There is a lot of information available online about IELTS, but still many myths persist and I often hear questions from people who struggle with some of the basic ideas behind this English test. In this article, I’m going to answer those questions as simply as possible.

What Does IELTS Stand for?

“IELTS” is an acronym that stands for “International English Language Testing System.” It is basically an exam that is administered by the British Council and IDP and its sole aim is to determine the level of English proficiency of the people who sit it.

It is very common to see people misspell this acronym as “EILTS” or “ILEST” or “IETLS.” However, none of these are correct. It is just “IELTS.” Sometimes I even see people write “AILS English test” but of course this is not correct, either.

When it is said aloud, it is pronounced like “eye-ell-tz,” and it is usually called “the IELTS” and people often say “the IELTS exam” even though “testing system” basically means “exam” anyway.

Is IELTS Really an International Test?

IELTS first appeared in 1980 and it was run by Cambridge and the British Council. Back then, it was called the English Language Testing Service![1] However, there were some problems with this and in 1989 they joined with an Australian organisation, IDP, to strength the test and make it more useful. Because it was no longer just a British entity, it became the International English Language Testing System.

IELTS is now conducted by IDP or the British Council in most countries of the world. It is accepted as proof of English proficiency by the British government and many other immigration and education facilities around the world, as well as employers of many different kinds.

IELTS is known as آیلتس in Arabic and 雅思 in Chinese. It is now extremely popular among people who wish to move abroad for immigration or educational purposes. You can use IELTS for immigration purposes in Canada, the UK, and Australia, among other places.

Should I Study for IELTS or Another English Test?

There are various popular English tests available, including IELTS, PTE, TOEFL, and OET. At the moment, IELTS is trusted by many organisations around the world as a reliable assessment of a person’s English ability. The most common test is probably TOEFL but IELTS is preferred by the UK government and other institutions within the country, so IELTS is growing and many people know that they must take this exam if they want to move abroad for work or study.

There is a feeling among many test-takers that IELTS is the hardest English test and this may be true. Certainly, the writing section is unusually difficult. However, perhaps the problem is that IELTS is very difficult to predict or cheat on. IELTS is designed in such a way that it is extraordinarily difficult for people to fool the examiner or get a higher score than they deserve. Sure, there are many IELTS training schools around the world that try to do this… but none of them can.

When choosing an English test, you should consider your needs. If you are in a medical profession, you might find that OET is better for you, and some countries might prefer TOEFL, which many people find to be easier than IELTS.

How do I Prepare for IELTS?

I get this question almost every day, and my advice is usually the same: 1) Study general English, and 2) Learn about the IELTS exam.

I have written extensively about IELTS preparation on this website, and I have more than 300 articles that give you materials and advice about it. Perhaps this one is the most basic. It covers everything that you need to know from when you first decide to sit IELTS.

Anyway, the key thing to remember is that IELTS is an English test. You cannot cheat the system or fool the examiner. You need to learn English for IELTS preparation. If you are totally fluent in the language, then the exam will be easy for you.

Is There an IELTS Course?

There is no official IELTS course. The word “IELTS” refers to the exam itself, which is comprised of four parts:

  • Reading
  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Writing

There are many schools and teachers around the world who offer IELTS training courses. I have a free course for IELTS writing here. However, there is no such thing as an official IELTS course. You can search on Google to find schools near you that provide IELTS training, and there are many companies who offer coaching online, too. These vary widely in terms of quality. To be honest, 95% of IELTS courses are absolutely terrible and you should not trust them at all. Be wary of anyone who claims they can guarantee you a high score. They are lying.

You can find IELTS courses on Udemy and other similar websites. These are good because you can read reviews in advance.

Can We Take IELTS Online?

It is now possible to take a computer version of IELTS rather than doing the exam on paper. However, you still need to go to your local IELTS test centre and use the computers there. The reasons for this are obvious:

  1. It reduces the likelihood of cheating
  2. You can guarantee the equipment is good
  3. There will be no connection problems
  4. You get your results quicker

It is probably #1 that is the most important factor there. When you go to do IELTS, you need to take ID to verify your identity. Therefore, it is impossible to have someone else sit the test for you. You are also not allowed mobile phones or any other type of digital device, so you cannot cheat on the test. If you were able to do the exam from home online, it would be too easy to cheat.

Learn about the difference between paper and computer IELTS here.

What do the IELTS Band Scores Mean?

When you finish your IELTS test, you will receive a band score for each section and a total band score as well. This refers to your level of English. The IELTS band scores run from 0 (non-user) to 9 (expert user). Many immigration and education facilities around the world require people to have at least a band 7, so that seems to be the target for most IELTS candidates.

You can see more about IELTS band score descriptors here:

band scores for ielts dpxlby - Common Questions about IELTS

It is worth noting here that each of these bands refers to a rank, so we say “band 6” and band 7,” etc. They are not counting anything, so we don’t say “6 bands” or “7 bands.” I explain this in the following video:

What an IELTS Band Score Equivalent to?

Your IELTS band score should be enough to act as proof of your English ability for work or immigration purposes, but if you want to know the equivalent just out of interest, you can convert it. This picture shows how IELTS band scores match to other ways of measuring English proficiency, such as a TOEFL score. You can use this for TOEFL to IELTS conversion:

ielts band scores 1024x972 - Common Questions about IELTS
Source

You can see, for example, that a B2 (which is a CEFR classification) is equivalent to about band 5.5-6.5 in IELTS.

How Long Does My IELTS Certificate Last?

After you get your IELTS results, your certificate is valid for 2 years. This means that you can use it for various purposes until 2 years have passed by, but after that you will need to sit the exam again.

You may wonder why that is, and it certainly causes a lot of frustration. However, language ability diminishes over time. I have heard some English teachers claim that your IELTS band score drops by 0.5 points for every 6 months without practice, and I definitely believe that.

As such, it is important to time your test just right. You should not take it too early or you will not be ready to get the score you need, and also if you do it early and then need to apply for a job or university place later, maybe it will be too late for you and you’ll need to sit the test again.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_English_Language_Testing_System#History