What exactly is an IELTS exam?

And why might I need one to study in the UK?

A student reading a computer screen thinking intently

IELTS is a test used to assess English language ability. As an international student, you may be required to take an IELTS exam as a part of the university application process. Check out our handy guide to what it is and why you might need one.

Who needs to take an IELTS?

All students will require an appropriate score in an approved English language examination in order to study at university in the UK.

For students not requiring a visa, this will include, for instance, English A or B in the IB; 7.0-8.0 in English in the EB; 62 overall with 60 in each subtest in PTE Academic; or 90 overall in TOEFL iBT.

If you are an international student who is not a national of the UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) list of majority-English-speaking countries, you will need to provide evidence of English language ability to apply to study in the UK. This is both a requirement of the University and a requirement of the UKVI, as they will be issuing your Tier 4 student visa.

This means that, if you’re an international student moving to a country where English is the main spoken language, you are likely to require a secure English language test (or SELT) to demonstrate your English skills as a part of your application to University. This may be the case even if you were taught in English at school.

This is where the International English Language Testing System (or IELTS) comes in.

What is an IELTS?

It’s one of the tests used to assess English language ability which is approved by the UKVI, and it’s accepted by all universities in the UK. In other words, while there are other tests accepted as evidence of English language ability, the IELTS is the standard. It will provide you with a score reflecting your understanding and communication skills in English.

Where and when can I take one?

There are over 1,000 IELTS test centres worldwide, and tests take place regularly. It costs around £200 to take the exam (although the price may vary depending on the location of the test centre). In Nigeria, for example, you can take an IELTS test in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt at a cost of ₦89,500, while in Pakistan you can take an IELTS test in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad at a cost of PKR 39,300.

Test centres will make every effort to make arrangements for accessibility requirements. You’ll need to give the test centre 6 weeks’ notice if you require such arrangements to be made.

As an international student seeking to study in the UK, it’s really important that you specify, at the time of booking your test, that you need an IELTS for UKVI (i.e, for a visa application). If you don’t specify and only take the standard IELTS, your results may not be accepted for visa application or for your chosen degree course.

What does the test involve?

The requirements of your chosen university course may differ, but for your Tier 4 visa, you’ll need an overall minimum score of 5.5; and for University of Kent’s International Foundation Programme, you’ll need a 5.0 overall, with a minimum of 5.0 in each component (requirements for Integrated Foundation Programmes may be higher).

If you’re a Pre-sessional applicant, your current IELTS level will determine which Pre-sessional course is right for you.

The IELTS is a task-based exam broken down into four different skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking

  • The reading component lasts for 60 minutes and includes 40 questions. It includes three long passages of text from a variety of sources – books, news articles and journals – about which you’ll need to answer questions.
  • The writing component also lasts for 60 minutes and is designed to test language accuracy and grammar. It consists of two writing tasks: a summary-writing exercise where you will be asked to explain data, and an essay-writing task in response to an argument or problem. Both must be written in a formal style.
  • The listening component is a 30 minute test with four parts, each with 10 questions: a conversation between two people, a monologue in an everyday context, a conversation with up to four people, and a monologue on an academic topic. You’ll be assessed on your ability to understand ideas and factual information.
  • Finally, the speaking task is an interview divided into three parts, lasting 11-14 minutes. The examiner will introduce themselves and ask a number of general questions on topics such as home, family, and work. They will then give you a task card which asks you to speak about a subject for 1-2 minutes, with points to cover during speaking. Finally, they will discuss the subject you have just spoken about, but in a more informal and general way.

To prepare for your IELTS test, there are practice questions available on the IELTS website or you can purchase practice materials from Cambridge University Press.

What happens after I’ve completed my test?

The results of your IELTS will be released 13 days after your written test. Once you have received your results, you can upload them to your course application via Kent Vision, or you can request to send your IELTS results to up to 5 organisations for free via your IELTS test centre.

If you didn’t get the IELTS scores you were hoping for, you can always apply to resit the test when you feel able.

If you have taken an IELTS before, but your results are older than 2 years, you will need to retake the exam as the results have an expiration date.

Hopefully, this handy guide has given you some helpful insight into the IELTS.

If you’re applying for our International Foundation Programme and you require a visa to study, make sure you allow plenty of time to take your IELTS test during the application process. Book your test when you’ve received your conditional offer and provide us with your results as soon as you have them!