IELTS myths: Should you be aiming for a band nine?

After reading this page you’ll have a better idea about a common IELTS myth: that everyone who takes the IELTS exam should be aiming for a band nine. You’ll learn about IELTS band requirements for visas and university admissions. You’ll also know how to set goals for IELTS study and why it can be more…

Should you be aiming for an IELTS band nine?

If you’re studying for the IELTS exam, you’ve probably seen plenty of materials online that offer IELTS band nine vocabulary, band nine sample essays, band nine speaking tests or band nine tips. However, for the majority of people taking the IELTS, a band nine isn’t the right goal. In many cases, looking for band nine materials can be a distraction from efficiently achieving the band they need.  Let’s take a look at what IELTS score you might need as well as why band nine materials can be distracting.

IELTS band scores for visas

When you’re applying for a visa, you may need to meet a language requirement. This can depend a great deal on where you are applying and what visa type you are trying to get. For this reason, it’s important to check exactly what score you need. However, one thing that is usually true is that visa requirements are a threshold. This means that the visa office will only care if you are above the threshold or not. They won’t care if you just meet the requirements or greatly exceed them.

IELTS scores for universities

While the language requirements for universities will typically be higher than for visas, they also vary between universities and between courses. You should check the website of the course you are applying for. As a rough guide, scores of six to seven are typical. Like visas, university requirements are usually a threshold. This means you don’t get extra ‘points’ for being far above the threshold.

It’s common to see universities ask for a certain band as well as having a requirement that no section is below a score. This might be something like requiring a 6.5 overall with no segment below a six. With this rule, a score of 6, 6, 7, 7, would meet the requirement. However, 5, 9, 9, 9 would not. The other thing to keep in mind with universities is that they can sometimes give a ‘conditional offer’. This means that they can offer a place on the condition that you get a certain IELTS score.

Why you shouldn’t aim for a band nine

The key thing about getting the IELTS for either a visa or a university is that it usually won’t matter how far above the requirement you are, only that you’ve met it. However, I’ve had many students tell me in the past that they would still like to study for a band nine so that even if they don’t meet the requirements, they will get a seven or eight easily. Unfortunately, this can be more of a distraction than anything else. The things you need to do to, for example, get from a band five to a band seven are very different from what you need to do to get from a seven to a nine. If you’re at a band five or six, looking at band nine sample essays or band nine speaking tests can present you an overwhelming list of things you should be doing. Looking at a range of tests from a band five to a band seven can present a much clearer picture of what is required to make progress and my students have always done much better with this kind of approach.

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