What is an IELTS score?
Let’s start with the basics. IELTS is scored from 0 (didn’t attempt the test) to 9 (expert user). Click here to see the full scale. Nobody takes IELTS for fun, so you will be taking it for a good reason. Perhaps you want to emigrate to another country; maybe you are applying for a university place in the UK, the US or Australia. In either case, you will be told what IELTS band score you need to achieve. Or you can look it up online.
So, for example, if you want to study Psychology at the University of Bath, UK, the University’s website tells you: “You will normally need: IELTS: 7.0 overall with no less than 7.0 in all components”.
The first thing to note, then, is that there is no such thing as “a good score” in IELTS. There is only the score you need. Either you get it, and you’ve succeeded, or you don’t.
What are “components”?
The next question is what this means: “no less than 7.0 in all components”. As you probably know, IELTS is made up of four papers: IELTS Reading, IELTS Writing, IELTS Listening and IELTS Speaking. You will get a score for each of those papers — again between 0 and 9 — and these will be averaged to get your overall band score. How is this done?
IDP, one of the three publishers of IELTS, along with cambridge and the British Council, explains it like this:
“The Overall Band Score is the average of the four component scores, rounded to the nearest whole or half band. The component scores are weighted equally. If the average of the four components ends in .25, the Overall Band Score is rounded up to the next half band, and if it ends in .75, the Overall Band Score is rounded up to the next whole band. If the average ends with a fraction below .25 or .75, the overall score is rounded down.”
So, if you get Reading 6.0, Listening 6.5, Writing 5.5 and Speaking 6.5, the total is 24.5. Divide by 4 and you get 6.125. That means your band score will be 6.0.
But if you can manage to get 6.0 in Writing, that will push the total score up to 25. Divide that by 4 and you get 6.25, which is rounded up to 6.5. Which could make all the difference!
How does IELTS compare with other exams?
Maybe you already have a test result in another English exam, and you would like to cross-reference it with IELTS to find out where you are now. It’s easy to do this online. For example, if you have a TOEFL score, simply search for “IELTS-TOEFL cross-reference” in Google, and you will probably end up on this site. There you can use a simple calculator.
What if I don’t have another test result?
If you don’t already have a test score to cross-reference, you need to try sample tests and to use an IELTS band calculator. Click to the British Council approved IELTS score calculator. This page will point you every step of the way to diagnosing your current IELTS Reading band score and your IELTS Listening score. From there you will be able to use the overall IELTS score calculator to determine your required scores in the other papers.