How is the IELTS Scored?

Each of the four modules of the IELTS is scored on a scale of 1.0 to 9.0, in half-point increments. These scores are then averaged together for the overall score. This overall score can either be a whole or half band. Each band corresponds to a global descriptor, summarizing each of the nine levels of English competence. Usually band scores required for entry onto a UK university course are in the region of 5.5 to 7.5.
The table below will give you an idea of the level of English required for each band. However, the descriptions are only an overview of the overall band scoring system. The band scoring system and requirements for each score may slightly vary for each section of the test.

Band 9: Expert UserHas complete control of the language: correct and effortless usage with complete understanding.
Band 8: Very Good UserHas complete control of the language with few errors. Confusion may take place in new or atypical circumstances. Is able to formulate advanced, in-depth arguments.
Band 7: Good UserHas advanced control of the language, though with a few errors of confusion in some circumstances. Uses sophisticated words and complex syntax and comprehends dense arguments.
Band 6: Competent UserHas capable control of the language despite some errors and confusion. Can employ and comprehend moderately advanced language but mainly in routine and typical circumstances.
Band 5: Modest UserHas limited control of the language. Is able to use plain statements in routine and typical circumstances. Commits numerous errors and occasionally has difficulty with the general meaning of conversations.
Band 4: Limited UserHas low-level proficiency restricted to routine and typical circumstances. Uses only the most simplistic of words and syntax and occasionally has trouble following a relatively simple, common conversation.
Band 3: Extremely Limited UserCannot follow a relatively simple, common conversation, even with the most simplistic use of words and syntax.
Band 2: Intermittent UserCan handle only plain words to express basic needs. Even the most simple phrases or syntax usage are not well understood. Struggles significantly with spoken or written English.
Band 1: Non UserKnows a small number of random words. Has basically no understanding of English at all.
No ScoreCandidates who do not attempt to answer any tasks score 0.

Scoring for the Listening and Reading Modules

In the IELTS Listening and Reading modules, there are 40 questions each. One mark is awarded for each correctly answered question, unless otherwise stated on the question paper. To obtain a score of Band 7, you must answer at least 30 questions correctly.
Answers must be transferred to the answer sheet to be marked. While you can use the question paper to make notes, only answers on the answer sheet will be marked. The tests are marked by trained IELTS clerical markers who follow a model answer sheet. This includes all variations of the answer which are acceptable. It is vitally important to remember that words have to be spelled correctly to get the mark.

Scoring for the Writing Module

Two sets of criteria are used to assess your writing.
  • Task 1: You must either write an analysis, normally involving a comparison of information in a table, graph or diagram, a description of a process in a diagram, or a comparison of two maps. You need to report the information from the graph accurately and, where appropriate, identify and compare the key features.
  • Task 2: You are given a prompt in the form of a question or statement, and are required to formulate and express your point of view on this subject. You should support your ideas with relevant examples from your own experience.
For both of these Tasks, reading the question carefully and responding to that specific question are key factors in getting a good band score. The Writing module is marked using the following criteria:
  • Task Achievement (in Task 1) and Task Response (in Task 2): This assesses how well you have answered the question given.
  • Coherence and Cohesion: This assesses how well you link ideas within a paragraph and how you organise the paragraph to create a clear progression of your ideas.
  • Lexical Resource: To obtain a high score for this criterion, you must demonstrate flexibility in your use of vocabulary. You need to be able to use words appropriately and spell them correctly. Credit is given to candidates who use more advanced and imaginative vocabulary.
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy: You should use a variety of simple and complex grammatical structures accurately. You will also be assessed on your ability to punctuate your writing appropriately.
The Writing Tasks are marked by certificated IELTS examiners who are regularly monitored to ensure that the accuracy of their marks meet the IELTS Standard. Each task is given a mark in each of the four criteria above. The value of Writing Task 1 is worth half that of Writing Task 2; so make sure you do not spend more than 20 minutes on task one, leaving you 40 minutes for task two. Your final band score will be a weighted average of the 8 scores given.

Scoring for the Speaking Module

Your speaking will be assessed according to the following criteria:
  • Fluency and Coherence: Your ability to express ideas and opinions clearly and coherently, without long pauses and hesitations.
  • Lexical Resource: Your ability to use a wide range of vocabulary appropriately and naturally.
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy: Your ability to use a wide range of grammatical structures without making too many mistakes.
  • Pronunciation: Your ability to speak clearly and use pronunciation features, such as word stress and sentence intonation, naturally.
The interviewer for the Speaking module will be a certificated IELTS examiner. Your interview will be recorded. The recordings are used mainly to ensure that the examiner is marking to standard. The recording is also used if you ask for an ‘Enquiry on Results’. The examiner will assign a band score out of 9 for each of the above marking criteria, and your final Speaking Score will be an average of these.

Need some help prepping for the IELTS? Check out Kaplan’s resources.