International students coming from countries where English is not their first language have to prove that their English skills are at a level required by their host country. There are several tests to measure this including IELTS. The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is recognized by many countries and organizations worldwide as a measure of language proficiency for non-native English speakers.

It can be used to assess your language skills if you are intending to study, work, or migrate to a country where English is the primary language in academic and other official settings. If you are an international student planning to study abroad, achieving a high score on the IELTS can give you the competitive edge you need to gain admission into universities and colleges.

Each of the four sections of the test measures different aspects of your English proficiency and provides an overall score that reflects your ability to understand and communicate effectively in English. To get good scores on the exam, you need to understand the test format, and the scoring criteria among other factors. Thus, it becomes essential to familiarize yourself with the test requirements and practice regularly using sample tests and study materials.

In this comprehensive guide to IELTS for international students, we will delve into each section of the test in detail. We hope that it will serve as a valuable resource throughout your journey toward achieving your desired score on the IELTS exam.

What is the International English Language Testing System (IELTS)?

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is a standardized test designed to assess language proficiency if you wish to study or work in primary English-speaking countries. It is widely recognized and accepted by various academic institutions, employers, and immigration offices.

The IELTS exam can be taken in over 1,600 test locations globally and consists of four sections: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking, with each section evaluating different language skills and abilities. Over 140 countries including Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia accept IELTS scores. Additionally, several institutions like the University of Warsaw in Poland, McMaster University in Canada, and Yonsei University in South Korea accept IELTS scores for admission purposes.

Types of IELTS Modules

1. IELTS Academic

The IELTS Academic test is designed for individuals who want to attend undergraduate and postgraduate studies or professional registration in countries like the United States, Ireland, and Australia, where English is the main language of communication. This version of the exam focuses on evaluating the language skills needed for academic purposes, such as reading and understanding complex texts, writing essays, listening to lectures, and participating in academic discussions.

2. IELTS General Training

IELTS General Training is intended for those who are planning to migrate to an English-speaking country or seeking employment opportunities in such environments. Also, if you are planning to study below degree levels, this would be your exam option. The emphasis of this version is on practical everyday communication skills. The test includes tasks related to reading general texts, writing letters or reports, listening to conversations and interviews, and engaging in everyday conversations.

If you are conflicted about which test module to take, your best bet would be on the IELTS Academic. It is more suited for individuals intending to study abroad.

Ways of Taking the IELTS Academic

There are two main ways to take the IELTS exam as discussed below;

1. Tests you can take in a test center

For those who prefer the traditional approach, IELTS offers tests that can be taken in designated test centers. There are over 1,600 IELTS test locations worldwide in more than 140 countries. These centers are equipped with all the necessary facilities and trained staff to ensure a smooth testing experience. The test dates vary per country, as such, ensure that you check availability from your nearest test center.

You can opt for the IELTS on paper format where you write down your answers on answer sheets with either a pencil or a pen. This is possible for the listening, writing, and reading tests. Alternatively, you could go for the IELTS on computer exam format which allows you to take your writing, listening, and reading exam from a computer screen. This test is more convenient as you can choose from the many available test dates.

Note that, the speaking part for either format has to be carried out in a face-to-face setting and by a trained IELTS examiner. Some of the countries accepting the IELTS online exam include Finland, Ghana, Singapore, and the Netherlands.

2. Tests you can take remotely

In response to the growing demand for remote testing, IELTS has introduced an online alternative known as IELTS Online. This allows you to take the test from the comfort of your own home or any other location while maintaining the same level of rigor and reliability as the in-person version.

Test takers can complete all sections of the test, including listening, reading, writing, and speaking, using secure online platforms. Unlike the tests taken from a test center, the speaking section is done online through video calls. You must ensure that you have stable internet if you want to choose this test format. This is a great option for academic tests.

Cost of Taking the IELTS Exam

There is no standard cost for the IELTS test as the cost varies with the country or test center. Tests taken at the center, whether paper-based or computer-based cost the same. However, there are general costs you are likely to incur like the exam registration fee, test retake fee, and cancellation fee. Apart from the exam-related fees, you may incur other costs including exam re-evaluation and sending your IELTS reports to organizations that request them.

You need to check with your country for the exam registration fees charged to better prepare for the financial implications. For example, the test costs €247 in France, AUD$ 410 in Australia, and KES 31,900 in Kenya.

If you are unable to take the test on the scheduled date, you can cancel it and ask for a refund. However, a 25% administration fee will be deducted from the exam fees, and the rest refunded to you. Note that, this is only possible if you cancel at least five weeks before your scheduled exam date. If you cancel less than five weeks before your exam date, you will not receive a refund. This is the same case if you do not show up for the test without a valid reason.

IELTS Test Structure

Listening Section

This section measures your ability to understand spoken English in various academic contexts. It includes four audio recordings, such as conversations and monologues, with each recording allocated ten questions. The section takes 30 minutes. You will be required to answer questions based on the information you hear.

These audio recordings capture conversations and monologues in academic settings and social settings. For example, it could be a conversation between a tutor and a student discussing a class project, or a monologue about popular subjects in a certain institution that international students need to be aware of. Note that, the recordings include different English accents like Australian and British.

Academic Reading Section

In this section, you will be tested on your reading comprehension skills in an academic setting. You will be presented with a variety of texts from academic books, scientific journals, lectures, and other online academic publications. The questions assess your ability to understand the main ideas, specific details, and the writer’s opinion or attitude.

This section takes 60 minutes, with 40 questions covering elements such as sentence completion, matching headings, table completion, and labeling of diagrams. These questions are relevant to individuals planning to study at undergraduate and graduate levels, and those looking for professional registration.

Academic Writing Section

This section evaluates your writing skills in two tasks. Task 1 requires you to interpret and describe visual information such as graphs, charts, or diagrams in your own words. Task 2 on the other hand is an essay where you express your opinion or provide arguments on a given topic.

You will need to take 60 minutes to answer the two questions, keeping in mind to incorporate critical factors like grammatical range, accuracy, cohesion, and coherence in your writing. In addition, ensure that any vocabularies you use are accurate and appropriate to the topic of discussion.

Speaking Section

The speaking module assesses your oral communication skills through a face-to-face interview with an examiner. It consists of three parts – an introduction and interview about yourself, a short speech on a given academic topic, and a discussion where you express opinions and engage in conversation with the examiner.

The test takes about 14 minutes, with the examiner looking for aspects like how you pronounce words, fluency, and coherence in your speech. It is important to hone your English speaking skills as it will help you converse with other students or lecturers and make oral presentations in your class.

IELTS Scoring System

Scoring in IELTS is based on a band scale ranging from 0 to 9. Each band corresponds to a level of English proficiency, with Band 9 being an expert user and Band 0 indicating no attempt was made or insufficient information was provided. Your overall band score represents an average of all the scores garnered in the four sections and rounded off to the nearest half band.

Here is a detailed IELTS Band Score table:

Band score Skill level Description
9 Expert user The examinee possesses a mastery of the language. They demonstrate appropriate, accurate, and fluent use of English. They have a complete understanding of the situation.
8 Very good user The examinee possesses a fully operational command of the language with minimal unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriate usage. They may encounter misunderstandings in unfamiliar situations but they excel in handling complex and arguments.
7 Good user The examinee possesses an operational command of the language, though may encounter occasional inaccuracies, inappropriate usage, and misunderstandings in specific situations. They can manage complex language and are able to grasp detailed reasoning.
6 Competent user The examinee demonstrates an effective command of the language though they usually encounter inaccuracies, inappropriate usage, and misunderstandings. They handle fairly complex language, especially in familiar situations.
5 Modest user The examinee has partial command and can understand the general meaning in most situations, though they tend to make numerous errors. They are able to handle basic communication within their field of expertise.
4 Limited user The examinee has basic competence but is restricted to familiar situations. They often struggle in expressing their ideas and are unable to use complex language.
3 Extremely limited user The examinee can communicate and understand the general meaning in very familiar situations with frequent disruptions in communication.
2 Intermittent user The examinee struggles in understanding verbal and written English.
1 Non-user The examinee lacked proficiency in the language except for very few words.s
0 Did not attempt the test the examinee did not answer the test.

Source: How IELTS is Scored

Preparing for the IELTS Exam

1. Create an effective study plan

Come up with an effective study plan that ensures you have ample time to prepare for the exam, without straining you or hindering you from doing other tasks. You can set aside two hours a day, or the weekend dedicated to studying for the IELTS exam. Additionally, your study plan can incorporate targeting daily or weekly goals to help measure your study progress.

2. Familiarize with the test format

Ensure that you understand the test format including the kind of questions to expect and the different parts covered. This will help you know what kind of practice material to get when it comes to reading, writing, speaking, and listening. In addition, you can learn about the different score bands and the minimum score needed for each section.

3. Practice

Getting ready for the IELTS exam involves a lot of practice. You can do this on your own with the help of various IELTS practice tests or by getting a trained IELTS tutor to guide you in the preparation. Whichever mode you go for, ensure that you are making steady improvements and meeting your study goals.

4. Utilizing study materials and resources available

There are several online and offline resources to help in your preparation for the IELTS exam. They range from comprehensive guides like this one to section-specific resources. Once you determine your current proficiency in the English language, it will be easier for you to know which study materials to get and where to get them from. You can access study materials on platforms like YouTube, the British Council website, and other online study portals like Global Scholarships.

Universities and Institutions Accepting IELTS Scores

Many educational institutions require a minimum IELTS score as part of their admissions process. Here are some of the institutions from across the globe accepting IELTS scores, with their minimum score indicated.

University Name Country Minimum IELTS Score Accepted
1. University of Helsinki Finland 6.5
2. University of Oslo Norway 5.0
3. Sapienza University of Rome Italy 6.0
4. Kyoto University Japan 6.0
5. Yonsei University South Korea 6.5
6. University of Strasbourg France 6.5
7. University of Freiburg Germany 6.0
8. McGill University Canada 6.5
9. Leiden University Netherlands 6.0
10. Warsaw University of Technology Poland 6.5


If you are planning to study abroad, here’s a complete list of universities and institutions accepting IELTS.

Taking the IELTS test can open doors for international students by providing proof of their English language abilities required for academic or professional pursuits abroad. This guide has covered the different aspects involved in the preparation and taking of the IELTS exam. It is important for international students to familiarize themselves with the test structure, practice regularly, and seek guidance if needed in order to achieve their desired IELTS score.


We hope this guide has provided you with a good understanding of IELTS. Make sure to also check out our IELTS Page for more information on tips and other related articles!

About the Author: Hyun Lee

Hi! I am Hyun, and I am the founder at Global Scholarships. I've received a full-tuition scholarship at Birmingham-Southern College and a $1,000 Burger King Scholarship for my undergraduate degree and was offered a fully funded scholarship consisting of tuition, living stipend, and health insurance for computer science Ph.D. program at North Carolina State University. You can read more about my scholarship journey here. If you are interested, you can follow me on Linkedin where I regularly write about scholarship opportunities.

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