Why were my IELTS results withheld?

There is nothing more frustrating than studying really hard for an exam, taking a test, waiting for your IELTS to be graded, and then not getting your score when you are supposed to.  More and more, I have heard of reports of candidates having their IELTS results withheld.  Unfortunately in certain circumstances, test results may be withheld for longer than the usual period of 13 days. But why?

Let’s look at three likely reasons why your IELTS results were withheld.

Random quality checks

In the extensive terms and conditions of the test, it states that sometimes the examining body will carry out random quality checks.  If this happens, then you might receive an email like this:

IELTS Results Withheld Email

Unfortunately, all you can do here is wait.

An unusual exam result

If the the examining body has reasonable grounds to believe that a test result is not a reliable indicator of a candidate’s ability, then they can also withhold it.

One example of this is when a candidate scores very high in one area, like the reading and listening sections, while performing poorly in another, like in the writing and speaking.  Here, the IELTS authorities may suspect that the test taker has memorised the reading and listening questions – a practice that is very popular and possible in some countries.

Other instances that may cause an examining body to think your score is unusual include:

  • a similarity of response patterns, or marks, between two or more candidates
  • a dramatically different performance of a repeater candidate on one test date compared to their previous performance
  • the likelihood of certain responses and scores given the overall ability of the candidate
  • the time it takes to complete the test or test items (in Computer-Based tests).

They suspect malpractice

Any cases which are identified as being very unusual may be further scrutinised by an external malpractice panel. Here, the panel will investigate to see if the candidate basically cheated in some way by:

  • obtaining unauthorised access to examination material
  • using or trying to use unauthorised material, e.g. notes, study guides, mobile phones
  • copying or attempting to copy
  • being involved in disruptive behaviour or not following the instructions of an invigilator, supervisor or Centre Exams Manager
  • impersonating someone else (i.e. sitting the exam for someone else)
  • altering any results document, including certificates
  • participating in any other form of cheating or gaining of an unfair advantage.

What next?

First, just relax and be patient.  I know the wait can be very nerve-racking, but usually it is nothing to worry about.  Most likely, your results were only withheld for a random quality check or an unusual result and will be released to you within a few weeks. Sadly, I have heard of some cases where it this has taken several months. Terribly frustrating, I know, but this seems to be the exception rather than the norm.

However, if they do suspect malpractice, then you may have to provide a statement and additional information to a review panel. After carefully considering the case, they may release the result unchanged or they might permanently withhold the result. Unfortunately, though, these investigations can take up to 12 weeks from the test date.

**Please note we can not provide individualized advice in the comments on this blog post (we just don’t have the resources or information needed). We wish you the best on the IELTS!**

By the way, improve your IELTS score with Magoosh!

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  • Gwendolyn

    Gwendolyn is our expert blogger on IELTS. She has experience in preparing students for the IELTS exam and is currently in South Korea teaching English as a Second Language. When not blogging, you are most likely to find her on an airplane, striving to obtain membership in the Traveler’s Century Club, something she’s just about as passionate about as helping students achieve their life dreams.