It’s important to keep the IELTS level of your content in mind to reach a wider audience. But, what is IELTS and why consider it for your content's readability?

What is IELTS?

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

The standardized test is one of the biggest in the world and is trusted by both individuals and organizations. This includes academic institutions, professional organizations and immigration authorities.

Individuals studying for the test can choose to either study the academic version for professional use and further education. This covers most of IELTS’s student base.

The other portion is the General Training version, which is for people who train for working in an English-speaking country in a non-academic capacity.

Where did the test come from?

The IELTS was created in 1980 by Cambridge University and the British Council. It had a focus on real-world developments in communicative English.

Not many people took the test in the eighties - less than 10,000 a year, as opposed to the massive three million who took the test in 2017. It took a while to design the test in a way that was easy to administer and has undergone several revisions in its lifetime.

Now the demand for IELTS has soared and 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?

The scoring system of IELTS determines the degree to which the test-taker can understand English in listening to it, reading it, writing it and speaking it.

The scale ranges from 0 to 9. The higher end of the scale indicates an expert user of English.

There is no pass or fail, but a score of 0 indicates the individual didn’t attempt the test so there is no assessable information provided.

The higher the score, the more competent the user. The approximate score for understanding short blogs, emails and social media is around 5, which indicates a modest user.

A modest user has partial command of the English language and they can cope with overall meaning in most situations. They are, however, likely to make many mistakes. They should be able to handle basic communication 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 with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriacies. Misunderstandings may occur in unfamiliar situations. Handles complex detailed argumentation well

7 | Good user

Has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriateness and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally handles complex language well and understands detailed reasoning

6 | Competent user

Has generally effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations

5 | Modest user

Has partial command of the language, coping with overall meaning in most situations, though is likely to make many mistakes. Should be able to handle basic communication in 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 using isolated words or short formulae in familiar situations and to meet immediate needs. Has great difficulty understanding spoken and written English

1 | Non user

Essentially has no ability to use the language beyond possibly a few isolated words

0 | Did not attempt the test

No assessable information provided at all

Why does this matter to me?

If you’re a content marketer, your writing needs to be easily understood by the average reader. It also needs to be understood by a reader who is competent at most and a modest user at least in their ESL comprehension.

This means you should be aiming for an IELTS score of between 5 and 7.

For inclusivity and accessibility, it is a useful mindset to assume not every one of your readers are going to be expert users of the English language.

The modest user benchmark also covers the understandability of highly readable books such as the Harry Potter series .

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. If you can make your writing accessible for a competent English language learner, your audience will grow alongside this.

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

“Anybody can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.”

— Charles Mingus, jazz musician

Make sure it’s readable for native speakers and English learners alike by using ReadablePro to score your text . This will save both you and your reader time and help you to clarify your message for a wider audience.

Laura Kelly

Laura is a content writer and customer success champion at Readable. She's a Literature MA graduate who loves poetry, a good coffee and 35mm photography.