What Score Do I Need in IELTS to Study Abroad?

I’ll tell you what score you need, right here

There. I said it.


Now let me explain why…


When I first started teaching English, I very quickly got into teaching many IELTS classes.

At the time, thousands of students in China were taking the IELTS test every year — and this was around twenty years ago. All of them asked me the same question.

How can I get 6.5 in the IELTS test?

Because that is the band they needed to go and study in Canada, New Zealand, Australia or the United Kingdom.

There was not one college anywhere that would accept anything less.

And why?

Because with anything less than 6.5, you were just not going to be able to cope in the class.

You would not understand everything the teacher says — or what the other students say. There would be a very strong likelihood that you would just sit in the class like a rock, unable to communicate and oblivious to what people were talking about.

6.5 was the standard score required by all colleges.

And for good reason.


But then something happened…


I’m not sure of the exact time, but I think it was around 2007 that the score required for the IELTS test went down to 5.5.

That might not seem like a lot, but it breaks down like this.


Band 5 — modest user

Band 6 — competent user

Band 7 — good user


A student with a Band 5 in IELTS makes a LOT of errors. They can have a basic conversation with a native English speaker, but there may be some difficulty. A student that scores Band 5 in IELTS is a pre-intermediate to intermediate student.

A student with a Band 6 in IELTS makes much fewer errors — but still, there are mistakes. This student has GOOD ENGLISH and can have a decent conversation with a native English speaker. This student is intermediate to upper-intermediate.

A student with a Band 7 has EXCELLENT ENGLISH. They can speak fluently and with VERY FEW errors. This student could hold a very advanced conversation with a native English speaker.


So here we can see the differences.


It looks like the score only went down ONE band — from a 6.5 to a 5.5. But it makes a world of difference to the student’s English ability. And this will show greatly when they go to study abroad.


Why Did the Colleges Do This?




They needed more of those lush international fees that Chinese and Indian students have to pay.

By 2007, both China and India had grown into these huge powerhouses of industry and the people had become incredibly wealthy.

And as a result of that, they sent their sons and daughters to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK to study. All these students pouring into the colleges paying THREE TIMES as much as the local students.


Why would the colleges not like this?

They loved it.


But they wanted to get the IELTS score lowered to get more of these international students and get more international fees.


So that is what they did.


Why It Doesn’t Work For YOU


If you just accept that all you need is a 5.5 to get into college abroad, you won’t really make much effort to study English well.

You will settle for 5.5 as that is all you need to get in.

And many students can easily get a 5.5. It is within most students’ reach.

The problem for you is when you arrive in the country of your choice. Then you enter the classroom and you realise you can barely understand or follow anything that anyone is saying.

You want that? Of course not.


Case Study: Jennifer


I had a student called Jennifer whose English was incredible.

She did the IELTS test and got an overall score of eight.

She was delighted.

Then she went to Australia and began college.

She emailed me to tell me about her life there and what was going on. She said that trying to understand what everyone was saying in the class was a real challenge for her. She could understand most of what the teacher and other students said. But sometimes she would get lost and lose grip of the conversation.

“It was really hard for me at the beginning,” she said. “Because I didn’t know any of the modern slang they were using or the references. But I was able to catch up pretty quickly.”

I think the reason she was able to catch up is that she already had a head start by having a Band 8 score in IELTS.

I asked her about the other foreign kids in her class and she said that many of them were completely lost in the class.

They had no idea what was going on — and if the teacher asked them something they were often unable to answer.


What made it even worse for these students is that the local students often refused to work with them because their English was too poor.


So What Can You Do?


What you can do is make sure your English is at the right level before going abroad.

You do that by first studying General English.

I have written about this before. You can read here — 9 Golden Rules to Crush the IELTS Test

It is a complete waste of your time to just start doing IELTS classes unless your overall General English is up to speed. Once you have a decent level of English, then you should consider doing classes for IELTS.


A good teacher will be able to tell you what level of English you have.

Once you know this, then you will know what to do next.


Make sure your General English level is definitely intermediate. Not lower intermediate. And then you are ready for the nuances of IELTS classes.

Many students try to bypass this.

But this is a big mistake.


When You Arrive


Your English will need to be of such a standard that you can fully understand the teachers in the classroom. You will also need to understand what your classmates are saying.

There will be class discussions and debates. There could also be other group exercises like role plays. Or you may have to do a presentation with your classmates in front of the rest of the class.

Unless your English is of a high enough standard you will be unlikely to do these things well.


So please make sure that you aim for a 6.5 in the IELTS test as a minimum.

You owe this to yourself.

4 thoughts on “What Score Do I Need in IELTS to Study Abroad?”

  1. This is an excellent post that all students should read before even considering going abroad! I think it was very greedy and unfair of universities to lower their score for admittance. It is definitely different being in EFL classes in your own country than being in a native speaking country. The student should not have to pay high prices to be put in a situation where they have a hard time coping.

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