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The IELTS: English Language Requirements for International Students

What is the IELTS?

The IELTS – or the International English Language Testing System – is an examination to measure English proficiency for the purposes of study, work, or migration to an English-speaking country. Whilst the test comes in two formats – the Academic and the General Training – the most common is the Academic, which most universities recognise in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and the US.

The IELTS Academic is for both undergraduate and postgraduate courses – as well as for some professional contexts. If you are a student from a country in which English is not the first language, you will almost certainly need to take the IELTS.

Do I need to sit the IELTS?

This applies even to those of you who have studied in a school in which taught in English. However, if you took Singapore-Cambridge GCE A Level or International Baccalaureate courses at high school, good grades in your exams may be sufficient proof of your English proficiency. As a general rule, you will usually need at least three subjects in your A Levels.

These policies tend to differ from university to university. Just to make sure, check with your chosen university before you start your application.

What does the test involve?

For those who need to sit it, the IELTS assesses you on four skills – reading, writing, listening, and speaking. The main examination takes 2.5 hours, with reading and writing lasting an hour each and the listening taking thirty minutes. On the other hand, you can be in and out of the speaking exam in less than fifteen minutes, and you can sit this exam a week before or after the main one.

The reading and listening parts both test your receptive comprehension, assessing your ability to understand both the general sense, and the details, of a text. The writing part usually demands that you describe a given chart or graph, and then complete an essay.

The speaking section, meanwhile, is in three parts: some brief questions about you; a presentation on a topic (after a minute’s preparation); and then further questions on that topic.

How is the IELTS marked?

The good news is that it is impossible to fail the IELTS! However, it is not always easy to achieve the grade that your application needs.

The test is marked on a scale from zero to nine. Nine shows an expert command of English and zero is awarded to those who didn’t write anything whatsoever. The markers will calculate an average of your marks for each of the four individual skills sections and combine them into this scale.

What mark will I need?

Most universities in the UK ask for an IELTS score of between six and seven. Most of the more prestigious universities ask for a higher grade – for example, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, as well as University College London. In the US, the average required grade for applications is seven. Some schools – such as Columbia University – ask for a score of eight, however.

How should I prepare for the IELTS?

The IELTS website offers lots of resources for preparation and practice. However, it is recommendable to get an who can talk you through the course.

Speaking brilliant English is not always enough to receive the highest marks. As this graph shows, native speakers of English do not necessarily pass with flying colours. An experienced tutor would show you how to answer questions in a way that the examiner’s like. This will ensure that you get the mark.

Don’t forget to register for the IELTS exam. Examination centres are in forty countries across the world, and examinations take place forty-eight times a year. Those held in Singapore can be found on the British Council website here.