IELTS Exam Scoring & Assessment Criteria

How the IELTS is scored

The actual scores received from the IELTS exam are set out to be simple to understand. They are reported as band scores 1-9 (1 being the lowest, 9 the highest). The band scores and their meaning (as stated by the test maker) are broken down below:

  • Band 1 - Non-user: The test taker has no ability to use the language except a few isolated words.
  • Band 2 - Intermittent user: The test taker has great difficulty understanding spoken and written English.
  • Band 3 - Extremely limited user: The test taker expresses and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations. There are frequent breakdowns in communication.
  • Band 4 - Limited user: The test taker's basic ability is limited to familiar situations. They frequently show problems in understanding and expression. They are not able to use complex language.
  • Band 5 - Modest user: The test taker has a partial understanding 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.
  • Band 6 - Competent user: The test taker has an effective knowledge of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings. They can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.
  • Band 7 - Good user: The test taker has operational knowledge of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings in some situations. They generally handle complex language well and understand detailed reasoning.
  • Band 8 - Very good user: The test taker has fully operational use of the language with only occasional unsystematic mistakes and inappropriate usage. They may misunderstand some things in unfamiliar situations. They handle complex and detailed argumentation well.
  • Band 9 - Expert user: The test taker has fully functional use of the language. Their use of English is appropriate, accurate and fluent, and demonstrates a thorough understanding

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How long is an IELTS score valid for?

It is best to check with each university/ college that you are applying to, as each can set their own criteria for the test validity period that they are willing to accept. Generally speaking, the IELTS test provider recommends two years for a score to accurately reflect a student's English proficiency.

How is this overall score calculated?

The overall score is calculated by averaging the total of the component band score received for each test section. If this results in a .25 or .75 the result will be rounded up to the nearest half band. All components are weighted equally.

Reading Listening Writing Speaking Average Band Score
Student 1 6.0 6.5 4.5 5.5 5.625 6.0
Student 2 7.0 6.5 5.5 6.5 6.375 6.5

Reading & Listening Section Scoring

There are 40 questions in both the listening and reading sections, each worth one mark. Your overall section score out of 40 is then converted into a band score 1-9.

IELTS Listening & Reading Score Breakdown

The table below represents the average raw score out of 40 required to achieve a particular band score.

Listening Reading
Band Score Raw Score Band Score Raw Score
5 16 5 15
6 23 6 23
7 30 7 30
8 35 8 35

Writing Section Scoring

Examiners use assessment criteria for Task 1 and Task 2 to award a band score for each of the four criteria:

  • Task Achievement/ Response - Have you actually answered the question or task set out for you?
  • Coherence and Cohesion - Does the sample provided make sense and presents information or argument in a logical way?
  • Lexical Resource - Are you using a range of vocabulary to convey your intended meanings?
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy - This focuses on the range and accuracy of the grammar you demonstrate.

All of the four criteria have equal weighting and the overall score from the task is an average.

Speaking Section Scoring

Examiners use assessment criteria to award a band score for each of the following four criteria:

  • Fluency and Coherence - Have you actually answered the question or task set out for you?
  • Lexical Resource - Are you using a range of vocabulary and idioms to convey your intended meanings?
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy - This focuses on the range and complexity of sentence structures used.
  • Pronunciation - How accurately have you pronounced all the words used in the assessment?

As with the previous test sections, your overall score will be an average taken from your band scores achieved across the four listed criteria.

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