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Foreign nationals from a non-English speaking country will need to take the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test to apply for certain visas and study programs abroad.

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    What is an IELTS test?

    The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test determines the English language proficiency of non-native English speakers. The IELTS test was created in 1989 and remains one of the most respected language tests in the world with millions of tests taken every year in over 140 countries. IELTS tests are managed by the British Council, IELTS Australia, and Cambridge Assessment English.

    This popular English language test helps determine a non-Native speaker’s ability to listen, speak, read, and write in the English language. IELTS tests are often required if a foreign national from a non-English speaking country would like to apply for a visa, permanent residence, or study program in an English-speaking country such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the United States.

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    What's in an IELTS Test?

    There are two types of IELTS tests: the IELTS Academic Test and the IELTS General Training Test. Both of these exams help to determine the non-Native speaker’s abilities in listening comprehension, reading comprehension, writing, and speaking abilities.

    The IELTS Academic Test is typically reserved for those who are applying for a Student Visa at an English-speaking academic institution where they will be studying at an undergraduate or postgraduate level. IELTS General Training is normally reserved for those who would like to work, train, study (at a secondary school), or immigrate to an English-speaking county.

    The IELTS test will consist of listening and reading sections where the test taker will be given 40 questions in each section. This is followed by a writing section where the test taker will be given two writing tasks. Lastly, the test taker will then have their speaking ability assessed via a one-to-one interview with an examiner. This section is recorded for monitoring and re-marking in case the test taker objects to the score given.

    IELTS Reading Portion

    The IELTS Reading portion will differ depending on the type of IELTS test being taken.

    For example, the IELTS Academic test contains three reading sections that consists of texts from books, journals, magazines, newspaper, and other source materials that are academic in nature. IELTS General Training test however is less particular and will consist of 3 sections focused on everyday topics, work (job descriptions, work-related training materials, etc), and general interest.

    Following these texts, the test takers will be given a variety of questions based on the texts. Some of these questions will be multiple-choice and short-answer. Any mistakes in the answers in regards to incorrect spelling and grammar will be penalized.

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      IELTS Listening Portion

      The IELTS listening portion of the exam will consist of a module comprised of four sections. In each section, there will be 10 questions. In total, the test-takers will be asked to answer 40 questions in the 30 minutes allotted. An extra 10 minutes will be given for transferring the answers to the answer sheet.

      The first two sections will focus on everyday social situations. The first conversation will be between two speakers and the second section will have consist of one person speaking. The last two sections will have the same format (a conversation between two speakers followed by one person speaking) but will be more academic-focused.

      In an effort to minimise linguistic bias, the listening portion will consist of speech spoken in a variety of accents including British, Australian, American, and New Zealander.

      IELTS Writing Portion

      To test writing ability, the IELTS test will contain a writing portion of the exam. In this section, the exam taker will be asked to complete two short writing tasks. The first task will be consist of an assignment where the writer will be asked to write at least 150 works in 20 minutes. In the second assignment, the exam taker will be asked to write at least 250 works in 40 minutes.

      Both assignments must stay on topic and meet the minimum word requirements. Errors in spelling and grammar will be penalized as will the use of bullet points.

      It should be noted that the IELTS Academic test will be a bit more difficult and academic-focused than the IELTS General Training which will focus on everyday topics and basic life skills such as writing a letter.

      IELTS Speaking Portion

      The IELTS speaking portion of the exam will be carried out via a face-to-face interview between the test taker and the examiner. The speaking test will contain three sections which are as follows:

      1. An 4-5 minute self-introduction and interview where the test taker will be about their interests, hobbies, home, family, etc.
      2. Next, the test taker will be asked to speak about a particular topic. The subject of this talk will be handed to the speaker on a task card. Speakers will have a minute or so to prepare to talk about this subject independently followed by one or two follow-up questions asked by the interviewer.
      3. Lastly, the interviewer and speaker will have a discussion related to the prior subject where the speaker will be a series of questions that are topically related.
      speaking test

      How is the IETLS test graded?

      IELTS tests are graded in a series of 9 IELTS bands which are rounded to the nearest half-band mark. These IELTS band scores are as follows:

      • Band 0: No information related to English language competence as the test-taker did not complete or attempt the exam.
      • Band 1: Non-user who can not use the language beyond a few isolated words.
      • Band 2: An intermittent user who has great difficulty in both understanding spoken and written English. Aside from the use of a few words or phrases to express immediate needs or information, there is no real communication.
      • Band 3: An extremely limited user with frequent breakdowns in their communication. Can only convey information and understand the general meaning in very familiar situations.
      • Band 4: Limited user with basic competence in the language in limited or familiar situations but unable to use complex language. Has frequent problems in understanding and expression.
      • Band 5: Modest user with partial command of the language who is able to cope with the overall meaning in most situations despite many mistakes. Can handle basic communication in their own field.
      • Band 6: Competent user with a generally effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies and misunderstandings.
      • Band 7: Good user with operational command of the language however with occasional inaccuracies and misunderstandings in some situations.
      • Band 8: Very good user with full operational command of the language but with minor inaccuracies and misunderstandings.
      • Band 9: Expert User with fluent and full operational command of the language.

      It should be noted that there is no minimum score to pass an IELTS test. There are however certain minimum IELTS band scores that will be required for specific visa applications and study programs.

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        Who needs to take an IELTS test?

        Foreign nationals who are from a non-English speaking country will most likely need to take an IELTS test as part of the set of requirements when applying for a visa or an undergraduate or postgraduate level study program in an English-speaking country such as Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

        For example, the IELTS exam is one of the two English language tests on the UK government’s list of approved Secure English Language Tests (SELTs). Therefore, anyone applying for a UK visa will need to pass the basic IELTS band requirements in order to come to the UK for work or study. Furthermore, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand also required an IELTS score for immigration-related purposes.

        In addition, higher education study programs all over the world, including in the United States require an English language test such as IELTS in order to be accepted.

        Where can you take an IELTS test?

        Worldwide, there are over 1600 locations in over 140 countries where individuals can take an IELTS exam. For more information about where to book a test, visit the IELTS website here.

        Depending on local demand, there will be up to 48 test dates available per year for the IELTS Academic test and 24 test dates for the IELTS General training test.

        Those who are taking the IELTS Life Skills test for UK immigration purposes must do so in UK test centres that are approved by the UKVI.

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                  Frequently Asked Questions

                  The cost of an IELTS exam will vary depending on the foreign currency exchange rate at the time. In general, the cost to take an IELTS test will range from $245-$255.

                  Certain academic institutions and visa programs will require IELTS exam scores to be within a certain range of time in order to be considered. Therefore, some IELTS exam scores may expire. Normally, IELTS exam scores are considered valid if they are less than 2 years old.

                  There are several ways to prepare for an IELTS test including taking part in preparation courses, hiring private tutors to improve your language skills, and taking practice tests where you can get used to the exam format.

                  Cambridge University Press sells official IELTS sample materials that include practice tests for both the General Training and Academic exams complete with reading and writing answer sheets, listening transcripts, sample writing responses, and a DVD for the listening portion.

                  You can expect to receive your IELTS test band score 3-5 days after the test date if you took the computer-delivered exam. For those who took a paper-based test at a test centre, the test report form will be posted to them 13 days after the test date.