What is the IELTS Exam? | Guide and FAQs for 2024

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In the UK and internationally, there are a wide range of different qualifications that you can get. One of these is the IELTS, where year after year, millions of students around the world choose to sit their IELTS exam. Being so popular and international, you might be wondering why it’s not a mainstream qualification in the UK.

However, to be able to answer this question, you’ll first need to understand more about the IELTS qualifications and the exam. In this article, you will learn not only just that, but also the answer to commonly asked questions from IELTS students.

IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. The IELTS exam is an English language proficiency test, which means that it measures how well the candidate can use the English language. This exam is internationally recognised and can be used for a range of purposes, particularly to do with studying, working and getting a visa for an English-speaking country for non-native English speakers.

Continue reading to learn more about what the IELTS exam is, including what it’s used for, how its grading system works, the different types of IELTS exam and more. This article will be jam-packed with lots of useful information about the IELTS exam- so let’s get to it!

What is the IELTS exam?

The IELTS exam is an English language proficiency test that is run by the British Council, Cambridge Assessment English and IDP Education. As an English language proficiency test, it examines the ability of speakers of other languages in speaking English.

The term, IELTS, is an acronym that stands for International English Language Testing System. As this name suggests, the IELTS exam is an internationally recognised qualification. In fact, the IELTS exam is used in over 140 different countries.

To learn more about what the IELTS exam is, check out this page on the British Council website.

What are the types of IELTS exam?

As previously mentioned, the IELTS exam is an English language proficiency test. However, what wasn’t previously mentioned is that there are different kinds of IELTS exam that English language students can take.

There are 3 main types of IELTS exam that students can take. These are the IELTS General Training exam, the IELTS Academic exam and the IELTS Life Skills exam.

For more information about these, check out this article by the British Council for the Caribbean. Also, check out the following sections for more detail about these.

However, there is also the IELTS for UKVI exam that students can take either in the UK, or for the UK. As this type of exam is for more specific purposes, you can learn more about this type of IELTS exam by looking at the ‘What is the IELTS exam for?’ section below.

What is the IELTS General Training exam?

As previously mentioned, the IELTS General Training exam is one of the main types of IELTS exam that students can take. As the name suggests, it is the standard IELTS exam.

The IELTS General Training exam is the English language proficiency test that measures the candidate’s ability to use English in an everyday context. This exam tests the candidate’s ability to speak English in a practical context.

The IELTS General Training exam is designed to test candidates in both work and social situations. Therefore, it tests a wide range of the candidate’s language abilities.

To learn more about the IELTS General Training exam, check out this article by the British Council.

What is the IELTS Academic exam?

Another one of the main types of IELTS exam is the IELTS Academic exam. Once again, as the name suggests, this exam was specifically designed for academic purposes.

The IELTS Academic exam tests the ability of candidates to use the English language in an academic environment. This tests candidates on their ability to use specific academic language. It also measures if they’re ready to begin studying or training in the English language medium.

To learn more about this, check out this article by the IDP Connect.

What is the IELTS Life Skills exam?

The IELTS Life Skills exam is slightly different to the other two types of IELTS exam. This is because it only aims to test specific skills rather than the candidate’s overall English language ability.

In the IELTS Life Skills exam, candidates will only be tested on their speaking and listening skills at a specific level. Unlike the other types of IELTS exam, in the IELTS Life Skills exam, students will need to do the exam at a specific level, rather than being tested generally for their level.

The IELTS Life Skills exam is available for students to take at levels A1 and B1. Also, in the UK, you can take the exam at A2 level.

To learn more about the IELTS Life Skills exam, check out this page on the IELTS website.

If you want to learn more about what each of these types of IELTS exam consist of, check out this Think Student article. You can find more about what each of these types are used for in its respective sections below.

What is the IELTS exam for?

As previously mentioned, the IELTS exam is an English language proficiency test. Therefore, the simple answer is that the IELTS exam is for testing the candidate’s ability to use the English language.

The idea behind the IELTS exam is that it is supposed to help you to work, study or move to a country, where English is the native language. For more information about this, check out this page on the IELTS website.

The different types of IELTS exam were also designed for different purposes. To learn what these are, look at the following sections below.

What is the IELTS General Training exam for?

The IELTS General Training exam can be for a range of different candidates. This includes candidates, who are looking to work in an English-speaking country and candidates, who are looking to move to an English-speaking country.

 It also includes candidates, who are looking to get a job in their own country that has a requirement of a recognised English language test. It can also be used for students looking to study or in the UK, as long as that qualification is lower than degree level.

What is the IELTS Academic exam for?

The IELTS Academic exam is as the name suggests, used for academic purposes. This is particularly for students, who wish to study at undergraduate or postgraduate level in an English-speaking country. In the UK, this would also be for students looking to get a student visa.

While the IELTS Academic exam is primarily used for academic purposes, it can also be used for work purposes. This is if you want to work at a professional organisation in an English-speaking country.

What is the IELTS Life Skills exam for?

As previously mentioned, the IELTS Life Skills exam is set up slightly differently to the other IELTS exams. You might be wondering whether this also impacts what the purpose of this type of IELTS exam is.

The IELTS Life Skills exam is for candidates that need to prove their speaking and listening skills in English. This might be used for a variety of reasons, such as for work purposes or other reasons.

However, one of its main purposes is for getting some types of visas in the UK. Therefore, it can be pretty similar to other types of IELTS exam in terms of its purpose.

What is the IELTS for UKVI exam for?

The IELTS for UKVI exam is where a candidate specifically takes either their IELTS General Training or IELTS Academic exam for the purpose of getting a visa in the UK. For more information about this, check out this article by the British Council.

For more information about what the other IELTS exams are for, please click here and here to see the British Council’s information page for the IELTS General Training exam vs the IELTS Academic exam as well as the information page for the IELTS Life Skills exam from the IELTS website.

How much does the IELTS exam cost in the UK?

In this article, we’ve already looked at the purpose of the IELTS exam and why this might make doing it important. However, on the logistical side of things, one of the most important elements to look at is the cost of even doing one of these IELTS exams.

How much the IELTS exam is going to cost will depend on several factors. The main ones are the type of test that you are doing and the country that you’re doing it in. Also, you might find that how much it costs can slightly vary due to your provider and where you actually sit your exam.

Look at the following table to see the costs of the different types of IELTS exam in the UK for the British Council.

Type of IELTS exam Cost
IELTS General Training About £175- £195 depending on location
IELTS Academic About £175- £195 depending on location
IELTS Life Skills £155
IELTS for UKVI £205

For more information about these figures, please check out this article by the British Council. Also, it’s important to note that these figures are true at time of writing (August 2023) and if reading at a later date, these might have changed. Make sure that you double check all figures before taking any action.

Is IELTS required for UK?

As previously mentioned, the IELTS exam has a range of purposes, whether that is as a part of your visa application or if it’s to enable you to be able to study or work in an English-speaking country. However, especially as these reasons can vary for each IELTS type and for each candidate’s personal situation, you might be wondering whether taking the IELTS is essential or not.

In the UK, anyone looking to get a visa for the purpose of working, studying or simply to move to the UK will need to prove their ability to speak the English language at the level needed for their type of visa. The most standard way to do this is to do a secure English language test (SELT), such as the IELTS for UKVI exam. However, this might not always be required as there are other ways to prove English language ability.

First of all, for all visa types anyone who is from an English-speaking country won’t need to do the IELTS exam or do anything else to prove that they meet the English language requirement. Also, anyone, who has already proved that they have met the level with a previous application and anyone, who has done a degree in English, will once again not need to do the IELTS exam to meet the English language requirement.

For those looking to get a student visa or a skilled worker visa, the English language requirement can be met by having a GCSE, A-Level or Scottish Higher qualification done in English at a UK school. For those looking to get a student visa, the English language requirement can also be met by an assessment from a higher education provider or an exemption from a SELT test provider for some components of the exam due to disability alongside the sponsor (the education provider) confirming sufficient English language ability.

For more information about this, check out this page on the government website.

Can you get a job without IELTS in the UK?

In order to get a job in the UK, you will need to have some kind of work visa or work permit if you’re not a British or Irish citizen. This work visa or work permit can come in different forms as there are a range of different types. For more on this, check out this guide by Citizens Advice.

For all visas in the UK, especially the ones that will allow you to work in the UK, you will need to meet the English language requirement. This means that you will need to prove your ability to speak English at the specific level needed for your type of visa unless you are exempt.

The main way to do this is through a secure English language test (SELT), such as the IELTS for UKVI exam. However, as previously mentioned, there are a range of other ways to meet this requirement.

One of the ways that you can meet this requirement is by having studied an academic degree in English. Also, if you’re applying for a skilled worker visa, you can meet the English language requirement if you have a GCSE, A-Level or Scottish Higher qualification from a UK school.

Therefore, the answer is yes, you can get a job in the UK without doing the IELTS exam. For more information about this, check out this page on the government website.

Can you work as a nurse without IELTS in the UK?

As previously mentioned, you won’t particularly need to do the IELTS in order to be able to work in the UK. However, as jobs in areas, such as nursing, require lots of communication and are much more critical than other areas, you might be wondering if the specific IELTS exam is required for this.

If you’re looking to work as a nurse in the UK, you will most likely be applying for the health and care worker visa. This type of visa will need you to meet the English language requirement of about B1 level.

While doing a secure English language test, such as the IELTS exam, is one of the ways to achieve this, it’s not the only way. This means that yes, you can work as a nurse without doing the IELTS exam in the UK.

Other ways that you can meet this English language requirement for the health and care worker visa include having a GCSE, A-Level or Scottish Higher qualification from a UK school that you began studying for before you turned 18. It also includes having studied for a degree-level qualification in English.

Also, for working as a nurse in the UK, as well as for doctors, dentists and midwifes, you won’t need to prove your ability to use the English language if you have already passed an English language assessment that is accepted by the relevant regulated professional body. For more information about this, check out this guide on the health and care worker visa on the government website.

What is the passing score for the IELTS exam?

The typical IELTS exam, namely the IELTS General Training exam and the IELTS Academic exam, measures the ability of different candidates, who are each at different proficiencies in using the English language. Due to this, there is no passing score for the IELTS exam as well as no failing score.

Instead, the IELTS exam is graded using a score or “band” system, called the IELTS Band Score. In this, there are 10 bands, ranging from 0 to 9. Within these, candidates can either receive a full score range, where they will get a “.0” after the band they fall into, or they can get a mid-range score, where they will get “.5”

With 0 being the lowest band and 9 being the highest, these bands demonstrate different proficiencies that the candidate has. At band 0, the candidate didn’t even attempt the IELTS exam and then at band 1, the candidate’s English language ability is severely limited with them only being able to use a few isolated words. Whereas, at the other end of the spectrum at band 9, the candidate is an expert user, who is completely fluent in English.

What do the IELTS bands mean?

To see how the different bands of IELTS exam relate to the proficiency of the candidate, please refer to the following table.

IELTS Band Score Meaning
9 “Expert user”. This means that the candidate has complete understanding of the English language as their language use is fluent and accurate.
8 “Very good user”. This means that the candidate has almost complete understanding and fluency in English. However, they may make some occasional accuracy errors. Also, they may misunderstand in unfamiliar situations.
7 “Good user”. This means that the candidate has a good understanding of the English language and can handle complex language. However, they might still occasionally use language inaccurately or misunderstand in some situations.
6 “Competent user”. This means that the candidate has a fairly good understanding of the English language and can use fairly complex language. However, they will have some inaccuracies and use some language inappropriately.
5 “Modest user”. This means that the candidate has a moderate understanding of the English language and should be able to handle basic communication in their own field. However, this candidate is likely to make many mistakes.
4 “Limited user”. This candidate will be able to understand and use the English language in familiar situations. However, they are likely to frequently make mistakes and misunderstand and are not able to use complex language.
3 “Extremely limited user”. This candidate will only be able to understand in familiar situations. There will frequently be mistakes, consequently leading to breakdowns in communication.
2 “Intermittent user”. This candidate would have difficulties in understanding English in both written and spoken contexts.
1 “Non-user”. This candidate will only be able to use a few isolated words of English.
0 “Did not attempt the test”. This candidate didn’t answer any questions on the exam.

For more information about the IELTS Band Score and what each of these different bands mean, check out this article by the British Council.

How is the IELTS Life Skills exam graded?

While the general IELTS exam doesn’t have a pass or fail and instead uses the IELTS Band Scores, the IELTS Life Skills is graded differently. This is because unlike the general IELTS exams, it is only testing students for their skills at one level, rather than a range of different abilities, whether this is A1, A2 or B1.

The IELTS Life Skills exam is graded with either a pass or a fail. For more information about this check out this page on the IELTS website.

As the IELTS Life Skills exam only tests the candidate’s speaking and listening skills, the decision of whether the candidate receives a pass or fail will depend on the assessment criteria that candidates will need to meet to prove their proficiency in the English language. For more information about this, check out this guide by IDP.

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