The ultimate guide to IELTS for higher studies

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Aden - Yasmin Abdel Azim - More than 10,000 organisations globally trust IELTS Image Credit: Shutterstock

If you’re planning to attend college or graduate school abroad as an international student, you should be aware that standardised English proficiency tests are a requirement for admission at most institutions.

Many of them accept the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), which was designed to show admissions departments that an applicant has enough grasp of the English language to tackle their subject matter. More than three million IELTS exams were taken over the past year and over 10,000 global institutions accept the standard.

How it works

IELTS takers can choose to take the exam on paper or computer. Both have a two hour and 45 minute time limit. There are four assessment sections: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. Test takers receive a score (band) from 1 to 9 on each. The average score across all sections is rounded to the nearest whole or half band, such as 6.0 or 6.5, to calculate the overall band score.

There is no pass or fail, but institutions accepting the test set their own IELTS minimum score requirements, and these may vary. It’s important to check with individual schools to learn what constitutes a good IELTS score for undergraduate admission, alongside any other requirements. The majority of the top 200 undergraduate and graduate courses have minimum scores from 6.0 to 7.0, with some elite universities demanding figures around 7.5.

An effective means of IELTS preparation is by taking the test early. This not only provides experience of the test but also offers knowledge of your current level, which will help determine the score you want to achieve in the time available. The more you surround yourselves with English, the better you are.

Improve your score

Test takers need to properly learn the format of the exam, as many have performed poorly due to unfamiliarity or failure to follow instructions.

Besides IELTS-specific training, listening to English-language podcasts or radio stations on a daily basis can improve listening skills. Reading the news, either online or in print, can increase your reading level over time. If you feel your vocabulary isn’t up to scratch, the Word Ready App offers a frequency list, providing the words IELTS takers are most likely to see. Strengthening your vocabulary will also improve your writing.

Doing plenty of practice essays under strict time limits is one of the best ways to improve your writing. The final section is speaking. It includes between four and five minutes of discussion about your hobbies, hometown or school; a prompt about a specific topic, which you’ll get one or two minutes to talk about; and four or five minutes of further discussion about the prompt topic.

There’s no shortage of resources offered by the British Council. Road to IELTS, Ask The Expert (a Live series), Future Learn, IELTS Ready workshops, familiarisation videos on YouTube channels and are just a few. The British Council provides resources at its teaching centres in Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah and runs classes specifically for IELTS takers.

Ultimately, plenty of practice is the best method.

What is IELTS?

IELTS is an English language proficiency test for higher education and global migration. More than 10,000 organisations globally trust IELTS, so when you take the test you can be confident that it is recognised by educational institutions, employers, governments and professional bodies around the world. As one of the pioneers of four skills English language testing 30 years ago, IELTS continues to set the standard for English language testing today.

To find out more about the format of the test as well as about IELTS at the British Council, visit

Take computer-delivered IELTS at the British Council office in Sharjah

The British Council has launched computer delivered testing at its Sharjah office last week. The latest test venue is located conveniently on King Abdul Aziz Street, popularly known as Bank Street, on the 4th floor of Omran Tower, above Mashreq Bank.

“The British Council is always looking for providing more choice to test takers in IELTS test preparation, test venues, test dates and test formats,” said Deep Adhikari, Director — Exams, The British Council Gulf South, as he launched the test venue.

Deep Adhikari, Director — Exams, The British Council Gulf South Image Credit: Supplied

The computer delivered test does not differ much from the paper-based test but does offer more availability of test dates and faster results, within five to seven calendar days after the test has been complete. The test content, timing, and structure remain the same in both options and, importantly, the speaking test remains face-to-face with a certified IELTS examiner.

Whether test takers take IELTS on paper or on computer, they can be confident that they are taking the same trusted English language test. Test takers who choose the option of computer-delivered IELTS can access support materials with which they can prepare for IELTS on a computer.

Computer-delivered IELTS is popular amongst working professionals who are planning to migrate to destinations such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The option to choose a slot for speaking interviews at the time of registration makes it easier for test takers to plan their test day.

Top reasons to take IELTS with the British Council

With an easy booking process for the test and effective preparation support, taking IELTS at the British Council is hassle-free

Road to IELTS’ last-minute course

Access the British Council’s online preparation course, which includes nine videos offering advice and tutorials, 100 interactive activities and two practice tests for each of the four skills — and it’s free when you register for IELTS with the British Council.

IELTS Ready workshop

Attend a free three-hour face-to-face IELTS Ready workshop, conducted by the British Council’s expert teachers at its centres in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.

Free practice tests

Access free practice tests online or obtain a free copy of the IELTS Essential Guide, containing sample tests for IELTS Academic and General Training tests, when you register for a test with the British Council.

Prepare on the go

The British Council has a range of free innovative apps to help you improve your English skills even when you are on the move.

Expert support

From videos and books to online interactive courses, you have access to the best preparation materials to help you do well in your test.

Easy booking

You can either book online, at the British Council offices or at one of the British Council IELTS registration centres.

Convenient dates and locations

The British Council has several IELTS test venues across the UAE in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Sharjah, Fujairah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah. This means that you have a wide range of options for where and when you want to take your test.

Your common questions on IELTS answered

In conversation with Gavin Anderson, Country Director, The British Council, UAE

IELTS are sometimes required for admissions in UAE universities. When should a high school student start preparing for IELTS?

IELTS is an assessment of a student’s English language skills. Preparing for IELTS is unlike other tests, as IELTS tests ability rather than knowledge. Language skills or ability is developed over a period of time and so the earlier you engage with the English language the more proficient you will become. Once you have a good command of the language, preparation for IELTS requires only an understanding of the test format and the practice to complete the test within the stipulated time. This practice, as for any test, is crucial and the British Council provides numerous online, offline and mobile-based learner support material that students can avail for free.


Once you have a good command of the language, preparation for IELTS requires only an understanding of the test format and the practice to complete the test within the stipulated time.

- Gavin Anderson, Country Director, The British Council, UAE

Can IELTS be taught in high school?

The British Council does provide support to school counsellors and teachers to help students with understanding the IELTS test. Ongoing development involving conversations, public speaking, reading and summarising of texts, fictional and non fictional writing in English is key in helping students prepare for the assessment of their English language skills. Hence schools play a vital role in preparing students for the IELTS test.

Does a student need to take IELTS if he has good proficiency in the language?

Students have to take IELTS as an evidence of their proficiency as verified by an independent examiner. University admissions staff request for IELTS scores, even from native English speakers, as the assessment is not limited to just one area but covers all the productive and receptive areas of a language by testing in listening, reading, writing and speaking.

What are the key things a student must keep in mind while preparing for IELTS?

Understand that IELTS is an enabler. It is the singular test that opens doors to opportunities for the test taker to study, live or progress in their career across the world. It is the most popular and widely recognised English language skill assessment test because it is well designed to test all four skills in a very natural way as the student would use in an academic and social environment. Take advantage of the plethora of resources made available by the British Council for learning English and IELTS preparation.

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