The first step towards answering the question ‘What is IELTS?’ is to explain what the letters stand for.
IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. It's an exam designed to assess ability in English. It is owned and managed by The British Council, IDP Australia and Cambridge Examinations.
The test has been created for people who want to work or study in countries or organisations where English is the main language of communication and for people who want to migrate to English speaking countries.
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There are two versions of the exam – IELTS Academic and IELTS General.
IELTS Academic, as the title would suggest, is for people wanting to study in an English speaking country, or apply for professional registration.
IELTS General is for people wanting to work in or migrate to the UK, Australia, Canada or New Zealand.
For more information about these different two versions of the IELTS exam, and for help in deciding which one you should take, click this link: Which IELTS – Academic or General?
There is actually a third IELTS test called IELTS Life Skills. It is at a much lower level than the Academic or General exam but I’ll tell you a bit about it so just so that you are aware of it.
The teaching I give on this website will be too advanced for most people taking this test.
IELTS Life Skills is a test for people who want to apply for a UK visa and or immigration permission, usually for one of the following reasons:
Only Speaking and Listening skills are assessed, unlike the standard IELTS exam which also tests Writings and Reading skills.
The test can be taken at two levels – A1 (beginner) and B1 (intermediate / lower level independent language user).
A1 and B1 are the internationally recognised Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) Levels.
Which Life Skills test should you choose?
IELTS Life Skills A1 is for people who want to remain with a relative, spouse or partner who lives permanently in the UK.
IELTS Life Skills B1 is for people applying for a UK visa and immigration permissions to remain in the UK indefinitely or for UK citizenship.
How is the Life Skills test scored?
The IELTS Life Skills test is scored with either a Pass or a Fail. This is different from the main IELTS exam which is scored on a graded system of band scale of 1-9.
Learn more about the IELTS Life Skills test on the official website here.
Now back to the standard IELTS exam.
IELTS is an assessment of a person’s overall proficiency in English as well as an evaluation of their ability in each of the four elements of English – Writing, Speaking, Reading and Listening.
As such, it is recognised worldwide as proof of ability to communicate in English as a second language at the band score level they have achieved in their exam.
For more on IELTS Band Scores – what the different levels (1 to 9) mean and what score you need for specific purposes, click the link.
The IELTS exam is taken by millions of people every year and accepted by over 10,000 organisations around the world including universities, professional bodies, immigration departments and multinational companies.
There are more than 1,200 test centres in over 140 countries.
As already mentioned, IELTS is accepted for work, study and migration to the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. It is also widely accepted for work and study in the USA.
The British Council website has a very useful search facility that will give you valuable information on employers, governments, immigration authorities, professional bodies and educational bodies around the world that accept IELTS, and minimum band score requirements for each. You'll find it here.
Whilst the USA has traditionally favoured TOEFL over IELTS, the IELTS qualification is now becoming more widely accepted in US universities, schools, and within professional organisations.
Across Europe,it is IELTS that is preferred by universities.
You can find out which institutions in the USA accept IELTS and their score requirements here.
Now that we’ve answered the question ‘What is IELTS?’ I’m sure there are lots more things you’d like to know about the IELTS exam. Find your answers on the pages listed below or go to the IELTS Exam hub page to locate specific questions and answers.