International students interested in studying or working in the U.S. are often required to demonstrate a proficiency in the English language. Taking the International English Language Test System (IELTS) exam provides a way to do just this. Obviously, what matters most about the exam is getting a high score. But one might wonder how the scoring system works and what counts as a high score. The following information should help address these questions.
The Scoring Scale
The IELTS has a unique scoring scale. It uses what the IELTS calls “band scores.” There is no “passing” or “failing” the exam; instead, one receives a band score within the range of 1-9, with 1 being a very low score and a 9 being a very high score. Band scores come in .5 point increments (e.g. 4.5, 6, 6.5, etc.).
Test-takers will receive a band score for each section of the exam – listening, reading, writing, and speaking – but also a band score for the entire exam as a whole. The scores on the individual sections of the test can be particularly helpful for those who have particular strengths and weaknesses. For instance, a test-taker might have a lot more practice speaking English than writing it. The availability of band scores for each section of the exam lets test-takers know if they need to improve some skill related to the English language. This is especially useful information for those who intend to take the exam again, since it lets them know which section of the exam they need to focus their studies.
What Scores Mean
The numerical band scores correlate with qualitative assessments of one’s proficiency with the English language. For example, a score of 1 indicates that the test-taker has little competence with English apart from knowing a few words, while a score of 9 indicates that one is very fluent in English and should have no problem working or studying in environments where it is the primary language in use.