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IELTS and TOEFL - What They Are, What They Mean to You

The IELTS and TOEFL exams are known and feared by English language students worldwide. Both exams are used by universities to assess the English language ability of applicants. IELTS is widely used in the UK and Australia and also recognised by most American and Canadian universities, including Harvard Business School; TOEFL is used mainly by American universities, though also accepted in the UK and Australia. Next month we will examine the TOEFL exam; this month we will focus on IELTS.

IELTS stands for the International English Language Testing system. It operates on a nine point band, where a nine indicates that the student has a level of English equivalent to a highly educated native speaker, and it tests all four skills ( reading, writing, listening and speaking) in an academic context. Generally speaking, undergraduate students need to obtain a score of 5.5 overall to gain university admission and postgraduate students need a score of 6.5 overall. Some universities will ask for higher grades for all courses, or for specific programmes. The IELTS exam can be taken at centres worldwide and at frequent intervals throughout the year. Candidates pay a fee to take the exam.

For language school owners the preparation courses for the IELTS exam are frequently a major source of income. IELTS is becoming increasingly popular throughout Asia and students usually need to attend a year long preparation course to do well enough in the exam to apply to an overseas university. There is a wealth of preparation material to use on these courses, including plenty of mock exam material. Teachers who are asked to teach IELTS should be given a thorough briefing on the demands of the exam and a brief training course. Details can be found on the IELTS website (

By Carl Newbauer

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