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IELTS vs CLB Comparison: Major Differences

Updated on 08 November, 2023

upGrad Abroad Team

upGrad Abroad Team

upGrad abroad Editorial Team

A detailed IELTS vs CLB comparison will be of much importance to many international students and aspirants. IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is one of the prestigious English language proficiency examinations accepted worldwide. On the other hand, CLB or the Canadian Language Benchmark is the national standard in the country for measuring English language skills. 


The CLB uses 1-12 points on its scale, while the IELTS uses a 0-9 score band. Here’s taking a closer look at the main differences: 

What is IELTS? 

Before getting into the IELTS vs CLB debate, you should know more about both these systems. In India, IDP organizes IELTS. The examination comes in two formats, namely General and Academic. There are online and paper-based variations of the IELTS too. 

A good IELTS score is the ticket to study, work, or migrate to an English-speaking country like the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. The examination tests your ability to read, write, listen, and speak fluent English. A 0-9 scale helps in grading the test. IELTS is reportedly recognized by more than 11,000 companies/employers, immigration authorities, schools, colleges, and universities. Out of this tally, 3,400 US-based institutions accept IELTS alone! The higher your IELTS score, the better your chances of getting into the institution of your choice. Every university or immigration body will have specific score band criteria. 

IELTS Test Content

IELTS is tailored to assess a candidate’s proficiency in English. The questions in the test are curated by leading specialists from countries like the UK, USA, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia. The content of the test covers daily scenarios while being fair and unbiased towards all aspirants. 

The IELTS Academic examination is ideal for people applying to English-speaking institutions and for professional pursuits. This test examines your readiness to begin studies in native English. The vocabulary in this test is more in sync with academic environments. 

The IELTS General Training examination suits varied purposes. It is ideal for those looking to pursue studies below the degree level. People seeking professional training or work experience may apply for this test. General Training examinations also help while migrating to countries like the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Regular language skills are tested, with the vocabulary more attuned to workplace and social settings. 

Understanding IELTS Band Scores

While comparing CLB vs IELTS, you must understand the band scores of the latter. IELTS scores vary between 0 and 9. Here’s taking a closer look:

Band ScoreLevel of CompetenceMajor Points
0The candidate did not attempt the examinationThe candidate did not answer the questions.
1Non-UserZero ability in language usage except for some isolated terms or words.
2Intermittent UserThe candidate faces huge difficulties in properly speaking and writing English.  
3Extremely Limited UserThe candidate can only understand and express common meanings in some known scenarios. Lags in communication are frequent.
4Limited UserThe abilities of the candidate are only limited to familiar situations. He/she will have problems in expression and also understanding various aspects. He/she is unable to make use of the complex English language too.
5Modest UserThe candidate has little command of the English language and can understand meanings in almost all scenarios. However, they make several mistakes while communicating. They can tackle rudimentary communication in their professional fields.
6Competent UserCandidates have a good understanding of the English language. However, some usage-related issues, misunderstandings, and inaccuracies still remain. These candidates can also understand complex aspects, especially in familiar scenarios.
7Good UserOperational fluency is there in the English language. There are only occasional misunderstandings or inaccuracies. These candidates usually understand the language well while tackling complex language deftly.
8Very Good UserComplete operational fluency is there for the candidate. He/she will still misunderstand some rare things or experience usage-linked problems, especially in unfamiliar scenarios. However, overall competence is very good, including the ability to understand and tackle complex arguments.
9Expert UserThe aspirant has an excellent command of the English language. He/she suitably uses the language in all situations with total understanding and fluency.

What is CLB? 

The Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) is a national standard of the Government of Canada. It helps in identifying English language proficiency for international applicants. The NCLC (Niveaux de competence linguistique canadiens) is the French equivalent of the CLB. There are 12 levels for the Writing, Speaking, Listening, and Reading sections. CLB is also useful when you wish to immigrate to the country as well. 

CLB is not an examination; it is simply a method to describe and convert your results in any recognized language test like IELTS or TEF, for instance. Those applying for permanent residence in Canada should prove minimum CLB scores, depending on various factors. They can get added points under the CRS (Comprehensive Ranking System) if they score CLB levels of 5 or more in the second language. Accompanying partners may also earn more CRS points for their language scores. CLB is vital for other immigration programs like the QSW (Quebec Skilled Worker). It requires CLB levels of 5 or more for English. Different colleges and universities in Canada have varying CLB level requirements. 

The CLB levels are divided into Intermediate, Basic, and Advanced stages. Every stage comes with four standards, namely Developing, Initial, Fluent and Adequate. Every CLB will be applicable for all four English language areas, as mentioned earlier. 

CLB Table

Now that you have an idea of the IELTS score band, here is the CLB table for your understanding:

Stage I – Basic Language Ability

Benchmark & Level of AbilityListeningSpeakingReadingWriting
CLB 1: InitialCLB 2: DevelopingCLB 3: AdequateCLB 4: FluentInterpretation of spoken and basic communication in regular situations, which are not demanding.Expressing spoken and simple communication in routine scenarios and contexts which are not demanding.Interpretation of basic communication that is written in regular and routine scenarios.Creating simple and understandable communication in regular and non-demanding contexts and scenarios.

Stage II – Intermediate Language Ability

Benchmark and Ability LevelListeningSpeakingReadingWriting
CLB 5: InitialCLB 6: DevelopingCLB 7: AdequateCLB 8: FluentInterpretation of verbal communication is fairly complex and in moderately demanding contexts.Creating spoken communication of a moderately complex nature and in contexts that are moderately demanding.Interpretation of fairly difficult non-verbal communication in contexts that are decently demanding in nature.Composing decently complicated written communication in contexts that are fairly demanding in nature.

Stage III – Advanced Language Ability

Benchmark and Ability LevelListeningSpeakingReadingWriting
CLB 9: InitialCLB 10: DevelopingCLB 11: AdequateCLB 12: FluentInterpretation of verbal communication of a complex nature and in demanding contexts.Making spoken communication which is complex and in contexts that are demanding.Interpreting written communication that is complex and within demanding contexts.Creating written communication of a complex nature and within demanding contexts.


This table will help you convert your IELTS score into the desired CLB level without any difficulties:

Level for CLBSpeaking (IELTS)Reading (IELTS)Listening (IELTS)Writing (IELTS)

IELTS vs CLB comparison: Key difference

Points of differenceCLBIELTS
TypeIt is a method to convert scores from different types of assessments into a standard form for various purposes.It is an assessment.
Scale  Comprise 12-point scale of task-based descriptors.Comprise a band score that ranges from 0 to 9.
ScopeUsed only in Canada.Accepted in almost all English-speaking countries.
FunctionGuides assessment and teaching of ESL (English as Second Language) learners in Canada.Measures English language proficiency of non-native English speakers in English-speaking countries.

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upGrad Abroad Team

upGrad abroad Editorial Team

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