IELTS Band Descriptors- All You Need to Know

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is an English language proficiency test for non-native speakers who want to pursue higher education or migrate to a country where English is mostly spoken. The IELTS test is divided into four parts-Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. Understanding the IELTS band descriptors is vital. All marking happens at official IELTS testing centers, courtesy of examiners and trained markers. They possess a complete understanding of the marking policy and have to adhere to certain standards before being allowed to mark the Reading and Listening papers. Markers undergo re-testing every couple of years to make sure that marking adheres to standards.

Systematic double marking and monitoring of a chunk of answer sheets is done at every administrative center. Examiners for the Spelling and Writing sub-tests are trained and recruited as per standards. Aspirants get scored on a band scale between 1-9. Averaging is done for the four individual scores and this is rounded off for generating the Overall Band Score as well. The overall scores and scores for every sub-test are then reported in half/whole bands. 

IELTS Band Descriptors- Overall Band Score

Knowing more about the overall band score is very important if you are delving deeper into IELTS band descriptors. Aspirants get their test report from their overall band scores along with individual sub-test scores in the four key segments, namely Reading, Listening, Writing and Speaking. Each of the scores in the sub-test have equal weightage while the overall band score is worked out by getting the total of the sub-test scores and calculating the mean of the same. 

Overall band scores are usually reported to the nearest half or whole band. If the average throughout the four segments concludes in .25, then it will be rounded till the next half band and it is rounded to the upcoming whole band if it ends in .75. Hence, an aspirant getting 6.5 in Listening, 5.0 for Writing, 6.5 for Reading and 7.0 for Speaking will be getting 6.5 as the Overall Band Score. This is worked out through the following calculation- 25 + 4- 6.25 or Band 6.5. Suppose someone gets 4.0, 3.5, 4.0 and 4.0 for Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking respectively. He/she will get 4.0 as the Overall Band Score (15.5 + 4 = 3.875 or Band Score of 4.0). 

At the same time, someone getting 6.5, 6.5, 5.5 and 6.0 for Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking will get the 6.0 band. This is because the calculation will be 24.5 + 4- 6.125 or Band 6 after rounding off. 

IELTS Band Descriptors- Listening and Reading 

IELTS Listening and Reading papers have 40 items with every correct answer getting one mark each. The maximum raw score achievable for a candidate on paper is 40 in this scenario. Band scores from 1-9 are given to aspirants, based upon their raw scores. Even though test materials for IELTS are pre-tested and given trials prior to being implemented in actual tests, there are minor differences that exist in difficulty levels spanning various tests. For combining different versions of tests, the boundaries of band scores are fixed so that results of all aspirants are relational with the same achievement scale. In simpler terms, this means that the boundary for Band 6, for instance, may be set at varying raw score thresholds throughout several versions. 

The table below will give you an idea of the raw scores obtained by aspirants at several levels throughout the Listening, Academic Reading and General Training Reading tests in the year 2006. They give you an idea of the marks needed for getting a specific band score in IELTS. 

Listening:

Band Score Threshold  Basic Score out of 40
8 35
7 30
6 23
5 16

Academic Reading:

Band Score Threshold  Basic Score out of 40  
8 35 
7 30
6 23
5 16

General Training Reading:

Band Score Threshold  Basic Score out of 40 
7 34
6 30
5 23
4 16

The Academic and General Training examination papers have grading on the same scale. The difference between these two modules is basically upon the type of discourse or genre. Academic papers may have source texts that feature vocabulary or styles which are complex or tougher. A higher number of questions should be correctly answered on the General Training Reading paper for scoring a higher band. 

Writing & Speaking- IELTS Band Descriptors

While the Speaking and Writing sub-tests are being marked, examiners usually make use of extensive performance-based descriptors. These help in describing spoken and written performance across every one out of the 9 IELTS bands. 

Writing:

Examiners give band scores for four areas in the criteria, i.e. Task Achievement, Coherence and Cohesion, Task Response, Grammatical Range and Accuracy and Lexical Resource. Equal weightage is given to all four aspects. 

Speaking: 

A band score is given for every area out of these four- Lexical Resource, Fluency and Coherence, Pronunciation and Grammatical Range and Accuracy. They have equal weightage. 

Band descriptors for the Writing and Speaking versions have been created for helping stakeholders understand performance levels needed for getting a specific band score in every criterion segment. Examiners at IELTS go through intensive face-to-face training along with standardization for making sure that descriptors are applied in a manner which is reliable and valid.

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