IELTS Faq's

How often a student can re-take the exam?

New Policy 90 Day Re-Take Rule: From 1 May 2006 the policy on candidates re-taking IELTS had been amended. The restriction on re-taking IELTS within 90 days will be removed and candidates will be able to repeat the test whenever they wish.

The current restriction on repeating the test within 90 days at any centre will remain in place for all candidates until the end of April 2006. All candidates from 1 May will be able to repeat at the next available test, regardless of the date of their previous test.

IELTS is now used by a range of receiving organisations across the world and many of them require candidates to demonstrate adequate performance overall as well as by individual skill. It is possible for candidates to attain their required overall band score but fail to achieve a specific module score in a particular skill area.

Candidates will still be asked to indicate on their application form whether they have taken the test before. This information will appear on the Test Report Form and will only be used for monitoring purposes.

Why does an IELTS Test Report Form have a recommended 2-year validity period?

The IELTS Handbook recommends that a Test Report Form, which is more than two years old should only be accepted as evidence of present level of language ability if it is accompanied by proof that a candidate has actively maintained or tried to improve their English language proficiency. This recommendation is based upon what we know about the phenomenon of second language loss or 'attrition', a topic which is well-researched and documented in the literature.

Why can't the IELTS modules be taken as separate tests?

IELTS is designed to assess a candidate's overall English language proficiency within a specified time-frame. This is achieved by asking candidates to provide evidence of their reading, listening, writing and speaking abilities at a certain point in time: the Listening, Reading and Writing modules are administered on the same day; for logistical reasons the Speaking module can be administered up to 7 days before or after the other components. The four component modules are not offered as separate tests to be taken at different times; in this sense IELTS is not a modular test.

Performance in the four skill areas is combined to provide a maximally reliable composite assessment of a candidate's overall language proficiency at a given point in time. Scores on the four component modules are computed to provide an overall band score; the four component scores are also reported separately for their diagnostic value, to indicate a candidate's relative strengths and weaknesses.

In what ways can the IELTS test be described as 'integrated'?

The term 'integrated' is sometimes used to refer to different features or qualities of testing procedures or test tasks, e.g. cloze tasks have been described as 'integrative' as opposed to 'discrete-point'. A more common approach today is to talk about testing 'integrated skills'; this usually means that completion of a test task involves using more than one macro-skill, e.g. a speaking or writing task depends upon the test-taker processing some associated reading and/or listening input. The term 'integrated' may also be used to suggest that test tasks bear a close resemblance to 'real-life' language activities.

IELTS has always included testing of the four skills - Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking; profile scores on the four modules are reported separately and also contribute equally to an overall band score. Furthermore, although each module focuses on a particular skill, test tasks often entail the use of other skills and are thus 'integrated' to some degree.

For example, Task 1 of the Academic Writing Module gives candidates some visual input (a diagram or table) and asks them to present the information in their own words. Task 1 of the General Training module involves reading a short prompt about a particular problem and using the information it contains to write an appropriate letter of response. Task 2 for both modules presents a point of view, argument or problem which candidates must read and respond to in their writing. All tasks contain some indication of audience and purpose for writing.

The face-to-face Speaking module clearly involves listening skills as well as speaking ability; the examiner frame constrains the listening input to make it fair and accessible for all candidates. In Part 2 candidates are given a prompt to read on a card; they are also given one minute of preparation time and invited to make written notes if they wish. All these task features reflect a degree of 'integratedness'.

Tasks in the Reading and Listening modules can involve note-taking, labeling, classification, and table/flowchart completion.

Why isn't there a link between the Reading and Writing modules?

Removal of the link between the IELTS Reading and Writing Modules resulted in a more equitable form of task design. It also made it easier to control comparability of task difficulty across the many different test versions which need to be produced each year to meet the demands of candidature volume and security.

Why aren't the IELTS Academic Reading and Writing tasks more like university-level tasks?

IELTS is designed to test readiness to enter the world of university-level study in the English language and the ability to cope with the demands of that context immediately after entry the range of university-level reading or writing skills which they are likely to need; in fact, they will probably need to develop many of these skills during their course of study. IELTS Academic Reading and Writing tasks cannot simulate the sort of university-level tasks which test-takers will encounter in their studies.

Why aren't Speaking and Writing scores reported using half bands, like Reading and Listening?

In their original design, the ELTS/IELTS Speaking and Writing modules were rated using a holistic 9-band scale. Examiners were not trained to differentiate quality of written/spoken performance within a given band level using half bands. The ability of examiners to differentiate a larger number of performance levels, and to do so reliably, is partly constrained by the nature of the judgment process in assessment.

The introduction of revised, analytical (rather than holistic) scales for Speaking in July 2001 and for Writing in January 2005 would make it possible to report scores on these two modules in terms of half bands (though examiners will continue to rate using whole bands for each of the analytical subscales).

A proposal to report half bands for Speaking and Writing in future is currently under consideration; several internal studies have already been carried out to model the effects of a move to half band reporting and to evaluate the impact on mean band scores for Speaking, for Writing, and for the test overall.

Is IELTS suitable for younger students below the age of 18?

ELTS/IELTS was originally designed as an English language proficiency test for students who had already completed their secondary education and who wished to undertake further academic study in an English-speaking country, at first degree or post-graduate level. In this sense it was targeted at adults, i.e. those in their late teens or above. This is particularly true for the Academic modules (Reading and Writing) which tend to assume a level of cognitive maturity normally not achieved until early adulthood.

The IELTS General Training (GT) modules, however, were developed to suit the needs of a slightly different population - those wishing to undertake further study/training of a non-academic, vocational nature, or as a bridge between school and university.

On taking IELTS a second time, the overall result may be the same, but there can be different band scores on the Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing components. Why does this happen?

When candidates retake IELTS, it can be frustrating for them to see their score on one component improve and their score on another component go down, leaving the overall result the same. There are several reasons why this can happen.

One reason is the very nature of language learning. Language learning is a dynamic process involving both acquisition (improving ability in some aspects of language) and attrition (loss of ability in others). Between IELTS tests (a minimum period of 90 days) both of these processes take place and can affect score profiles.

Other reasons derive from the nature of tests and measurement. In addition to the candidate's language ability, differences in test content across versions and other variables such as the test taker's mood or state of health at the time can also affect their scores and contribute to unexpected variation.

Longer tests involving multiple components, such as IELTS, are generally considered more reliable since they give test takers more opportunities to display their true ability. We ensure the reliability of the IELTS test through rigorous quality control of test content and scoring procedures. Before appearing in a live test, all material is trailed with IELTS candidates to ensure that it is at the appropriate level of difficulty and operates as intended. Examiners involved in scoring Writing and Speaking are trained and certificated in a standardised manner and their performance is regularly monitored. We also re-mark the performance of any candidate whose score on Speaking or Writing is significantly different from their scores on other components.

Performance in the four skill areas is combined in IELTS to provide a maximally reliable composite assessment of a candidate's overall language proficiency at a given point in time.

Is the IELTS Reading test a speeded test?

A distinction is sometimes made between 'speed' tests and 'power' tests. Speed tests are tests that provide too little time for candidates to answer all the questions. Power tests allow enough time for most candidates to answer all the questions.

As both the Academic and General Training Reading tests involve reading a substantial volume of material in the allotted sixty minutes, there is clearly an element of time pressure involved in the test. However, realistic time constraints can be regarded as an important element in testing Reading Skills and candidates need effective reading strategies to find the answers in the time available. This means that although the test involves an element of time pressure, it is nevertheless a power test rather than a speed test because the primary focus is on the ability of candidates to answer the questions (within realistic time constraints) rather than on their rate of response.