IELTS: The Basics | Top Universities

IELTS: The Basics

By Sabrina Collier

Updated March 5, 2021 Updated March 5, 2021

Need to sit the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam to get on a course, but don't know a thing about it? Then our beginner’s guide to this popular English language test is for you!

What is the IELTS?

The IELTS (short for International English Language Testing System) is the most widely taken English language test in the world, taken by over 2 million people every year. It assesses the English language proficiency of people aged 16 and over, who want to study or work in a location where English is used as the main language. The test requires a substantial amount of preparation, so you will need to start planning several months in advance of any application deadlines.

There are two versions of the test: IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training. If you would like to study abroad in an English-speaking country, you will need to take the IELTS Academic. This tests your general English language skills as well as your academic English, giving a balanced assessment of the different vocabularies you will need while studying and living abroad.

How does it differ from other English language tests?

The IELTS test is more widely applicable, for non-academic purposes, than the TOEFL or PTE exams. Generally speaking, the IELTS is more commonly used for admission to universities in countries such as the UK, Australia and New Zealand, while the TOEFL is more widely accepted by US universities. There are not as many test centers as for the TOEFL, but more than for the PTE.

The mark breakdown is not as detailed as for the TOEFL or PTE, featuring an overall grade rather than specific marks for each section of the test. There are no pass or fail marks. Scores are graded on a 9-band system. Each educational institution or organization sets its own requirements, so you will need to check what grades your chosen universities require.

Who is it recognized by?

The IELTS test is recognized by over 9,000 institutions worldwide. This includes over 2,000 universities in the US, and many universities in the UK and Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, as well as numerous professional organizations around the world. 

Contact the universities to which you are applying to find out if they accept the IELTS test. As there is no specific pass or fail mark, you should also check the guidelines provided by each university to find out what grade they require you to obtain.

When and where can I take the test?

The test can be taken at over 1,000 test center locations in more than 140 countries. It’s available to take on 48 fixed dates each year – up to four times a month, depending on local demand. To find your nearest center and check upcoming test dates, visit the official site.

How much does it cost?

Fees vary from country to country and at different test centers, although in most cases you can expect to pay somewhere in the region of US$234. Contact your nearest test center to get an exact quote.

Can I retake the IELTS test?

There are no restrictions on retaking the test, so you can take it as many times as you need to. However, in practice retaking the test is highly impractical given the large amount of preparation which is required.

How long is my score valid for?

An IELTS test score is valid for two years. After two years it may no longer be an accurate reflection of your level of English language proficiency. Generally, if you have taken the test more than once in two years, only your most recent score will be considered valid.

How will I receive my results?

Your test report form will be posted to you 13 calendar days after your test date. All test centers will post your test report form to you. You should keep your form in a secure place as you only receive one copy. Some test centers now provide SMS alerts and an online results service; contact your local test center to find out more.

This article was originally published in February 2010. It was updated in August 2015.

This article was originally published in November 2012 . It was last updated in March 2021

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Written by

The former Assistant Editor of TopUniversities.com, Sabrina wrote and edited articles to guide students from around the world on a wide range of topics. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and grew up in Staffordshire, UK. 

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