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International English Language Testing System (IELTS) for PhD Students

Written by Ben Taylor

IELTS is recognised by thousands of universities across the world and is considered the most popular English language test for higher education and immigration.

This page will cover everything you need to know about the IELTS as a PhD student, from typical scores and costs to exam structure and test locations.

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What is IELTS?

IELTS is taken by international students to show that they have the level of English proficiency required to study at university. The exam is also used by employers, immigration authorities and professional registration bodies.

There are two kinds of IELTS that you might need to take as an international student:

  • IELTS for UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) Academic
  • IELTS Academic

The IELTS for UKVI Academic is designed for students who need a visa to study a PhD in the UK and satisfies certain conditions set by the British government.

If you don’t need a visa to study in the UK, you should take the standard IELTS Academic.

Do I need to take the IELTS for a PhD?

If you’ve already studied at university-level in English in a majority English-speaking country, you usually won’t need to take the IELTS when applying for a PhD. So, if you have a Masters from an Australian university, for example, that will be proof enough of your proficiency in English.

  • UK
  • Ireland
  • USA
  • Canada (not including French-language studies)
  • Australia
  • New Zealand

International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
Length of test 165 minutes
Number of students Over three million in 2017
Grade scale 0-9
Test locations Over 1,200 centres in more than 140 countries
Typical cost £165
Established 1989

How does IELTS work?

IELTS can be taken as a computer-based or a paper-based exam. It’s comprised of four sections that each assess your listening, reading, writing and speaking skills, with question formats that range from sentence competition and multiple choice to written summaries and responses.

  • Listening – This 30-minute section encompasses 40 questions that cover four audio recordings of English speakers.
  • Reading – You’ll answer 40 questions on texts that cover a variety of general interest subjects. This part lasts for one hour.
  • Writing – In one hour you’ll complete two writing exercises. The shorter of the two tasks should be around 150 words and involve writing a description of a chart, table or graph. The longer 250-word task is a written response to a particular issue.
  • Speaking – The speaking section of IELTS is a face-to-face interview with an examiner that lasts between 11 and 14 minutes. Candidates will be asked a series of general question and then speak about a certain topic that will form the basis of a conversation of the final part. The face-to-face nature is rather unique to IETLS, as most other tests use a computer mic to assess speaking. This part of the exam can be taken up to one week before or after the rest of the test.

In total, the test takes two hours and 45 minutes to complete. If you’ve taken the computer-delivered version of the test, you’ll receive your results in five to seven days. Paper-delivered IELTS test results will be available to view online after 13 days.

What IELTS grade do I need for a PhD?

PhD IELTS requirements depend on the university and the subject. As a rule of thumb you’ll need an IELTS score of 6.5, with at least 5.5 in each individual section of the test.

However, certain subjects that involve a high degree of literacy (English Literature, for example) might require an IELTS score of 7.5 for entry onto a PhD.

Who recognises IELTS?

10,000 education and training providers across the world recognise IELTS, including almost all universities in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. 3,000 American institutions accept IELTS as proof of language proficiency too.

The fact that so many universities across the world recognise IELTS means that it’s very likely that an IELTS score will be accepted for applications to an English-language PhD.

Bear in mind that an IELTS score is only valid for two years after you’ve taken the test.

You can view a list of the organisations that accept IELTS on the test’s website.

Where and when can I take IELTS?

There are over 1,200 test centres around the world where IELTS is available, covering more than 140 countries. You can see a full list of IELTS test locations on the organisation’s website. Usually there are 48 fixed dates for IELTS each year, with up to four monthly exams depending on demand.

If you didn’t get the result you needed for entry onto a PhD, there’s no time limit as to when you can retake the exam. However, you should spend some time reflecting on how you can improve your score and perhaps take one of the IELTS preparation courses offered by universities.

Online IELTS

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the administrators of IELTS introduced an online, home-based version of the test known as the IELTS Indicator. This exam is available in countries where language test centres have been because of COVID-19.

Find out more about the IELTS Indicator.

How much does IELTS cost?

IELTS fees depend on the type of exam you’re taking and the location of your test centre.

If you’re taking the IELTS for UKVI (Academic), the standard fee is £200.

If you’re taking the normal IELTS Academic test, the cost depends on the provider and your geographical location. These are some typical costs:

  • UK – £165
  • Nigeria – NGN 68,000 (USD $190)
  • India – INR 12,100 (USD $185)
  • China – RMB 1,960 (USD $310)
  • Germany – €223
  • France – €230

PhD language requirements

Want to find out more about the language requirements for a PhD? Check out our guide to English language tests for PhD study.

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Last Updated: 03 February 2021