July 4, 2012

Why you can't "pass" or "fail" in the IELTS

Success in sight....
Photo credit: seeveeaar on Flickr.

There is no pass or fail in the IELTS. Well, not directly.

This could be counterintuitive for some of us, as we've been familiar with exams where a passing score is usually set. One familiar example would be our Philippine Nursing Licensure Exam where the law explicitly states that "(i)n order to pass the examination, an examinee must obtain a general average of at least seventy five percent (75%) with a rating of not below sixty percent (60%) in any subject." This is however not the case with regard to the IELTS exam.

So, why is it inaccurate to say that one has passed (or failed) the IELTS exam?

This is because the IELTS exam is governed by a scoring system that uses 1 to 9 for the areas of Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. Thus, if candidates get a 7 in the exam, it does not necessarily mean that they have "passed." They are instead considered as "Good users" of English in IELTS terminology.

Now, where does the passing or failing aspect come in?

It comes into play when you submit a copy of your results to the university, organization, or entity that asks for them. For instance, if you plan to work as a nurse in New Zealand, then the Nursing Council of New Zealand would require you to have a band score of 7 in all areas of the IELTS Academic Module. If you obtain at least a score of 7, then you can say that you've met or "passed" one of its requirements. This is actually one reason why it is always advisable to research for IELTS band score requirements before taking the exam.

To summarize, in the IELTS you are graded using scores from 1 to 9 for each part of the test – Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. Always keep in mind that what constitutes a pass or fail would depend, not on your Test Result Form, but rather on the requesting organization's requirements.

Further reading:

IELTS | Test Takers - My test score

IELTS | Test Takers - Test results