What is a good IELTS score?

Before we take a look at “good” IELTS scores, let’s quickly recap how the IELTS is scored in the first place. IELTS scores the exam in bands from 1 to 9 (“non-user” to “expert”). It is also possible to score in half bands: for example, 6.5, 7.5., 8.5. You can score in half bands or whole bands on any section of your test; your final band score is the average of your scores in all four sections (Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking). With all that in mind, it can be hard to know what a good score is—leaving a lot of test-takers to ask “What is a good IELTS score?”

Regardless of why you’re taking the IELTS, the better question to ask is probably, “What is an acceptable IELTS Score?”

The IELTS score is used by a vast number of institutions and organizations to figure out whether or not your English is ‘good enough’ for eligibility – immigration, admissions, hiring, etc. If you are taking the IELTS for immigration, what they’re looking for will depend on kind of visa you need (e.g. work, business, for investors, for students, etc.). If you’re taking the IELTS as an international student, both the government and the institution may have a say about what is acceptable.

IELTS Score Scale and Skill Level

First of all, how does your IELTS score relate to your “skill level” in English? According to the British Council, here are the descriptions of the different bands:

IELTS Band ScoreSkill Level
8Very good
3Extremely limited

According to the British Council, if you score a 9 on the exam, you’re an “expert” in English; if you score an 8, you’re “very good” at English; and so on.

Here’s a rough idea of what scores some organizations hope to see on your applications:

“Good” IELTS Scores for Top Universities

Since score requirements vary from university to university, let’s look at requirements from a few top schools.

Oxford University

Requires an overall score of 7.0 (with at least 7.0 in each of the four components).

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Photo by Bill Tyne

Cambridge University

Requires an overall score of 7.5 for undergraduates, usually with 7.0 or above in each element. Graduate-level students can check their department-specific requirements here.

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Does not accept IELTS scores at the undergraduate level (you’ll need to take the TOEFL!). For graduate students, the requirement is 7.0 (though some departments require a higher score–be sure to check the requirements listed on your department’s website).

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What’s a good IELTS score in Australia?

To the Australian government, a good IELTS score can fall into various categories. Your scores will tell them whether your skills are good enough to be determined functional, vocational, competent, proficient, or superior. Each visa-type has a different minimal requirement. Here is how the overall IELTS scores measure up:

Functional: An overall IELTS score of 4.5
Vocational: A minimum of 5.0 in each category (Listening, Reading, Writing, & Speaking)
Competent: A minimum of 6.0 in each category
Proficient: A minimum of 7.0 in each category
Superior: A minimum of 8.0 in each category

BONUS! Eligibility for migration into Australia is determined on a point system. If your English is proficient or superior, you will extra earn points (10 and 20, respectively) that strengthen your application. Check out Australia’s FAQ section on language skills.

Some examples of international student requirements:

  • Undergraduate and graduate applicants at the University of Sydney should generally have an overall score of at least 6.5, with at least a 6.0 in each category. Click on the University’s link to see exceptions.
  • Minimum IELTS scores for undergraduate and graduate applicants are different, but generally, the University of Melbourne wishes to see a 7.0 minimum score overall.
  • University of Adelaide’s requirements are dependent on level (i.e. graduate or undergraduate), department, and program (see link).

What’s a good IELTS score in Canada?

In Canada, as in Australia, it depends on the kind of visa you’re applying for. For example, here, you’ll find that the skilled worker visa has different requirements for each applicant type. The scores here are listed in CLB – Canadian Language Benchmark – which is used to represent English and French language skills throughout the country. You must use a calculator tool to convert your IELTS scores for immigration requirements.

Some examples of international student requirements:

  • University of Alberta: (undergraduate) written academic- 6.5 or higher, no less than 5.0 on each band, speaking – 7.5 or higher; (graduate) minimum overall band score of 6.5, with at least 5 on each band (Academic)
  • Queen’s University: undergraduate students should have a minimum overall score of 6.5 on the academic module, graduate students need a minimum of 7.0 on the academic module

What’s a good IELTS score in New Zealand?

In New Zealand, it’s up to the school or company to decide which IELTS scores are “good enough” for work and study visas. For example, University of Auckland requires an overall 6.0 average for undergraduate admission (with a minimum of 5.5 for each category) and an overall 6.5 for post-graduate work (with a minimum of 6.0 in each category). An immigration official may verify that you meet the requirements when processing your application for the work and/or student visa.

For all other visas, the IELTS score requirements vary. Here are some examples:

Investors: 3.0 overall score or higher
Entrepreneurs: 4.0 overall score or higher
Parents Category:  4.0 in at least two categories (listening, reading, writing, and/or speaking)
Skilled Migrants: an overall average of at least 6.5

What’s a good IELTS score in the UK?

For work visas, the requirements are based on the tier you’re applying for and how long you’ll be staying. These are quite varied, but in tiers 1 and 2, for example, those requesting permission to stay must demonstrate a B1 or B2 minimum, respectively. These requirements are described in the format of the Council of Europe’s Common European Framework (A1 – C2). See IELTS equivalents here.

Schools and other organizations can “sponsor” your immigration, and it would be up to them to determine acceptable IELTS scores.

Some examples of international student requirements:

  • Oxford: undergraduate students should have an average of 7.0 with no less than 7.0 in each category; graduate students‘ minimum score depends on the course they’re taking (see link).
  • University of Birmingham: Requirements vary, check them out: undergraduate and graduate requirements.
  • University of Westminster: Graduate students need a minimum of 6.5 overall, with no less than 6.0 for all bands; undergraduates should have a 6.0 or higher.

What’s a good IELTS score in the USA?

Surprisingly, the U.S. government is the only on this list without minimum English requirements for visa applicants. If you are heading to the U.S. for your studies, however, you can expect to have to demonstrate your English skills before being admitted. Minimum scores for the Academic IELTS vary for each institution and are often different for undergraduate and post-graduate applicants. Here are some examples:

  • At the University of South California, PhD applicants must have a 7.0 average or higher (with no less than 6.0 in each category), while Master’s students should have a minimum overall score of 6.5 (and no less than 6.0 in each category.) All undergraduate applicants must have a overall average of 7.0 or higher.
  • At Berkeley, undergraduate students must have a minimum of 6.5 overall, while graduate students must have at least a 7.0 average.
  • While New York University does not have any minimum requirements, they do require that you submit your English proficiency scores and note that most international students admitted do not score less than the equivalent of a 7.5 overall average score.

So, what does this all mean for you? Well, first it means you should find reliable, high-quality IELTS prep to help you along the way (hello, Magoosh!). If you’re planning to apply to top-ranked universities, you should likely strive to achieve at least a 7.0. But if you’re not applying to the world’s top schools, a “good” score will likely be lower for you. Be sure to check those requirements on each university’s website.

If you’re still wondering about whether or not you’ve got a good IELTS score (rather than acceptable) learn more about what the band number means by the IELTS folks who’ve assigned them here: IELTS Scores: Understand How They Are Calculated and What They Mean.

This post was expanded with help from Rachel Wisuri.

By the way, sign up for our 1 Week Free Trial to try out Magoosh IELTS Prep!

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