What is IELTS/SELT/PTE?
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is a standardised English language test designed for foreign speakers who wish to study, work and live in an English-speaking environment. The IELTS language certificate can open doors to international academic and professional opportunities in many institutions and places in the world where English is used.
Established in 1989, IELTS has become the most popular high-stakes English-language certificate in the world. There are currently around 1,000 test locations in more than 140 countries, carrying out over two million tests each year. Over 9,000 organizations worldwide accept the certificate as proof of proficiency in the English language.
IELTS is jointly owned and managed by the British Council, Cambridge English Language Assessment and IDP Education Australia. IELTS testing materials are written by international teams of writers from different English-speaking countries, so the content reflects real-life situations. The Speaking part of the IELTS test is a one-to-one assessment with a real person, not with a computer. You will thus have conversations with an examiner who can effectively evaluate your language skills, without being distracted by other candidates or technical problems.
Types of IELTS tests
There are currently three versions of the IELTS test: Academic, General Training and Life Skills. These differ in content and address different target groups.
- IELTS Academic is intended for people who want to attend study programmes at universities and other institutions of higher education which are taught in English. You will need an Academic test band score to enroll for an undergraduate or graduate degree where the teaching is in English. You can also take this version of IELTS to register within a professional body in an English-speaking country. Therefore, if you intend to join professional associations in disciplines such as medicine, nursing, law or engineering, you may need to pass the IELTS Academic exam.
- IELTS General Training is a good choice if you want to migrate to an English-speaking country and work there, or if you plan to attend a secondary school. An IELTS score is often required by the government authorities of English-speaking countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. These countries accept the General Training certificate as evidence of language competences on the part of immigration and study visa applicants. Sometimes, even native English speakers need an English language qualification to migrate to certain English-speaking countries.
- IELTS Life Skills, the test for UK Visas and Immigration, is appropriate if you wish to immigrate to or obtain citizenship in the United Kingdom. Unlike the other two versions, the Life Skills test assesses only your speaking and listening English skills, at levels A1 or B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). You will need IELTS Life Skills A1 to apply for a UK Visas and Immigration family, spouse or partner visa, and IELTS Life Skills B1 to obtain citizenship or the right to permanent residence. The purpose of this exam is to determine how well you communicate with other people in everyday English.
The three IELTS versions do not all have the same scoring system. There is no minimum score required to pass the Academic or General Training tests. You will be graded with band scores ranging from 1 to 9 for each of the four parts of the test: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking.
After the examination, you will be given a total score in whole or half bands, e.g. 6.5 or 8.0. Essentially, band 1 indicates non-speakers, while band score 9 means an expert level of competence. Band 6 corresponds to a ’competent user’, who generally has an effective command of the English language. IELTS Life Skills has only two possible results: pass/fail.
Test your English language proficiency
Universities, colleges, governments and employers around the world require different levels of English depending on their profile and objectives. It is therefore very important to check what test score you need before taking one of the IELTS exams. The IELTS Academic and General Training test scores are valid for two years from the day you receive your results. Similarly, a candidate who has passed an IELTS Life Skills A1 or Life Skills B1 test cannot retake the exam within two years. If you do not pass, there are no restrictions on retaking the test.
Advantages of IELTS
IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is popular worldwide with speakers of English as a second language as proof of their proficiency. IELTS is jointly owned and managed by the British Council, Cambridge English Language Assessment and IDP Education Australia. If you plan to enroll at a university or college, apply to business organizations, or register for a visa from government agencies in countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, or Canada, the IELTS test can help you reach your education, career or life goals.
Whether you are applying for study, work or a visa, the IELTS examination is the same in terms of content, examiners, format, level of difficulty and scoring. If your test results are not satisfactory, there is no limit on when and how often you can retake it, but it is advisable to take some time and study more before your next attempt. In most countries, test centres offer preparatory courses and language classes, but you can also find online learning resources that will help you refresh your knowledge and explain how best to prepare for the exam.
The Academic IELTS is required for university or college admission, while the General Training IELTS is intended for career and immigration purposes. The IELTS Life Skills is a new UK government-approved Secure English Language Test (SELT) to support your UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) application.
IELTS for study
If you are interested in studying abroad, remember that many universities worldwide and all universities and colleges in the UK accept IELTS test results. Tier 4 student visa applicants can apply to universities in the UK with an IELTS result from any of the 1,000 IELTS test locations worldwide, unless the institution has additional requirements. Some universities act as local agents on behalf of the British Council, ensuring the organization and delivery of the IELTS examinations.
If you are considering an undergraduate or postgraduate degree programme, you should take the Academic IELTS test. The General Training IELTS test is sufficient for programmes which do not award a degree. Find your chosen college or university and check the version of IELTS that is right for you.
As a future international student, you will need to demonstrate that you are qualified and can successfully complete a degree programme taught in English. You will therefore need higher IELTS scores to enroll in advanced degree programmes such as Masters or PhDs are.
IELTS for work
Providing proof of your language proficiency is an important step in obtaining a visa so that you can work abroad. Language skills are key to career success and are considered a valuable asset in addition to all the other requirements of any job. If you are a work visa applicant, you must achieve either ‘competent’ English or ‘vocational’ English language skills, meaning you will have to be prepared for more than basic conversational English.
- In the UK, applicants must score at least 6.5 on each of the four components of the test (Reading, Speaking, Listening and Writing).
- For working in Australia, a test score of 5 is considered to be ’vocational English’ level. A band score of 6 means that the applicant is a ’competent English’ speaker.
- In New Zealand, work permit applicants must gain an overall band score of 4 or higher in the IELTS General or Academic module. They may also provide additional evidence of their English language abilities, such as information about countries they have lived in, their current country of residence or their family’s knowledge of English.
- In Canada, applicants should check directly with the organization they want to apply to for the IELTS score requirements. Employers and educational institutions generally set their own language requirements.
In all these countries, you should take in consideration that minimum score requirements vary depending on your chosen occupation. For some professions, applicants must achieve a minimum of 6 in each of the testing modules, whereas for teachers, for example, a minimum score of 7 is required.
IELTS for immigration
Government agencies use the IELTS exam as part their applications processes to obtain citizenship or the right to permanent residence. They consider language proficiency to be strongly related to people’s ability to integrate into the community and the workplace. The IELTS exam is accepted by immigration authorities and continues to play an important role in using language assessment as a means to control migration numbers.
A new UK-government-approved Secure English Language Test (SELT) has been introduced as part of the visa application process. The test is known as IELTS Life Skills or ‘IELTS for UKVI’. This means that IELTS can be used to prove your English language abilities in support of a UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) application. The IELTS Life Skills test requires you to demonstrate your speaking and listening skills only at level A1 or B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). At the end of the exam, you will receive a pass/fail result rather than band scores.
- Immigration to New Zealand requires an IELTS overall score of 6.5 in either the General Training or Academic IELTS modules. This is mandatory for a visa application.
- Canada accepts IELTS, but you will also have to achieve the Canadian Language Benchmarks standard.
- Australia recognises both Vocational and Competent English by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
Check with government agencies or institutions in these countries for specific language requirements and scores regarding immigration.