IELTS – Scoring

Band scale

There is no pass or fail in an IELTS test, however, you will often hear people say they failed the IELTS, which generally means they did not reach the score they were hoping for.

The score is on a ten-band scale from 0-9, with zero (0) meaning the test taker did not attempt the test, to nine (9) being classified as an “Expert User” of English.  Test takers receive a score for each test component – Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking, between 0 and 9. The individual scores are then averaged and rounded to produce an Overall Band Score.

The ten bands are described as follows:

9       Expert User

Has full operational command of the language: appropriate, accurate and fluent with complete understanding.


8 Very Good User

Has fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriacies. Misunderstandings may occur in unfamiliar situations. Handles complex detailed argumentation well.


7 Good User

Has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriateness and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally handles complex language well and understands detailed reasoning.


6 Competent User

Has generally effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.


5 Modest user

Has partial command of the language, coping with overall meaning in most situations, though is likely to make many mistakes. Should be able to handle basic communication in own field.


4 Limited User

Basic competence is limited to familiar situations. Has frequent problems in understanding and expression. Is not able to use complex language.


3 Extremely Limited User

Conveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations. Frequent breakdowns in communication occur.


2 Intermittent User

No real communication is possible except for the most basic information using isolated words or short formulae in familiar situations and to meet immediate needs. Has great difficulty understanding spoken and written English.


1 Non-User

Essentially has no ability to use the language beyond possibly a few isolated words.


0 Did not attempt the test

No assessable information provided at all.


Marking Criteria

Many Universities throughout the world use Marking Criteria to gain consistent scores for students. IELTS uses a similar system, it is one reason why it is so generally accepted. The reading and listening modules of the test are objective in that they are simply scored depending on the number of correct answers out of the 40 questions. To reach a band 7 you need 75% correct answers.

In the speaking and writing modules is more subjective in nature. IELTS uses assessment criteria which are divided into 4 performance descriptors.


Task achievement (Task 1) Task response (Task 2)           25%
Coherence and cohesion 25%
Lexical resource 25%
Grammatical range and accuracy 25%


Pronunciation           25%
Fluency and coherence 25%
Lexical resource 25%
Grammatical range and accuracy 25%

The examiners at IELTS are well trained in using and interpreting the assessment criteria. These assessment criteria, and the human factor that associates with it, are one of the reasons why the test is so universally accepted, it is also one of the main faults with the test, as it makes the band score awarded by IELTS subjective, i.e., it has a level of personal/professional opinion that can vary between examiners. However, this variance in the greater majority of situations would be small.  It also means the test is subject to an appeals process.

Knowing how IELTS is scored and what the examiners are assessing you against will assist you in getting a higher score. It is a part that is often not discussed by many IELTS teachers.

Spread the love