Setting IELTS entry scores

IELTS makes it easy for you to assess whether a candidate’s English-language skills are sufficient for entry into your organisation or to meet requirements for a visa.

IELTS test results are given as an overall score on the IELTS scale, and scores for each test section (Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking) are also detailed. The IELTS scale ranges from one to nine, with nine the highest possible score.

IELTS recommends that an IELTS result demonstrates a test taker’s English language ability for a maximum of two years. This is based upon the well-documented theory of second language loss or 'attrition’. We recommend that an IELTS Test Report Form (TRF) which is more than two years old should only be accepted if it is accompanied by proof that the test taker has actively maintained, or tried to improve, their English.

IELTS Band Scores

IELTS Scale Score: 9 Skill Level: Expert

  • The test taker has fully operational command of the language.
  • Their use of English is appropriate, accurate and fluent, and shows complete understanding.

IELTS Scale Score: 8 Skill Level: Very good

  • The test taker has fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriate usage.
  • They may misunderstand some things in unfamiliar situations. They handle complex and detailed argumentation well.

IELTS Scale Score: 7 Skill Level: Good

  • The test taker has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings in some situations.
  • They generally handle complex language well and understand detailed reasoning.

IELTS Scale Score: 6 Skill Level: Competent

  • The test taker has an effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings.
  • They can use and understand reasonably complex language, particularly in familiar situations.

IELTS Scale Score: 5 Skill Level: Modest

  • The test taker has a partial command of the language and copes with overall meaning in most situations, although they are likely to make many mistakes.
  • They should be able to handle basic communication in their own field.

IELTS Scale Score: 4 Skill Level: Limited

  • The test taker's basic competence is limited to familiar situations.
  • They frequently show problems in understanding and expression.

IELTS Scale Score: 3 Skill Level: Extremely limited

  • The test taker conveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations.
  • There are frequent breakdowns in communication.

IELTS Scale Score: 2 Skill Level: Intermittent

  • The test taker has great difficulty understanding spoken and written English.

IELTS Scale Score: 1 Skill Level: Non-user

  • The test taker has no ability to use the language except a few isolated words.

IELTS Scale Score: 0 Skill Level: Did not attempt the test

  • The test taker did not answer the questions.

Key things to consider

Three key points to consider when deciding what entry score you should accept for your organisation:

  • The demands placed on language ability in your organisational context.
  • The volume and quality of applicants you are likely to attract.
  • The type and level of language skills required for tasks such as giving presentations, carrying out research, or teaching.

This will help you set your overall IELTS band score, and individual scores for the four sections: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking.

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Guidance for educational institutions

The table below gives guidance on acceptable IELTS band score requirements for different programmes.

Keep in mind that English-language ability is not proof of an individual's overall academic capability: there are many elements that may affect a student's performance.

By setting a relevant IELTS entry score for your applicants, you can be confident that their English skills will not stop them thriving.

IELTS scale score Linguistically demanding academic courses Linguistically less demanding academic courses Linguistically demanding training courses Linguistically less demanding training courses
7.5 – 9 Acceptable AcceptableAcceptable Acceptable
7.0 Probably acceptable AcceptableAcceptableAcceptable
6.5 English study needed Probably acceptable AcceptableAcceptable
6.0English study needed English study needed Probably acceptable Acceptable
5.5English study needed English study needed English study needed Probably acceptable

IELTS Scores Guide

The IELTS Scores Guide (PDF 7 MB - 96 pages) is an essential tool for anyone who needs to understand how IELTS scores relate to language ability, including course designers, teachers, and employers.

It includes:

  • sample writing tasks provided by test takers at different points on the 9-band scale, with comments from examiners
  • sample questions and answers from Listening and Reading tests
  • surveys to help you set your own score requirements
  • information on how to set up a score-setting committee.

Listening test samples

Download the Listening test audio samples from the IELTS Scores Guide:

Speaking test samples

These videos will help you to gauge the level of spoken English that is required to attain different IELTS scale scores. In the IELTS Scores Guide (PDF 7 MB - 96 pages) you can review examiner comments to understand how we assess speaking tests.

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We are here to help

We understand the vital importance of setting the correct entry criteria for your organisation.

IELTS tests are supported by decades of research, and our team of experts are here to help. If your organisation accepts IELTS and other language tests, we can ensure you have the concordance data and expert support to set or adjust scores fairly.