What score can I get in IELTS and how do Russian-speaking students pass the test?
What score can I get in IELTS and how do Russian-speaking students pass the test?



If you plan to enroll in higher education programs abroad and study in English, then you must provide a certificate in English, confirming knowledge of the language at the required level. One of the most popular tests that are accepted by almost all universities where teaching is conducted in English is the IELTS exam. Each university sets a minimum score that you must confirm when applying for a particular program of study.

In order to successfully prepare for such a test, it is important to clearly understand what the scores required by universities mean in terms of language level. We will also pay attention to how Russian-speaking students pass the test in order to conclude which skills should be emphasized in preparation.


General or Academic

IELTS exists in two versions - General Module and Academic Module. As a rule, the IELTS General Module is required by employers to confirm the language level sufficient for successful communication in a professional environment, as well as immigration programs, for example, in Canada, or training training programs. IELTS Academic is a module that is required for admission to higher education programs. In addition, like most international English tests, IELTS has four parts and separately assesses the level of language proficiency in all four competencies: listening, reading, speaking and writing.

Accordingly, the first thing you must clearly understand is which module you need to take, because due to the difference in goals, different skills are assessed, respectively, the nature and level of training will differ. Although the content of the Listening and Speaking parts of the General and Academic parts are the same, they differ significantly in the Reading and Writing parts.

In general, the content of the texts and the nature of the essay questions in the Academic Module is more difficult, as it assesses more complex English language skills for the academic environment.

Although both the academic and the general module assess the level of language development due to the difference in structure and questions, the same score in IELTS General and IELTS Academic does not mean the same language level. Achieving a 7.0 score in the Academic Module is significantly more difficult than scoring the same score in the General Module.


Minimum score

Second, you must know the minimum required score for the chosen program of study. IELTS evaluates the overall level and the level of each skill on a scale of 0 to 9.0 in 0.5 point increments. The test designer makes recommendations to educational institutions on setting minimum acceptable scores depending on the nature of the program. So, for example, for "linguistically demanding programs" - these may include competitive undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate programs in the humanities, as well as programs in top universities - the minimum recommended score is 7.5 or more, which corresponds to the level C1 (Advanced) according to the standards European scale (CEFR). For “linguistically less demanding programs”, the recommended level is 7.0, which also corresponds to the advanced level on the European scale. For many universities in Europe and streaming universities, a score of 6.5 is sufficient, which corresponds to an upper-intermediate level - B2 (upper-intermediate).

Each year, the test developer releases a pass statistics report where you can compare scores by demographics, country of take, taker's native language, and track differences in scores across sections.

Interestingly, according to the average scores of students from the Russian Federation who passed the test in 2017, the average student passes below the minimum required scores of highly competitive educational institutions in countries such as the USA and Canada, however, such scores are quite suitable for admission to many programs in Europe and the average paid universities especially in technical specialties.

IELTS statistics

Data source: Official statistics www.ielts.org


Scores for each part of IELTS

Third, pay attention to whether the university has a minimum score requirement for each individual part. Statistically, the majority of those who pass the exam have skills in the four parts that are unevenly developed. That is why many universities have begun to set minimum requirements not only for the overall score, but also for the minimum scores for individual parts that they consider important for successful study in a particular program.

This is understandable! Reading and listening are passive language skills and are easier and more enjoyable to train, especially in education systems where we are used to “book” learning. Speaking and writing skills are “active skills” and require a lot of practice to excel. Such activity involves a large load on the brain and causes a desire to postpone the completion of the essay until later. According to the results of the analysis of the homework of students of IELTS preparation courses in Global Ambassador, many students perform written and oral assignments reluctantly or do not complete them at all.

It is not uncommon for a student to feel that they can handle oral and written assignments without any problems, as many of the questions are “open-ended” questions that appeal to the student's knowledge and experience. However, many students forget or do not know that such answers are evaluated according to certain criteria. When compiling such questions, testing developers assume the use of a certain grammar, answer structure, and logical connectives. All this is taken into account when evaluating answers in conjunction with the vocabulary and semantic content of the answer. The student may falsely feel that he gave an excellent answer, because he “had something to say”, and the examiner gave him a nice and active nod, while as a result he received low scores.

Below are vivid examples of how much section scores can vary (from real IELTS certificates):

IELTS score 1

Example 1. Table of official results of a Russian-speaking student. 


In this example, the student demonstrates an advanced general level (C1), but only “intermediate to above average” (B2) in the writing and speaking parts. Therefore, if the selected study program has requirements of at least 7.0 in each of the sections, the student is no longer suitable for such a program, despite the high overall score.

IELTS score 2

Example 2. Table of official results of a Russian-speaking student. 


The same can be seen in the second example, where the student demonstrates the highest result in reading and slightly lower in listening, but a relatively low result in writing. Most likely, when entering a program of a humanitarian nature, such a score in writing will not be enough for admission.


Conclusions and recommendations

From all this, it is worth drawing a few conclusions about how best to organize the preparation for the IELTS exam:

1. Take the IELTS pre-test for the required module. This will allow you to evaluate the level of skill development in each of the four sections in the testing format, get a preliminary score and focus training on those skills that are significantly deficient.

2. Understand your current level and adequately estimate the required training period. For example, if you need to get a score of 7.0, which corresponds to the level of advanced, and your current level is average (intermediate), which, approximately, will allow you to pass the test at 4.5, then you need to not only spend a lot of time on preparation, but also concentrate on improving language level in general before starting preparation.

3. Select courses, materials, and instructors that are appropriate to prepare not only for the format of the test, but also for the types of items, the skills that the items test, and the criteria for assessing them. Many preparation courses pay little attention to the development of language skills, which are tested by certain IELTS tasks. They put more emphasis on getting to know the format of the tests by “training”. Such preparation will, of course, familiarize you with the format, but if the subject matter or the structure of the task changes, you may not have the skill to successfully complete it.

4. Practice active skills - writing and speaking, because their development requires more practice. Don't rely on familiar reading and writing questions - and they won't help if you don't know how to use the right structures for constructing arguments, descriptive answers, and so on. Take advantage of the experience of other students who have confirmed that writing and speaking tend to get lower scores for students. Set yourself up to work on these skills.


We wish you successful and effective training!


Author: Evgenia Efremova, master of Harvard University, author of preparation courses for IELTS, TOEFL, GRE, GMAT, etc. 



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