If you are interested in studying in Australia then you will probably need to sit the IELTS test. It’s a test that will find your level of English ability and give you a score out of nine. A score of one is the worst and a score of nine is the best (even most native English speakers can’t get more than an 8.5). Your overall score is taken from your average in each of the 4 tests; listening, speaking, reading and writing. Minimum IELTS requirements are set by Colleges and universities. Colleges generally want a score over 5.5, Universities over 6 but some courses require higher scores. Colleges and Universities will often want you to score over a certain mark in each of the 4 tests. BSC Nursing needs a 6.5 overall and no band lower than 6.5. A diploma of Nursing needs a 7 overall and no band less than 7. IELTS has two separate streams, Academic and General. Make sure to complete Academic if you want to study as most courses require it.
So what are the IELTS tests?
In the listening test you will hear someone reading a text, and you will be asked to answer some questions about what you heard. You will get to listen to it twice so don’t stress out if you miss something the first time. Finally, don’t worry if you didn’t understand everything! Everyone hoping to score a 4 all the way up to a 9 will be taking the same test so the later questions will be very very hard.
The speaking test is the one that a lot of people are worried about. It has 3 parts. In part 1 the examiner will ask you some questions about yourself, your family, your work and your interests. If you don’t understand a question you can ask them to repeat themselves but they can’t explain. Again, they will probably ask some questions that you won’t understand. That’s OK. The best thing to do is to take a guess. In part 2 you will be given a card with a topic and some related talking points (you don’t have to use these, it just makes it easier). The topics can be anything from your dreams to extreme sports. You will have 1 minute to prepare then you will be asked to talk for 1-2 minutes about your topic. If you don’t have much to say about the topic, tell the examiner why you don’t. If they ask you about computer games but you don’t play them, tell them why you don’t play and tell them about what you do instead. In part 3 you will have a conversation, and the examiner will ask you questions about what you said in part 2. Normally the examiner will be nice and try to work with you to get you to use some special vocabulary.
The reading test will probably not be too hard for you if you have already gotten this far. It is basically the same as the listening but you will be answering questions about something you read instead of heard. What you have to read will depend on whether you are taking the Academic or the General test. In the General test they will give you something from a book or a magazine. In the Academic test they will give you some texts talking about an Academic field (fingers crossed it’s something you are familiar with). The texts are harder but they mark more leniently. People who learned English by studying do better in Academic than General.
The writing section is the one that most people have trouble with. It’s broken into two questions. The first question is very different for General tests and Academic tests. In General, you will be asked to write a letter about something to someone. You could be asking to a friend about a holiday or a landlord about a leak. In the Academic test you will be given some data in graph or table form and you will be asked to describe it. Part two is the same for both tests. They will give you a very broad essay question and you will be asked to give an extended response. There is no “right answer” to the question. Some people can score full marks writing about how the sky is green if they make a good argument. This is where most people slip up on IELTS. They are not just marking your English skills, they are also marking how you write essays. Different countries write essays in different ways and the way you are used to writing essays might be very different to how we write essays in English.