English certification: 6 things to know about the IELTS

IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is a standardized English certification for measuring the English language communication skills of non-native speakers.

Created in 1989, IELTS is mainly managed by the British Council (a government institution), in conjunction with the University of Cambridge and IDP Australia (an international education organization).

More than three million people take it test every year, making IELTS one of the most popular tests in the world.

What is the purpose of the test?

IELTS is used to certify a level of English for higher education institutions or employers. This test opens many doors for candidates both academically and professionally. IELTS is recognized in a wide range of anglophone countries including the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA.

Even if you are not planning to study or work abroad, IELTS certification is a good addition to your CV, as it provides proof of your level of English to employers.

What does the test involve?

There are two IELTS tests:

  • IELTS Academic, aimed at students wishing to pursue their studies internationally. This version of the test is taken on paper and covers academic subjects;
  • IELTS General Training, aimed more at working people pursuing a career in an English-speaking country or students wishing to do an internship abroad; it is also useful for visa applicants. This test covers more general topics.

Both tests assess the four major language skills: reading comprehension, oral comprehension, written expression and oral expression.

The reading and oral comprehension sections are the same for both tests. However, the subjects for oral and written expression are different:

  • Oral comprehension (Listening), lasts 30 minutes. Each candidate listens to four recordings of native English speakers and then answers 40 questions.
  • Oral expression (Speaking), lasts from 11 to 14 minutes and assesses a candidate’s ability to communicate orally and express opinions. 
  • In the reading comprehension test (Reading), candidates are asked to read several texts and then answer a series of questions. This takes  around 40 minutes.
  • If you take IELTS Academic, the written expression test (Writing) consists of analyzing numerical data and then writing a short essay, all within one hour. If you opt for IELTS General Training, the test consists of writing a short essay and a letter.

Note: candidates are not penalized for wrong answers.

How long does the test take?

Whether you choose IELTS Academic or General Training, you should allow approximately 2 hrs 45 min for the test, not including breaks.

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What grading system does the IELTS test use?

First of all, be aware that you cannot fail an IELTS test. Candidates are graded on a scale of 1 to 9. 

GradeInterpretation of gradeCEFR EquivalentGymglish Equivalent
1: “Non-User”Cannot speak the language except for some isolated words.//
2: “Intermittent user”Has great difficulty communicating and being understood.A1Level 1
3:  “Extremely limited user”Can only manage in very familiar situations, has difficulty communicating.A2Level 1
4: “Limited user”Ability to manage in certain everyday situations. The candidate does not use complex language.B1Level 2
5: “Modest user”Ability to understand the general meaning of a situation, despite numerous mistakes and misunderstandings.B2Level 3
6: “Competent user”Fairly good command of the language in unfamiliar situations. Good command in everyday situations. Multiple errors and misunderstandings.B2Level 3
7: “Good user” Good general command of the language, despite some mistakes and misunderstandings.C1Level 4
8: “Very good user”Very good operational command of the language. Occasional mistakes.C1Level 4
9: “Expert user” Total command of the language. Understands perfectly and is very comfortable speaking.C2Level 5

Note: in the context of admission to a higher education establishment, the level required for IELTS differs from one university to another. The universities you wish to apply to will tell you the minimum score required, generally around 5.5.

How much does the test cost? Where can you take it?

The IELTS costs €235, and you have to pay this fee when you register.

In France, the British Council organizes IELTS examination sessions in several major French cities, namely Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Bordeaux, Lille and Nantes.

Note: as with TOEFL, TOEIC and BULATS, most establishments will not accept a diploma more than two-years-old.

IELTS at a glance

PublisherBritish Council, University of Cambridge and IDP AustraliaGymglish
Name of certificate / diplomaIELTSGymglish learning report, professional English
Validity periodTwo yearsDoes not expire
Skills testedReading comprehension, oral comprehension, written expression, oral expressionReading, listening, writing (business and professional English)
Target level(s)All levelsAll levels, except beginners (A2 to C2)
Price€ 235From € 14 /month
Duration2 hr 45 minTraining + learning report : 6 months
Face-to-face / RemoteAt a test centerRemote / online

IELTS is not the only option for English certification. At the end of our English language training, we also provide a personalized learning report.

See our section on English language tests and diplomas

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