Around the world, tens of thousands of people are preparing to take IELTS and they will all have a target score in mind. What that score is depends on their personal goals, but the most common target seems to be band 7. Does that mean that band 7 is a good score? What exactly is a good score for IELTS?
In this article, I will explain a few things that will help you to better understand. I’ll show you the different IELTS scores, how your target score may vary depending on your aims, and whether or not IELTS is actually a good predictor of English ability. In other words, does a good IELTS score mean that you can really speak English well enough to thrive in an English-language environment?
What is a good IELTS score?
When you sit IELTS, you will be given a score of between 0 and 9, with 0 meaning that you did not do anything at all and 9 meaning that you have an extremely good grasp of English. Clearly, then, band 9 is the best that you could achieve.
But you do not need to be the best to get a get good score. For most people, band 7 is the target, and we can see from the above score range that band 7 is defined as “a good user” of English. As such, most immigration departments, universities, and employers seem to believe that an IELTS candidate who can achieve band 7 has a good grasp of English.
Thus, we can conclude that band 7 is a good IELTS score.
How is this affected by your personal aims?
People take IELTS for different reasons – work, immigration, education, and more. According to the official IELTS website, it “is accepted by more than 3,400 colleges and universities in the USA” and 11,000 around the world. Indeed, education does seem to be the most common reason for people to sit this test.
For my IELTS writing correction service, I help thousands of students to prepare and about 70% of them are getting ready to study abroad. The other 30% are mostly people who want to go abroad to work, with a small number joining their families.
In any case, the vast majority of my students want to get a band 7 overall, and most of them need at least 6.5 in each section. Of course, the higher their score, the better.
Looking online, we can see that 6.5 is a common minimum accepted IELTS score for many universities around the world. Here are some examples:
|Institution||Minimum IELTS Score|
So why do so many people want to score band 7?
As you can tell, all of these are minimum required scores and some of these universities are quite competitive. If you have the minimum score and other applicants for your course have better scores, then you are less likely to be accepted. Therefore, a band 6.5 might be technically acceptable but it is not a good enough score.
Also, keep in mind that certain universities require you to do additional courses if you have a low IELTS score. These courses usually cost money and take several weeks or months, so it is often necessary for students to avoid them. Several universities I have personally worked for accepted students with low IELTS grades (band 5) and then forced them to do summer courses to improve their English abilities. This could be quite expensive.
Is IELTS an accurate predictor of English ability?
Ok, so we have seen that generally band 7 is viewed as a good IELTS score. But does it actually mean that you are good at English? In other words, is IELTS a good way of measuring English proficiency?
Personally, I would say that IELTS is a pretty good English test but that it has some flaws. It is good in that students will almost never score higher than their real English level, so for universities, employers, and immigration departments it is very useful.
But does a student with a band 7 certificate really have a good enough grasp of English to succeed at university in an English-speaking country?
There have been several studies into this issue, which we will explore here:
Amanda Bayliss and D.E. Ingram from the University of Melbourne ran a small but interesting study that came to a few conclusions.
Firstly, they noted something quite obvious:
Individuals might perceive their language levels quite differently to those implied by their IELTS test results.
In other words, IELTS candidates might feel that their grade is unfair and that IELTS is thus flawed. But this untrue, they claim, because:
IELTS scores can quite accurately predict students’ language behaviour in the first six months of their study program.
From this, we can conclude that IELTS scores are very useful to universities because they help to correctly identify a student’s actual English level, even if the student thinks that they are better than they really are.
If we probe a little further, we can see that the mean IELTS score of the students in this study was 6.45, which is roughly the minimum level required for most universities. The study determined that, of these people, 71% had an English level good enough for their course, with the remaining students not good enough, and about 14% far below the required standard.
They concluded that:
On-going language development and support are essential, especially for students whose proficiency is below IELTS 7.
This confirms that band 7 is a good score for IELTS and that anything less than that is insufficient for people wanting to go and study abroad.
Interestingly, whilst most universities would theoretically accept a student of a band 6.5 level, IELTS itself suggests that band 7 is acceptable for students in “linguistically less demanding academic courses” and at least 7.5 for “linguistically demanding” ones.
A paper by Dr. Dorothy A. Yen and Dr. Joanne Kuzma at the University of Worcester looked at the performance of Chinese students. You will see from my table above that Worcester accepts students of a very low IELTS level (4.5) but requires them to participate in a 10-week language course.
Interestingly, when students achieve a band 6 score, they do not have the English skills required to actually understand lectures. According to one lecturer:
The Chinese students do not even understand what I was saying. One of my students needs a personal interpreter with him so that he can understand the content of the lectures.
The researchers noted:
Whilst the system of IELTS has been used as a valid authentication to identify and verify students level of English, students with an IELTS band of 6.0 are supposed to be able to use English competently. The experience in WBS suggests that this may not be the case.
Thus, it seems obvious that band 6 is not a good score.
After looking at students of differing IELTS levels, the researchers concluded:
the findings of this research confirm the positive correlation between grades and IELTS scores based upon quantitative data collected from Chinese students here at the University of Worcester. It shows that low IELTS scores could point to the possibility of students having poorer grades, especially when they have low Listening and Writing results.
In other words, IELTS is quite a good predictor of actual English level and ability to succeed in a real English-speaking academic environment.
Thus, we can say that band 7 is indeed a good IELTS score and a good indicator of English proficiency, but that scoring above this is not only going to help you get into a good university but will make it far more likely that you will thrive once you are there.