Are you planning to study in an English-speaking country? An Academic IELTS band score of 6.0 or 6.5 is valuable if you want to study at University. You can learn how to succeed in your IELTS exam, and get your IELTS required score.  

IELTS Exam Overview

1.    What is IELTS?
2.    What band score do I need?
3.    When and where can I take the exams?
4.    What’s the difference between IELTS and Cambridge First (FCE) or Advanced (CAE)?
5.    What happens on the test day?

IELTS English Courses in Edinburgh, UK

What is IELTS?

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is an international test that measures the language ability of non-native English speakers for global migration or higher education enrolment. There are two versions of the test, the Academic IELTS is for study purposes while the IELTS General Training for living or working abroad. Both are graded in the same way.

What band score do I need?

Every course is different. University entry requirements are usually IELTS band score 5.5, 6.0 or 6.5 for undergraduate courses and 6.5 or 7.0 for postgraduate courses. If you want to study Sports Science at a local college, you will probably only need a 5.5. But if you want to do an MBA at Harvard, you’ll need at least a 7.5! Here are some example IELTS band scores:

IELTS Band Score CEFR level FCE CAE Typical Courses
5.5 B2 FCE Computer Games Development HND at Edinburgh College
Beauty Therapy at Edinburgh College
Sports Therapy and Fitness at Edinburgh College
6.0 B2 FCE Undergraduate at Edinburgh Napier, Heriott Watt or Queen Margaret
Engineering degree (e.g. Dundee University)
Sports Science at Stirling University
6.5 C1 CAE Masters in psychology (e.g. Dundee University, University of Edinburgh)
Law (e.g. University of Edinburgh)
Sports Science at University of Edinburgh
7.0 C1 CAE Undergraduate at Oxford University
MBA (e.g. Edinburgh University Business School)
Petroleum Engineering at Heriot Watt

There is usually an overall score and a minimum score requirement.


The university asks for “Overall IELTS grade of 6.5 with a minimum of 6.0 in each component/band/section”.

If you have Listening 6.5, Reading 7.0, Writing 6.0, Speaking 6.5 you have an Overall score of 6.5 – this will be accepted.

If you have Listening 6.5, Reading 7.5, Writing 5.5, Speaking 6.5 you have an Overall score of 6.5 – but you won’t be accepted because your writing score is too low.

When and where can I take the exams?

The IELTS exam can be taken in over 130 countries, and it is accepted by over 6000 organisations worldwide.  

You can take the test up to four times a month all around the world, and you can enrol for it online. Watch how to book your IELTS test.

What’s the difference between IELTS and Cambridge First (FCE) or Advanced (CAE)?


Although both tests are developed by the University of Cambridge, the IELTS test has only one level of test and certifies your English language grade in a scale of 0 to 9. Simple.

Cambridge General English exams have a different exam for each level - A2 Key (KET), B1 Preliminary (PET), B2 First (FCE), C1 Advanced (CAE), C2 Proficiency (CPE) and you receive a Grade A/B/C or Distinction/Merit/Pass based on a score between 100 (A1) to 220 (Proficiency). If you receive a score just below a Grade C, you are given a certificate with the lower level. E.g. If you miss out on a CAE Grade C (C1) level by less than 20 marks, you are given a B2 certificate. Complicated!

Expiry date

The Cambridge exams have no expiry date whereas the IELTS certification is only valid for two years for immigration or university admissions – but you can still put it on your CV!


The main differences are the Cambridge General English Exams (from B1 level) have a difficult Use of English section and there are mulitple options in the writng paper. The IELTS test has a less complicated format.

How is the Academic IELTS test structured?

The IELTS exam format is organised into four parts: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking.

The total test duration for the IELTS Listening, Reading, Writing parts is 2 hours and 45 minutes. Remember that there will be no breaks in between, so get prepared for it, and build up your stamina by doing exam simulations before the IELTS exam day.  You can use this IELTS calculator and band score marking scheme to generate a theoretical band score for the Reading and Listening sections. For an idea of your writing and speaking levels, ask your teacher for feedback.

On the day of the IELTS exam, remember to take your ID, a bottle of water, pens, pencils and erasers with you, because these are your only belongings that you can bring with you in the test room. Mobile phones and electronic items aren’t allowed, nor dictionaries, extra paper, or any food.   
Make sure to go to the toilet before the IELTS test starts, because even though you can raise your hand and ask to use the toilet during the test, this may be time-consuming, and it will affect your final score.  

What happens on the test day?

Watch what happens on the test day when you take the Academic IELTS test.  

The Listening, Reading and Writing papers.

The Speaking paper.

The IELTS speaking test takes a maximum of 15 minutes, and you might have to come back another day for it. The only thing you can bring with you to the test room is your ID this time.

Check these valuable IELTS Test Tips to make sure you are all set for The Day– IELTS Test Type & Advice On the Day  (Video coming soon!)
IELTS Sections Explanation


The IELTS listening test consists of four sections with 40 related questions, which become progressively more difficult.  

Candidates listen to an everyday conversation, an everyday monologue, an academic conversation, and an academic monologue. 

The recordings are played only once, and they include a broad range of accents and might include English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Australian, American and New Zealand.  

You have 40 minutes in total to complete the section.


The IELTS reading test consists of three reading passages (texts) and 40 questions with a variety of question types such as multiple choice questions, ‘true’ and ‘false’ questions to test your skills to identify information with another question type that requires you to identify the writer’s views and claims.

The texts used for all three passages are taken from academic books, journals, magazines and newspapers, and all the topics are of general interest.

You have 60 minutes to complete this section.


The IELTS writing test is comprised of two tasks:

In IELTS Writing task 1, you have to describe some visual information, such as graphics, tables, charts or diagrams. You should take about 20 minutes to complete this task.

In IELTS Writing task 2, you have to write an essay, responding to an argument, a problem or a point of view. You should take about 40 minutes to complete this task.

You have 60 minutes in total to complete this section.


The IELTS speaking test consists of a three-part interview between you and a certified IELTS examiner, with a variable number of questions.

The speaking topics change during your test. Skills such as fluency and coherence; pronunciation; grammar and lexicon (vocabulary) will be evaluated.

Part 1 lasts about 5 minutes, and it is an introduction to the test. The IELTS examiner verifies your identity, checka your ID and asks generic questions on familiar topics (family, work, studies, hobbies, etc.)

Part 2 lasts about 4 minutes. You are invited to talk about a particular topic that you are given. In the first minute you will have time to take notes and organise your thoughts before speaking for the last 3 minutes.

Part 3 lasts a maximum of 5 minutes. You and the examiner discuss the second topic in more detail, analysing and speculating about issues.

The total time for your speaking test is 15 minutes, and you will be recorded so your performance can be evaluated later. The speaking part of the IELTS test usually takes place on a different day from the Listening/Reading/Writing parts.


After taking your IELTS test, you will wait around two weeks before receiving your IELTS results.


How to get the best IELTS Score

Even if your English is fantastic, you might not get a high IELTS score - you need to know the test well. Native speakers don’t always get a perfect score! 

Getting ready for the IELTS exam is like studying for your driving licence –  you need to master the techniques that can help you to achieve your goal.

The IELTS test may be the key to fulfilling your work or study ambitions. Prepare yourself to take the exam, and make your wishes come true!

Here are a few useful IELTS tools to guide you:

Check these valuable IELTS Test Tips to make sure you are all set for The Day and both possess many free resources that are useful to anyone wanting to take the IELTS test.

If you want to practice your IELTS skills wherever you are, check out this list of the 15 most downloaded FREE IELTS Android Apps!

Or you could simply book an Academic IELTS course with one of the qualified teachers at Alba English!