What You Need to Know About IELTS
No one likes exams. They’re stressful things we dread – and when your dream of moving to Canada and getting a permanent residency depends on it – it can be even more stressful.
The IELTS exam is a mandatory requirement for the Canada immigration process. No immigration application is complete without a an IELTS score.
Some of you may have already done some of your own research and you may have learned that there are alternative exams.
This is true, and I will discuss alternative exams further on in this article, I will – however – focus on the IELTS for immigration to Canada, as our experts recommend IELTS over any alternative exams.
What is IELTS?
The IELTS is an international standardized test of English language proficiency for non-native English language speakers. It is jointly managed by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge English Language Assessment.
In simpler terms – it is a test that has been suited to the standards of the Canadian government, and it can be taken nearly anywhere in the world.
The IELTS exam is designated for people who speak English as a second (or third, or fourth) language, and it is mandatory for candidates of any immigration program, including express entry.
Your IELTS score is comprised of an analysis of your proficiency in the four pillars of language communication:
Each part is scored individually, then tallied for an overall score.
Is this the fifth pillar? 🙂
This final score is the one you will be required to add to the immigration profile that is later submitted to the Canadian government.
The IELTS score is divided into 10 “bands”:
Band 0 – didn’t attempt the exam
Band 1-4 – basic user
Band 5 – modest user
Band 6 – competent user
Band 7 – good user
Band 8 – very good user
Band 9 – expert user
Before we get into all the parts of the test, the scoring system and all those dry details, we’ll tell you the most important part: How to get ready for it.
Your English might be great and you may feel like you don’t need to prepare. That’s terrific and the choice is yours, of course, but we would recommend looking over a practice test at the very least. No harm in seeing the structure and phrasing of the test.
The IELTS site includes a section dedicated to preparation. This section provides the candidates with sample materials they can use to study.
As the site provides these materials for free, there’s really nothing stopping you from being ready when you take the test.
For those of you struggling with the language, we would recommend getting some professional help learning the language. You could try to learning on your own, but if you haven’t learned it by now, odds are high that you probably won’t make much headway without outside help.
You can find your own tutors or an online course, but our regular readers will know that ItsCanadaTime works in collaboration with Macquarie University to provide for our clients a high-quality online IELTS course. We are now going into our fourth year of a very successful collaboration.
The course we offer is all online, which means our clients can login and study any time, anywhere. The course offers our clients large amounts of sample materials and practice tests, so there’s no need to go looking for study material anywhere else.
If you’d like to know more you can read an article that the university published 2 years into this wonderful partnership. The article discusses our successful collaboration and the importance of knowing English in Canada. You can read that article here.
The listening section is divided into 4 parts, containing ten questions each.
An audio recording is played before each of the parts. The questions are set in the same order that the answers appear in the recording.
The first two parts deal with situations one can find in everyday social contexts and the final two parts deal with situations set in educational and training contexts;
Part 1 is a conversation between two speakers (for example: a conversation about vacation plans).
Part 2 is a monologue (for example, a short speech about current affairs).
Part 3 is a conversation between two main speakers (for example, two university students in discussion, perhaps guided by a tutor).
Part 4 is a monologue on an academic subject.
The recordings are played only once. They contain a range of accents, including British, Australian, New Zealand, American and Canadian.
This section gets approximately 30 minutes to complete, and has a total of 40 questions.
This section is made of a variety of task types, which can be any or all of the following: multiple choice, matching, plan/map/diagram labeling, form/note/table/flow-chart/summary completion, sentence completion.
The candidates write the answers on a question paper while they listen to the audio, and get 10 extra minutes at the end to transfer the answers to the answer sheet.
Grammar and spelling are also inspected and penalized in this section, so pay attention when you’re transferring your answers!
The speaking section is an oral interview with a tester. The interview is recorded for later scoring.
This section lasts 10-15 minutes, and is comprised of 3 parts that examine the candidate’s input, the candidate’s output and the candidate’s interaction pattern.
Part 1 – Introductions – lasts 4-5 minutes and follows a script which discusses subjects like – family, work, studies and interests.
This part takes 4-5 minutes.
Part 2 – Long turn – the tester will give the candidate a card with a subject written on it. The candidate is given 1 minute to prepare, and then asked to explain an aspect of the topic.
The candidate can talk about the subject for 1-2 minutes. The tester will stop the candidate after 2 minutes and ask follow-up questions.
This part takes up to 4 minutes.
Part 3 – Discussion – in this part the tester and the candidate will discuss the subject from part 2 in more broad terms, and sometimes more in depth.
The purpose of this is to test the candidate’s ability to justify opinions, analyze and and speculate about issues.
This part takes 4-5 minutes.
This part’s score draws from 4 criteria:
Fluency and coherence – the ability to speak with continuity and link ideas.
Lexical resource – the range of vocabulary used in the exam and the accuracy of usage.
Grammatical range and accuracy – the use of correct grammar.
Pronunciation – the ability to produce comprehensible speech.
The reading section has 3 parts – part 1 and 2 contain texts of varying lengths. Part 3 contains one long text.
There is a total of 40 questions with 60 minutes to complete.
The candidates should have great care when answering, as grammar and spelling are penalized.
This section uses a pool of 11 types of tasks from which the questions are composed, such as “agree or disagree”, or multiple choice questions.
These answer sheets are marked by certificated markers that are monitored regularly, then further analyzed by Cambridge Assessment English.
This process ensures the most fair and objective marking.
The writing section contains 2 writing tasks with a total of 60 minutes to complete.
The first writing task asks the candidate to respond to a situation with a letter of at least 150 words. The situations in this task are common everyday situations.
The second task asks the candidate to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem. The topics are general interest subjects.
This essay is expected to be at least 250 words, and constantly relevant to the subject. Irrelevant information will be penalized.
Notes or bullet points are not allowed.
As you’ve already seen, this exam is not a pass-fail type exam. It scores the candidate by level of proficiency.
To be eligible for immigration to Canada, a candidate will need to have a total of 6.5.
As this is the tally of the 4 sections of the exam (reading, writing, speaking and listening), a candidate may score lower than 6.5 on a section, if the score on a different section is high enough to pull the average up to 6.5.
It’s important to remember that the score a candidate receives on the IELTS exam is valid for 2 years.
Some candidates try to take on the process several times, through the various programs they are eligible for, so this 2 year score validity means they don’t have to retake the test at every attempt.
Want a secret tip? A score of 7 or above in the French proficiency test can help you raise the average result of the English test! Ssshhh…
You can do it!
How to book a test
Booking a test is very simple, but as simple as it may be, it isn’t free.
The booking system can be found on the official IELTS site (you can find a link in the “Getting Ready” section). A candidate can start by choosing the most convenient location from the list of locations on the site.
Once a city is chosen, the site will reveal specific locations in the city where the candidate can take the test and availability of dates and times.
Most test locations will have 2 tests per month, while some of the smaller places where the test is not in high demand will only have 1 test per month.
Most places in the world will see the tests fully booked approximately 2 months in advance, with a few exceptions where they don’t always get fully booked.
On the next stage a candidate will be required to pay a fee for the exam.
The fee is different in each country, ranging from 200$ to 300$ US.
For example in the USA a test fee is between 215$ and 240$.
I’m getting the best IELTS Score! 🙂
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Some candidates who used our service for the purpose of acquiring higher education in Canada have already done their own research on the process and the requirements.
Having specific higher education requirements, they asked us about the exam their college of choice requires – the TOEFL for example.
It’s true that some establishments will require these exams, and that the government will accept them.
But each exam has its own method of scoring, and while a simple google search will reveal the required equivalent score in each of these exams, it’s recommended to have an immigration professional examine the results and make sure it’s sufficient by IELTS standards.
Alternatively, we would recommend checking with the college or university who asked for an alternative exam if they can accept the IELTS. We have yet to hear a negative response to such a question.
If you got this far – you too can teach others about IELTS!
Please don’t hesitate to send more questions about the process and our services to let us know what to write about next.