There are many frustrations that people feel about the IELTS exam, but perhaps the most common one is the sense of hopelessness that comes with trying to increase their score from band 6.5 to 7. 😩

In today’s lesson, I am going to show you how to increase your IELTS score from band 6.5 to 7 by providing honest, actionable advice. 🎯 It is not an easy process but it is definitely possible if you have the right attitude.

This lesson is going to be divided into several sections to make it easier for you to follow. If you want, you can skip ahead to the most relevant section:

  1. An overview of why scoring band 7 is so difficult
  2. Moving from band 6.5 to 7 in IELTS reading and listening
  3. Moving from band 6.5 to 7 in IELTS speaking and writing

From Band 6.5 to 7: An Overview

First of all, it is essential that you understand the basics of IELTS and its scoring system. Unfortunately, most people do not really appreciate what it is about.

Here is a description from the British Council that makes the meaning pretty clear.

Still, to some people it is not obvious. How could there be such a big difference between a “competent user” and a “good user”?

Well, those small differences are actually quite important. Notice “some inaccuracies” compared with “occasional inaccuracies.” This might seem like a really minor distinction but it could equally be interpreted as “difficult to understand vs easy to understand.”

In short, there is a small jump between band 6 and 7, and of course this is even smaller when you consider moving from 6.5 to 7.

Do IELTS Examiners Deliberately Stop Candidates Scoring Band 7?

There is a popular theory among IELTS candidates that the IELTS organisers or examiners are engaged in a conspiracy against them. This has proven quite popular and is often discussed on Facebook and elsewhere.

It is an appealing theory that could be summarised like this:

IELTS makes a lot of money by charging people to take their exam. Most immigration departments, employers, and educational facilities want you to score band 7, so IELTS has imposed an unofficial policy that makes it almost impossible to score above band 6.5. Thus, people are forced to take the test again and again.

Like most conspiracy theories, this one is popular because:

  1. It is tempting to believe it.
  2. It is hard to disprove.
  3. The truth is unpalatable.

I can say with some confidence that IELTS does not deliberately suppress anyone’s score. The aim of this organisation is to provide an accurate assessment of people’s English abilities, and they do that very well.

(You can read more in this article: Is IELTS Unfair?)

Why is it so Hard to Achieve Band 7?

If there is no great conspiracy, then one must ask why it is so difficult to score band 7 for IELTS.

In fact, many people easily score band 7 for reading and listening, but struggle for speaking and writing. Even some very advanced candidates struggle with the writing test.

This is all because band 7 means “a good user of English.” At this level, you are expected to communicate easily and make few mistakes. This is not hard with receptive skills such as reading and listening… but it is much more difficult for speaking and writing.

The fact is that scoring band 7 is not impossible. I have many friends who would sit IELTS tomorrow and score band 7 or 8 or 9. These are not the sort of people who spread conspiracy theories on Facebook, though! You would not hear them whining on Twitter or looking for cheats, shortcuts, and tricks.

Let’s face it – from the list of reasons above, we can see that #3 is often correct. Most people who score band 6 in IELTS are simply not ready to score band 7. They just did not meet the criteria and they do not know why.

Improving from Band 6.5 to 7 in IELTS Listening and Reading

For IELTS reading, moving from band 6.5 to 7 is not usually considered a big jump. This is because you can get many questions wrong and still be awarded a band 7. If you do the academic reading test and get 10 questions wrong, you will still be awarded a band 7!

*Note that the scoring system is a little different for academic and general reading because the general reading passages are noticeably easy in comparison to the academic ones. Scoring 30 questions right for academic IELTS would get you a band 7… but you would need to get 34 questions correct in the general test to achieve this same result.

ielts academic vs general reading

Still, around the world people tend to find that reading is the easiest part of the IELTS exam. You have the material in front of you and you can logically work out many of the right answers. The hardest thing, of course is time.

Listening is a bit harder than reading because of course you cannot see the words that you need to understand. Yes, the questions are written in front of you but the actual material that you need to interpret is an audio recording.

Still, for this section it is also quite common that people score bands 7, 8, and 9. Again, you would need to get three quarters of the questions correct to score band 7.

How to Improve your Score for Listening and Reading

For these two areas of the IELTS exam, you can improve your score by practising frequently. I would recommend doing a wide range of reading practice featuring different accents. Also, listen to English-language recordings for fun – podcasts, YouTube videos, TV shows, movies, sports events, etc. All of this will help.

You can do some specific IELTS listening and reading practice tests online but you should not rely too heavily upon them. Remember that your real test will be different. Instead, look at your scores to get an idea of what you might achieve in your next test. If you are routinely scoring about band 7 then you might want to wait until you can easily score 7.5 or 8 before you do the test. Remember that test-day nerves can reduce your score.

Finally, I will advise you to practise under realistic test conditions. This is because the time constraints of IELTS reading and listening are what make them difficult. Of course, if you had 2 hours to do the reading exam then you would have a good chance of scoring full marks.

How to Get Band 7 in IELTS Writing

Next, we come to the most difficult part of the IELTS exam – writing! Many people dread this section and it is now infamous. 😱 I have routinely met people who score band 9 for reading and listening, and then 7 or 8 for speaking… and just 6.5 for writing!

It may seem hard to believe but this is really common. There are various reasons why writing is the hardest part of the IELTS exam but we can summarise it thusly:

  • You must produce language, not simply receive it.
  • There are many aspects to consider – spelling, punctuation, structure, etc.
  • Small mistakes can seriously obscure your meaning.

Put it this way: In IELTS writing, you could understand the question perfectly and then think of the most amazing answer… but a few small mistakes in your vocabulary and grammar could mean that it is hard to understand your meaning. This would cause your score to drop sharply.

Consider that you are judged according to 4 criteria:

  1. Task Achievement/Response
  2. Coherence and Cohesion
  3. Lexical Resource
  4. Grammatical Range and Accuracy

These all look at different areas of your ability but they also influence each other. If your grammar is really bad, then your cohesion will be harmed and if you have used the wrong word a few times, the whole meaning (Task Achievement) might become confused. Thus, all of your scores would be reduced.

One of the biggest problems with IELTS writing is that you can only make a couple of grammatical mistakes if you want to score band 7. With more than 250 words written, it is hard to keep to just 2 or 3 errors, and so hardly anyone scores more than band 6 for GRA. (Note: There are no half marks for individual criteria.)

The best way to target a band 7 overall score for IELTS writing is to excel at the two “thinking skills”:

ielts writing - thinking skills vs language skills

Honestly, learning how to master Task Achievement/Response and Coherence and Cohesion is a process that can take a matter of days, but learning to master Lexical Resource and Grammatical Range and Accuracy could take years

Thus, your best hope of scoring a band 7 would be doing this:

Task Achievement8
Coherence and Cohesion8
Lexical Resource6
Grammatical Range and Accuracy6
Total7

Obviously, you should hope for the best possible score, but realistically some people are not going to be able to score band 7 for the two language sections. They are just too difficult.

All of this might seem really hard to figure out, but you can have your IELTS writing assessed by an expert to find out your current level, then plan your progress from there. You can use my writing correction service to help you with this. It is the best way to progress towards an overall band 7 score for IELTS writing.

Band 6.5 vs 7 for IELTS Writing – What’s the Difference?

One last question: is there really a big difference between band 6.5 and band 7 for IELTS writing? The simple answer is “no.” The difference is not big… but there is a difference and to examiners it is quite clear.

When I am marking IELTS essays and assigning grades, I do two main readings of the text:

  1. I read quickly for the main idea and to analyse development/structure.
  2. I read slowly to correct all mistakes with vocabulary and grammar.

My first reading will give me a good idea of the candidate’s score for Task Achievement and Coherence and Cohesion, then the second reading will help me figure out the language parts: Lexical Resource and Grammatical Range and Accuracy.

Most of my writing correction students have the same basic problem: They are close to getting a band 7 but they just cannot quite get there. They want me to show them what’s wrong and how to fix it.

In most cases, the problem is… GRAMMAR!! 🤬 Yes, it’s true. This really is the biggest problem. As I mentioned before, trouble with grammar can harm your score for other sections as well by making your work very confusing.

Typically, I would say that the difference between a band 6.5 essay and a band 7 essay is that there are a few more language mistakes in a band 6.5 essay, and that these affect the other scores. I mentioned above that you can make just 2 or 3 grammar errors and score band 7 for GRA, so this is usually a major culprit.

Other possible problems that stop you from getting band 7:

  • Many misspelled words
  • An over-use of cohesive devices
  • Over-generalisation (words like “always”)
  • Misinterpreting the question

How to Get Band 7 in IELTS Speaking

Some people are really confident about speaking in other languages, so they easily score band 7 or higher for IELTS speaking, but for most people it is a nerve-wracking experience and poses some challenges.

In order to score band 7 for IELTS speaking, you need to first consider the 4 marking criteria:

  • Fluency and Coherence
  • Lexical Resource
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy
  • Pronunciation

Here are the requirements for bands 6 and 7:

Note that that there are no half bands given for the individual areas of marking. Thus, you cannot score 6.5 for Lexical Resource. You would instead be given 6 or 7.

Basically, a person who can score band 7 speaks quite freely and is easy to understand, while a person who scores band 6 is going to be more hesitant and a little harder to understand.

How to Improve from band 6.5 to 7 for IELTS Speaking

First of all, you need to find out your current level and identify the problems you face. For example, some people are amazing with vocabulary and grammar but struggle badly at pronouncing English words. A really common problem is for people to speak English with a high degree of fluency but a low degree of accuracy. This would give them a score like this:

Fluency and Coherence8
Lexical Resource6
Grammatical Range and Accuracy6
Pronunciation6
Total6.5

Knowing this, you can prepare according to your strengths and weaknesses.

Your preparation should obviously depend upon your problems, so here are some suggestions. In the left column are weaknesses and in the right are exercises to overcome these:

Fluency and CoherencePractise often in a casual setting to build confidence. Later, do some mock tests with a stranger to make yourself comfortable in an exam setting. Practise talking at length without hesitation or self-correction. Record your voice and listen to yourself.
Lexical ResourceLearn vocabulary from context and make sure that you understand words fully before attempting to use them in an exam. Pick up new words from TV shows, podcasts, etc.
Grammatical Range and AccuracyGet a good grammar book or sign up for a grammar course. Study every day, test yourself often, and address your grammatical weaknesses.
PronunciationRepeat what native speakers have said. Try dubbing apps. Work on specific problem areas (like “th” sounds). Use YouTube guides or find a language teacher.

One final point: Many people mistakenly think that we say “7 bands” in English, but of course we do not – we are not counting a number of bands! I often get asked, “how to get 7 band in IELTS speaking?” and I tell my students, “First you should stop saying “7 band!” This is not correct English. I actually have a guide to talking about IELTS here:

I hope that this lesson has helped you to understand what is required to progress from band 6.5 to 7 in IELTS. Essentially, it is a matter of learning lots of English and a little about the exam. There are no mysteries and your hard work will always be rewarded accordingly.