My IELTS Score is Bad….Now What?

bad IELTS score
It happens. You don’t get the IELTS score you were aiming for, the one you needed. When you get a bad IELTS score, what should you do next?

You have a number of options. We’ll explore them below.

Bad IELTS Score? Resit the test.

An IELTS retake is your the first option that will probably come to your mind. And the IELTS makes it very easy to retake the exam. Unlike many other standardised tests, the IELTS does not place any limits on how frequently you can take the exam, or how long you need to wait before you resit. As the official IELTS website states, if you decide to resit the test, “you can register for another IELTS test as soon as you feel ready to do so.”

However, this most obvious option may not be your only option, or even your best option. Let’s look at a few more possible courses of action.

Bad IELTS Score? Talk to the uni you applied to.

If your IELTS score falls short of your school’s requirements, there’s a chance that the uni you applied to may still accept you. School admissions offices are sometimes willing to be flexible about your IELTS scores, especially if you have a strong professional or academic background.

Sometimes your school may also be willing to extend you conditional acceptance, allowing you to study with them on the condition that you take some additional English classes. (We have a post on conditional acceptance on our TOEFL blog that is also relevant to applicants with low IELTS scores.)

Bad IELTS score? Apply to a different university.

Even if your target school isn’t flexible on their IELTS requirement, there are many other schools and degree programs out there. And IELTS requirements can actually vary a good deal from one school to the next. If your IELTS score is bad by the standards of the uni you had hoped to attend, it can’t hurt to look for other unis that find your score perfectly acceptable. A “bad” IELTS score may not be bad in the eyes of every admissions office.

Bad IELTS score? Consider a different exam, such as the TOEFL.

Most IELTS-accepting schools will also accept scores from other English proficiency exams. The most common alternative to the IELTS is the TOEFL. Now, there’s no clear answer to which test is “easier,” objectively. But there are certainly some test-takers who personally have an easier time with the TOEFL, compared to the IELTS. It could be worth your while to look into the TOEFL as your next option. (Magoosh offers a good video lesson on the differences between the TOEFL and IELTS.)

Other exams may be available to you as well. A number of unis accept the Eiken, an English proficiency exam you can take in Japan. Many native Japanese speakers find the Eiken easier than the IELTS, especially since portions of the testing instruction are administered in Japanese. The TOEIC can sometimes be an option as well. And if you are taking the IELTS for work purposes, employers are often open to other Cambridge English certificates.

Really bad IELTS score? Keep working on your English.

If you tested into IELTS Band 5, you almost certainly need better English for university study. And if you are at Band 4 or below, your English proficiency is likely low. If you scored in these lower IELTS Bands, you aren’t really ready for a retake, and you likely won’t find an alternate school or different test that works for you. In this case, you’ll really need to improve your English skills before you can move forward.

By the way, improve your IELTS score with Magoosh!

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  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he's helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master's Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he's presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!