTS Band Score before they will accept your application.

When thinking about when you’re going to take the test, it’s important to remember that your IELTS Band Score is only valid for 2 years.

Next, you must decide which version of the test you are going to take.  There are two versions of the IELTS test; the Academic version and the General Training version.  If you wish to study at undergraduate or postgraduate level, you must take IELTS Academic version, if you wish to emigrate or work overseas, IELTS General Training version is appropriate.

The two versions have four sub-tests or modules; reading, writing, listening and speaking.  The IELTS Listening and IELTS  Speaking sub-tests are the same in both the Academic version and the General Training version  but the IELTS Reading and IELTS Writing sub-tests are different.  A certified examiner, who has undergone thorough training will assess your writing and speaking skills and give you a Band Score in those sub-tests.

You can download a really useful booklet called IELTS Information for Candidates at the official IELTS website for more detailed information.


How do I apply for the IELTS test?

Once again, I recommend you go to the official IELTS website and download The IELTS handbook and IELTS Information for Candidates.  These 2 booklets both explain how to apply to take the test, however I’ll give you a brief overview and some of my own comments here.

1.         You apply to your local IELTS Test Centre to sit the test.

To find your nearest IELTS Test Centre, click here.  Here you’ll find the  address, contact details and the upcoming test dates.

2.         Go to the IELTS Test Centre to get an application form.  If it’s difficult for you to go there, you can download an application form from the official IELTS website.  You could even ask if the Test Centre would mail one out to you.

3.         Decide what date you want to take the test and fill in the application form.  Make sure you write the correct module; Academic or General Training, depending on what you need.

4.         If possible, get a native English friend to check over your application form for you.

5.         Send your completed form to the Test Centre you wish to attend, together with 2 passport sized photos and the test fee.

6.         Make sure you provide the same ID on test day as you put on your application form. If the 2 forms of ID are different, you will not be allowed to take the test.  If for any reason, this won’t be possible, contact the Test Centre immediately.

7.         Once your application form has been processed, the Test Centre will send you a confirmation letter with the date and time of the test and also some instructions for the day.


What do I do on Test Day?

Well, first of all make sure you get a good night’s sleep the night before and that you have a good breakfast (yes, I’m also a mum!).  If your speaking test is on the same day, remember you will also need to have lunch.

Don’t forget to take your ID with you as it will be checked on your arrival.

Be aware that you can’t take your belongings, including your mobile phone into the test room.  There will be a specified area outside the room where you can leave them.

As with all exams, once the invigilator (the test supervisor) has stated that the test has started, no talking is allowed.  If you need to ask something, just raise your hand.

The listening test is first, then reading, then writing .  Your Test Centre will tell you the time (and date) of your speaking test.


And then what?

Once the test is over, all there is to do is to wait for your results.  IELTS test results are posted out on the 13th day after your test so you should receive them 2 weeks after the test.  It may be possible to go to the Test Centre on the 13th day after the test to collect your results but you will have to ask them.  The Test Centre cannot, however, give you your results over the phone or via fax or email.

You don’t get a certificate after taking IELTS; you get a Test Report Form (TRF) with your results. Look after your Test Report Form, you only get one copy.  Remember, however, that you can ask for additional copies (a maximum of five) to be sent to the organisation asking for your result (university, immigration etc.)

Hopefully it’s now time to celebrate!  If not, don’t despair, see my post What to do if your IELTS score isn’t high enough. It may be possible to salvage the situation.  In any case, it’s time to move ‘onwards and upwards’!

Here’s to the best IELTS score possible!

Best IELTS – An overview of the IELTS test.

info-31185_1280The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) examination is primarily designed to assess the ability of candidates to study at a higher education level in the English language.

The examination lasts 2 hours and 45 minutes and consists of 4 tests in the following skills; listening (approx 30 minutes), reading (1 hour), writing (1 hour) and speaking (approx 15 minutes).

The IELTS test is available in two different formats; Academic or General Training.  Academic IELTS is usually used to determine the suitability of a candidate to study at undergraduate or postgraduate level.  General Training IELTS is used tor candidates wishing to continue their studies to diploma level or complete their secondary education in an English-speaking country and also for immigration to Australia, New Zealand and Canada.  The listening and speaking tests are the same for both formats but the reading and writing tests are different.  The reading and writing tests for General Training IELTS are less demanding than for Academic IELTS.

There is no pass or fail grade in IELTS, the institution to which you are applying informs you of the IELTS Band Score they require.

You are given a grade between 0 and 9 for each of the four skills tests and this is then averaged out for and overall band score.


Listening        6

Reading          5

Writing          5.5

Speaking       6

Total               22.5

So the overall band score would be 5.5     (5.63 rounded down)

In my experience, universities often require an overall score of 6.5, and often specify a particular band score in certain skills.

Here are the IELTS band score descriptors; it is worth noting, however, that the IELTS test is pitched at intermediate level.

Band 9: Expert user: has fully operational command of the language: appropriate, accurate and fluent with complete understanding.

Band 8: Very good user: 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.

Band 7: Good user: 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.

Band 6: Competent user: has generally effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.

Band 5: Modest user: 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.

Band 4: Limited user: basic competence is limited to familiar situations. Has frequent problems in understanding and expression. Is not able to use complex language.

Band 3: Extremely limited user: conveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations. Frequent breakdowns in communication occur.

Band 2: Intermittent user: 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.

Band 1: Non-user: essentially has no ability to use the language beyond possibly a few isolated words.

Band 0: Did not attempt the test: No assessable information provided.


How is the IELTS test marked?

The IELTS Listening and Reading Tests are marked absolutely objectively.  The IELTS Writing Tests and IELTS Speaking Tests are marked by a certified examiner.

I have had a number of people ask me my opinion on the objectivity of the writing and speaking scoring.  What I do know is that the examiners have to follow strict criteria when assigning their grades and I understand that examiners are also monitored from time to time (the speaking test is recorded).

The assessment criteria that examiners use are strictly confidential and do not leave the test centre.  There are, however, public versions of these descriptors:

IELTS Speaking Test Band Descriptors

(There are two IELTS Writing Tasks to complete)

IELTS Writing Test Task 1 Band Descriptors

IELTS Writing Test Task 2 Band Descriptors

The public versions of these descriptors give some idea of the criteria involved in different band scores.

Here’s to the best IELTS score possible!

What to do if your IELTS score isn’t high enough.

info-31185_1280I’m really hoping that you won’t need any of the information I’ve written here.  If you’re reading this page, it’s probably because either your IELTS score isn’t high enough or you want to know what to do if it happened to you that your IELTS score was too low.

OK, so let’s go through the process.  You get your IELTS TRF (Test Report Form) and are disappointed with the result.  What’s your immediate reaction?  ‘It’s not fair!’

I understand that doing the IELTS Test has cost you time, money and effort but I want you to forget that for a moment and to step away from yourself and the situation.  Look at the situation as objectively as you can and ask yourself if your result really isn’t fair.  Is your English level really as good as you think?  Tough question I know.

Now let’s look at some practical tips:

•    The first thing to do is to look at your IELTS score. How far below the score you need is it?  Did you achieve the score you needed in any of the modules?

Depending on your answer to the above questions, you might contact the institution which requested this score and try to persuade them to still accept you.  Obviously this is only really an option if your score was just slightly below the required score.

Of course some institutions will refuse this request; others may assess your situation and be open to the idea.  In any case, as my grandfather used to say ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get’.

•    If you really are convinced that you have been given the wrong IELTS score, you can ask for a re-mark.  Bear in mind that you have to pay for this and my understanding from students is that the fee is about three quarters of the price to sit the actual IELTS test.

This fee is refunded if you are given a higher score for the re-mark. You must really ask yourself if you honestly think your IELTS  score is wrong; did you have any problems in the test which may have affected your score e.g. you didn’t complete both writing tasks.

If you ask for a re-mark, you must do so within six weeks of the date of your IELTS test.

•    For a lot of people, the only option is to retake the IELTS test.  Now, before you go and re-book, you need to consider if you need more IELTS preparation and how much you need.

If you got an IELTS band score of 4, you are probably not going to get an IELTS band score of 6 if you re-sit the test after two weeks.  In my experience, it usually takes three months of intensive study to improve your score by one band.  Interestingly enough, before May 2006, candidates had to wait three months before re-sitting the IELTS test.


So, back to the timeless wisdom of my grandfather; ‘Don’t despair, it’s only an exam.  You can always do it again’. These words were always in my mind when I failed my driving test four times!

Not getting the IELTS Band Score you need can be an emotionally difficult time.  Do try to keep a clear head and consider the options I have put forward in this post.

On a final note, as I stated in the introduction to this post, I sincerely hope you won’t need any of the advice in this post because you’ll get the IELTS band score you need first time.  Read the tips in my other posts and set yourself out a clear study plan to help you achieve your aim.


Here’s to the best IELTS score possible!

Best IELTS Last Minute Tips for the Speaking Test.

depositphotos_12630060-Two-businessmen-standing-and-talking-with-speech-bubbles-on-white-backgroundI often receive emails from readers of this site saying something on the lines of ‘Help, I have my IELTS Test this Saturday, what can I do?’

This is the fourth and last  post in my series ‘Best IELTS last minute tips.  You can also check out my Listening Test, Reading Test and Writing Test tips.

Now, I think I always make it quite clear that I believe in starting your IELTS Test preparation way in advance of the test but in this post I’m going to give you my best IELTS last minute tips for the Speaking Test.

  • On the day of the exam, you need to ‘enter the room speaking English’.  This basically means that if the hour leading up to your interview, you need to practice speaking English; talk to anyone you can, find candidates of other nationalities to chat to in English, tell them that you want to practise speaking English before the Speaking Test; I’m sure that most other candidates would be very open to the idea as they also want to practise  speaking English.  As a last resort, speak to yourself under your breath in English (about anything!)
  • Easy to say, but try to relax and be calm, take a few deep breaths before you enter the exam room.  Remember that, as my granddad used to say, ‘It’s only an exam, no-one’s hurt, it’s okay’.
  • Smile as you greet the Examiner; this will help you relax and people are always well-disposed to someone who smiles at them.
  • Remember that the Examiner is not the enemy!  You’re working together on this as a team.  You want to do well and the Examiner wants to see you perform to the best of your ability.
  • If you didn’t hear the question properly, simply ask the Examiner to repeat it.   You do this in your own language so it doesn’t ‘look bad’.  Don’t start answering a question that you ‘think you heard’; you’ll feel insecure and it will appear that you didn’t understand the question.
  • In parts 1 and 3, if you don’t understand the question, ask the Examiner to repeat it and try to focus on the words you do understand.   You can also check quickly with the Examiner by asking, ‘Do you want me to talk about ……?’
  • If there is just one word you don’t understand and you think it’s important, just tell the Examiner, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you mean by censorship.’
  • If there’s a word you don’t understand on your Part 2 topic question, you can either tell the Examiner immediately, ‘ I’m sorry, I’m not sure what leisure means’, he/she might give you a quick definition or just before you start speaking, you can tell the Examiner, ‘I’m not 100% sure what leisure means but I’ve interpreted it as ………… so I’m going to speak about ………….’
  • Remember that questions are chosen at random before you enter the room, if you don’t like your topic, take a deep breath and ‘get on with it’; you’ll be fine!
  • It sometimes happens that in part 2, you can’t think of anything to say about the topic.  Recently, a student had to talk about cultural festivals in her country.  Her mind went blank and so just before she started speaking, she said ‘I really can’t think of any cultural festivals in my country so I’m going to talk about Christmas, which I know isn’t really a ‘cultural festival’ specific to my country’.  Easy!  Remember that the Examiner isn’t there to ‘catch you out’.  He/she wants you to speak to the best of your ability.
  • Don’t even think about timing in part 2, just keep speaking, the Examiner will stop you if you’re still speaking and two minutes has passed.
  • In part 3, you will find yourself discussing more abstract issues.  Try to organise what you are saying with phrases such as ‘Some people think….’, ‘On the other hand……..’  This will help you keep your thoughts clear and make what you are trying to say easier to follow.

Finally, good luck on Saturday!

Here’s to the best IELTS score possible!