How Do CEFR Levels Relate to the IELTS Exam Band Scores?

The IELTS exam assesses a student’s language ability and is widely considered as the global standard among English language proficiency tests. The test consists of four sections, listening reading, writing and speaking and test takers have to complete tasks in all four of these areas to prove that they have the required language skills to cope while working or studying in an English language environment. Even native English speakers from Singapore have to take the IELTS test. There are no pass or fail mark for the IELTS exam and students are instead awarded band scores ranging from 0 – 9.

What Are the Band Scores?

The IELTS results are designed to be easily understandable and fairly simple. Each band score corresponds to a particular level of English proficiency, with 1 being the lowest score you can get and 9 the highest. Each component of the test – Writing, Speaking, Reading and Listening – is given an individual score, so your overall exam result will be made up of a score for each component and an overall band score. The overall band score is the average of the four individual scores. In cases where the test takers average of the four individual scores ends in 0.25 Or 0.75 then the overall IELTS score will be rounded off to the nearest half band.

What Is The Common European Framework (CEFR)?

The CEFR or The Common European Framework (CEFR) is an international framework for language ability descriptions. A person’s language ability and skills can fall within the CEFR system, which has 3 tiers, basic, independent and proficient, which are further divided into a six-mark scale which ranges from A1 (beginners) to C2 (advanced).

These are the CEFR Guidelines:

C2 level – mastery (the highest level)

C1 level – advanced

B2 level – upper-intermediate

B1 level- B1.1 pre-intermediate & B1.2 intermediate

A2 level- elementary

A1 level- starter or beginner (the lowest level)

These descriptors can apply to any of the languages spoken in Europe and do not only apply to the English Language.

How Does CEFR Relate To The IELTS Band Score?

IELTS scores are commonly compared against the Common European Framework to help gauge a student’s language ability. There has been a lot of research done by Cambridge ESOL on exactly how CEFR levels match with overall IELTS band scores and the most recently recognised and accepted scale is the one below.

(insert pic)

Most IELTS teachers use this scale to help determine a student’s current English language level. The scale helps IELTS teachers, examiners and students to compare language skills and scores from different tests and qualifications.

An IELTS band score of 7.0 is equivalent to a CEFR level of C1, and an IELTS band score of 4.5 is equivalent to a CEFR level of B1.

However, it is important to note that there are differences in test purposes, measurement scales, test formats, test delivery modes and test taker populations when comparing CEFR levels and IELTS scores. Therefore it would be best when comparing tests and test scores for admissions to use the original IELTS band descriptors.

Jonathan has been teaching students to prepare for the IELTS and PTE Exams for more than 10+ years. He's taught English to students in various countries in the world including Singapore, China, Australia, Canada and Colombia.