IELTS is a standardised proficiency test. It can be used in a readability context to reach a global audience. Find out how IELTS is calculated and how you can best use it. 

What is IELTS?

IELTS stands for The International English Language Testing System. It determines English language proficiency. Specifically, for non-native English speakers.

The test is one of the biggest in the world. It is trusted by both individuals and teams. This includes:

  • Academic institutions
  • Organisations 
  • Immigration authorities

Students can take the academic version. This is for professional use or for further education. This covers most of IELTS’s student base. The other portion is the General Training version. This is for people who train for working in an English-speaking country. This is in a non-academic capacity.

Where did the test come from?

IELTS was created in 1980. It was developed by Cambridge University and the British Council. It focused on real-world developments in communicative English.

Not many people took the test in the 1980s. Less than 10,000 a year. By contrast, 3 million took the test in 2017. It has undergone several revisions in its lifetime.

The demand for IELTS has soared. The number of test-takers has tripled over the past decade. It is globally respected for its quality, clarity and fairness.

How does an IELTS score work?

IELTS determines the test taker’s knowledge of English.

The scale ranges from 0 to 9. The higher end is an expert user of English. There is no pass or fail. However, a score of 0 shows a non-attempt. Therefore, there is no information provided.

A modest user has partial command of the English language. They can cope with overall meaning in most situations. However, they're likely to make many mistakes. They should be able to handle basic conversation in their own field.

Here are all nine bands explained:

9| Expert user

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

8| Very good user

Has full operational command of the language. Only occasional inaccuracies. Misunderstandings may occur in obscure situations. Handles complex detailed arguments well.

7| Good user

Has operational command of the language. Occasional inaccuracies and misunderstandings. Generally handles complex language well. Understands detailed reasoning.

6| Competent user

Has generally effective command of the language. Some inaccuracies and misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly complex language. Especially in familiar situations.

5| Modest user

Has partial command of the language. Copes with overall meaning in most situations. However, is likely to make many mistakes. Should be able to handle basic communication in their 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. Uses isolated words or short phrases in familiar situations. Has great difficulty understanding spoken and written English.

1| Non user

Essentially has no ability to use the language. They know a few isolated words.

0| Did not attempt the test

No assessable information provided.

How can IELTS help me?

The approximate score for understanding short blogs, emails and social media is around 5. This indicates a modest user. Your writing should be easily understood by the average reader. Especially if you're optimising a website. It also needs to be accessible for ESL readers - readers of English as a Second Language.

This means you should be aiming for an IELTS score of between 5 and 7. This meets the needs of a modest to good user. It is a useful mindset to remember many people don't speak English as a first language. A score of 5 also covers the reading ease of highly readable books. Harry Potter, for example.

According to the British Council, there are 375 million ESL learners worldwide. These students are therefore using English on a daily basis. This number of learners globally is only going to grow. This is a great opportunity for you as a content creator. 

More accessible writing is more readable. Remember to keep your target audience in mind. Write content that is readable for them as well as useful.

Laura Kelly

Laura is a Marketing Executive at Readable. She loves coffee, literature, weightlifting and film photography.