How is the IELTS exam scored?

It is extremely common for English level tests to score a student from A2 (beginner) to C2 (expert). However, IELTS uses a different scoring system which is referred to as bands. The bands range from 0 (failure to take the test) all the way to 9 (expert). When you receive your scores from the IELTS exam, each task is given a band score individually and then these scores are averaged together to produce an overall score. An example of what this may look like can be found in the chart below:

Task Listening Reading Writing Speaking Overall Score
Band 7 6.5 7.5 8 7.5


It is possible to receive a .5 score on the IELTS exam such as 7.5 or 8.5 on any of the tasks or on the overall score. 

The scores you receive on the IELTS exam can be rounded up or rounded down. This is something that will automatically be done before you receive your final scores. For example:

  • if your overall score is 7.25 this will be rounded up to 7.5. 
  • if your overall score 7.2 it will be rounded down to a 7. 
  • if your overall score is 7.75 then it will be rounded up to an 8. 

Because of this scoring system, it is important to do your best on every task because it could make the difference between an overall score of 7.5 or 8. 

IELTS bands vs. CEFR and TOEFL scoring

As mentioned earlier, most English exams will use the A1 to C2 scoring system which follows the CEFR scoring guidelines or, exams like TOEFL will use a number range from 0 to 120, but IELTS uses the bands system! It may seem a little complicated at first, but if you take a look at the table below you can get a better idea of what score each band is compared to the CEFR and TOEFL scoring system. 

It’s important to remember that the IELTS exam does not focus on testing students who will score lower than an A2 (bands 3 or lower). This means that if you are still a beginner, the IELTS exam is probably not for you!

Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) Scoring International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Bands Scoring The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) Scoring
C2 9 118-120
8.5 115-117
C1 8 110-114
7.5 102-109
7 94-101
B2 6.5 73-93
6 60-72
5.5 46-59
B1 5 35-45
4.5 32-34
A2 4 31
A1 3 0-30


Band Level Descriptions

Now you understand what exactly the IELTS scoring means when compared with the CEFR and TOEFL, but since different English exams focus on different aspects of the language, you have to understand what exactly the IELTS exam expects of you. This chart explains what you are expected to be able to do in order to achieve a certain band score. 

Band Description Level
9 You have complete and fluent command of the English language along with a clear accent, advanced vocabulary, and total understanding of the language. Expert
8 You are able to understand almost every aspect of the language, only misunderstanding some unfamiliar topics. You control the language well and only commit small occasional errors. Very good
7 You have a good grasp of the language and are able to understand and communicate in many situations even though you may misunderstand or make errors. Good
6 You are able to maintain a conversation while understanding well if the topic is familiar to you. However, in unfamiliar situations, you will not understand complex language and will struggle with the usage of the language. Competent
5 You are able to understand the general meaning of a conversation or situation and are comfortable with basic communication while still committing usage errors. Modest
4 You find it difficult to understand and communicate in the language and can only communicate effectively in familiar and simple situations. Limited
3 You are unable to hold a conversation or create complete sentences and frequently misunderstand the meanings of the language. Extremely Limited
2 You have extreme difficulty using and understanding the language.  Intermittent
1 You are only able to use and understand a few words in the language.  Non-User


Tips to score band 7 or up!

Chances are you are taking the IELTS exam because you need to get a certain score. As you already know, IELTS is designed as a level test, so you could score anything on the bands scale. If you are trying to score a band 7 or higher, there are certain things to do that will help you achieve this:

        • Just because the vocabulary topic is simple does not mean you don’t need to study it! If you are capable of scoring band 7 or higher then you probably do not struggle to discuss simple topics like your hobbies or your job. But remember, it’s a level test so you may have to do it! If this is the situation, you can prepare more complex vocabulary and phrases that you can use to demonstrate your level even on the simplest of topics.
  • Use as much variety as possible! One of the best ways to show your vast knowledge of the English language is by using a different word, connector, idiom, phrasal verb, etc., every time you can and not resorting to a vocabulary that you use all the time. While this may be easier said than done with the pressures of a speaking section, you can easily apply this tip to your writing tasks.
  • Omit grammatical errors! Something that will differentiate your score from a low to high band score is your control of English grammar. While lower levels allow you to commit errors as long as the meaning of what you are saying is clear, scoring a band 7 or up means that you need to get rid of those grammar issues that you have. When preparing for your exam you must take the time to fix any errors and fully understand the grammar so you are prepared for anything.


To Summarize…

The scoring of the IELTS exam may seem a little complicated at first, but you can always refer back to the tables above to compare them to other exams. Just remember, when it comes to IELTS bands you want to score as high as possible, and the only way to achieve this is through practice!


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