Do you have the IELTS Test coming up? Is there a specific score you’re aiming for?
If so, you’re probably curious to know how long it might take to reach your goal.
Here are 12 key factors that affect the length of time it will take you to get the score you need (scroll down to take the IELTS Progress Predictor Test, and to find out more about how it works).
What is your current English level?
IELTS is a test of your competence as a user of English. Test strategies and familiarity with the format will help you improve your score, but ultimately you cannot do well in the test unless you have a good standard of English.
Your general English level and your ability to improve your score will be affected by the factors I list below – a mixture of ‘external’ factors (the quality and experience of your teacher, the materials you use, the amount of time you spend studying, your learning environment, your reason for studying) and ‘internal’ factors (your first language, your age, your personality, and your motivation).
Not sure what your current Band Score is? Find out with my IELTS Band Score Calculator.
'Internal' factors - the things you can't change
Your ability to improve in English will be affected by:
1. Your mother tongue
Your first language will inflence how easy or difficult you find IELTS preparation. For example, if you’re a French speaker, you’ll be able to guess and remember new words much more easily, because there are so many similarities between English and some European languages like French, Spanish and Italian. Even having the same alphabet is a huge advantage.
This scientifically-researched language map shows how long it will take English speakers to learn different languages based on how similar or different each language is to English.
2. Your starting point
How long have you been learning English? If you’ve been using English regularly since you were a child, you will have a significant advantage over people who have just started or who stopped studying when they left school, or who have never studied English at all!
3. Your age
Age doesn’t necessarily make it more difficult to improve your language skills, but it may affect your learning opportunities. Do you have a full-time job, so can only study in the evenings, when you’re tired? Or maybe your family commitments mean that you can’t get the exposure that you’d like to. Maybe you’re a university student and have to focus on your main subject area, so you can’t afford to devote any more time to studying English.
4. Your natural language learning ability
We all know someone who just seems to ‘pick up’ languages in a couple of weeks using DuoLingo. Some people have a natural talent for learning languages. Do you?
5. Your motivation
There are two main types of motivation, ‘intrinsic’ (when you WANT to do something) and ‘extrinsic’ (when you NEED to do something, maybe because it’s a requirement of your job). Both will influence your feelings about how much time to devote to studying and how prepared you are to sacrifice the time (and money) you have available to study.
6. Your personality
Language is communication, and evidence suggests that people who are confident ‘risk-takers’ (people who don’t mind making mistakes and who feel comfortable expressing themselves) are more likely to make the most of opportunities to communicate in English.
How the IELTS Progress Predictor works
In order to make the Progress Predictor, I did a lot of research about what online schools promise on their websites. The majority promise an increase of 1 Band in 3 months.
This means that you could go from Band 7 to Band 9 (‘native speaker’) in 6 months. Does this sound true to you? No, me neither. It is simply not true.
So I got together with 4 IELTS specialists from the place where I work and we looked back at 10 years of IELTS results at the school.
All of these specialists have worked at the school for at least 10 years, been examiners for at least 15 years and teach IELTS day in, day out to students from all over the world. One of them (Brian!) is a maths specialist, who developed the equation on which my ‘Progress Predictor’ Quiz is based.
Our research found that when students come to study in the UK, it takes about 3 months of full-time study (in a multi-lingual class, 25 hours a week with specialist IELTS teachers, living in a host family) to increase their IELTS score by 0.5 in all 4 parts (Reading, Listening, Writing and Speaking).
Interestingly, according to our research, the higher your level when you start, the longer it will take you to increase (it is easier to go from 4.5 to 5 than it is to go from 6.5 to 7). So if you’re starting at a high level (7+), you may be surprised (and disappointed!) but the results, but don’t be discouraged! You can still do it!
Please remember that the result is still ‘unscientific’ as most of the factors are difficult to measure and quantify. It really is just a very approximate guess based on our experience and evidence of a typical student’s journey and progress. Your experience could be completely different!
I would really love to know what you think of the Progress Predictor. Please hit reply and tell me what you got – did the result surprise you? In what way? Longer or shorter than you were expecting
'External' factors - the things you CAN change
7. Your teacher
Your teacher’s experience, skills and familiarity with the IELTS Test will seriously impact the time it will take you to get the score you need in the IELTS Test. But then of course I would say that, being a skilled, experienced IELTS teacher and ex-examiner who knows the test inside out!
8. Your learning experience
What kind of materials you’re using, and how are you using them? Are you just doing practice tests without understanding where you’re going wrong? Or are you actively using practise materials that will help you apply your knowledge to all parts of the test?
9. Teacher Feedback
Are you getting regular and accurate feedback on your Writing and Speaking? Are you learning from this feedback and actively working to identify your weak points, target the causes and implementing the changes you need to improve your score?
10. Study plan
Do you have a clear plan of what you need to do to cover all parts of the test preparation in the time you have available? My free 28-Day Planner gives you the basics but realistically the materials could stretch over 3-6 months. Have you set aside enough time to cover them all?
11. Your environment
Are you living/working in an English-speaking environment? Do you have continual exposure to the language and multiple opportunities to practise, review and use your language skills for real communication?
12. Your learning style
Do you know HOW to study? It may seem obvious to some, but I spend a lot of time teaching my students ‘study skills’ – how to use a dictionary, how to take notes, how to review, how to learn from mistakes, how to self-correct and how to organise their time. These study skills can make a huge difference to the way you use your time and the ultimate outcome.
13. *Test Day* – the element of luck
Students often get a different score each time they take the test. This is not necessarily the fault of the test. This could be simply that you are more familiar with one topic than another one, but it is certainly a factor to take into account when trying to predict a score. People who have prepared all the key topics of the IELTS test in their preparation will be at a significant advantage.
So how long will it take to get Band 'X'?
No-one can answer this question accurately.
In my experience a ‘typical’ student (there is no such thing!) studying at a language school can increase their score by 0.5 – 1.0 band over a 3-month period under optimal conditions, i.e.
- taught be expert teachers with a combined 200 years of experience teaching and examining EFL and IELTS
- 25 hours weekly tuition (5 hours a day, 5 days a week from these teachers)
- intensive use of a range of high-quality, up-to-date teaching materials
- 2 hours homework a day
- Speaking English with classmates from all over the world during the day and in extra-curricular activities
- Staying with a host-family: Speaking English at mealtimes, watching TV, socialising with the family in the evening and at weekends
- Constant exposure to the English-speaking world through TV, radio, advertisements, using the public transport system, shopping, overhearing conversations in queues, managing everyday situations etc.
Of course this all comes at a cost of at least $500 per week (accommodation, fees, living expenses, flights, visas) compared to doing an online course like my Members Academy online course at around $9 per week, but the experience is very different.
It is difficult for a teacher who doesn’t know you or the answer to all of these questions to make an accurate prediction about your score.
You need to work out the answer for yourself by finding out the answer to these 3 questions:
- What do I need to do to get the score I need?
Find out where you are now – do a Reading/Listening Mock Test and get your score using my IELTS Band Score Calculator.
Look at my guide to improving your IELTS Test score and use the Band Descriptors – find out where your Writing and Speaking Levels are at the moment.
- How much TIME am I willing to spend on improving my score?
Work out how much time you have until your test date and work out how much you can achieve in the time you have available. Print off my 28-Day Planner to tick off daily tasks and keep you motivated.
- How much MONEY am I prepared to spend on improving my score?
Decide whether you can ‘go it alone’ and whether you study better in isolation, or whether you want to invest in lessons or a coach.
How can I study by myself?
Join the Academy
I designed the Members Academy so that you can get everything you need in one place with full flexibility to work from home wherever you are.
The most common response I get when people join the Academy is ‘I wish I’d known about you before’.
Get a carefully-structured study plan and accompanying suite of step-by-step courses with worksheets, multi-media lessons, games, private Facebook group and weekly Writing and Speaking feedback.