IELTS Language Test for Express Entry

Comparing IELTS to other English test By Irina Bruce (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

English Test Marking Systems by Irina Bruce / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

If you are planning on applying for Permanent Residence in Canada by means of the following programs: 

Then you will be using the new Express Entry electronic system to build an online profile and be placed in a pool of candidates. The highest ranked candidates from each pool will then receive invitations to file an application for Permanent Residence in Canada.

What you should realize is that the key to success in Express Entry is to get the highest ranking possible and place yourself among the top candidates in your pool. This will give you a very good chance of being invited to apply for Permanent Residence. It does not guarantee PR status, but is a very big step towards that goal. So, how do you go about improving your ranking when building your online profile?

In the first place, each of the above programs has a set of minimum requirements that you must meet. For example, The Federal Skilled Workers Program has the following minimum requirements you must meet in order to be placed in a pool of candidates:

  • At least 1 year of continuous skilled work experience within your National Occupational Classification (NOC) category and within the last 10 years.
  • You must have a minimum Canadian Language Benchmark, (CLB) level of 7 and you must take a IRCC-approved language test which can be one of the following two tests:
    • CELPIP: Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program
    • IELTS: International English Language Testing System
  • You must either have a Canadian secondary or tertiary degree or have your foreign educational credentials assessed by means of an Educational Credentials Assessment, (ECA).

Once you have met the minimum requirements, your online application will be assessed based on 6 selection factors that include your language skills as well as your education and 4 other factors: age, work experience, job offers in Canada, and adaptability to Canadian life.

As you can see Language Requirements are key in any successful Express Entry application. For example, in the FSWP Selection Grid, language proficiency accounts for the largest part of the 100 point total. If you get a good language score, you give a boost to your rankings. In the rest of this article we will review how to improve your results in an IELTS test, seeing this test is based in the UK and has an international focus which can be useful in a number of situations. As well, IELTS is recognized as evidence of English proficiency by over 9,000 organizations worldwide.

 

IELTS

Your first step is to go here to find a test centre nearest you and register with IELTS. The IELTS tests are available 48 times a year, up to 4 times per month. Check with your nearest centre for specific test times and dates. The test fee is RMB 1750. Please note that it is the General Training IELTS test that you must take in order to apply for Express Entry. Do not take the Academic test.

Your next step is to familiarize yourself with the IELTS test format and use the practice tests on their site. There are two versions of the IELTS test: IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training. Express Entry uses only the IELTS General Training test, so only practice and familiarize yourself with this test. Remember that no matter how proficient in English you may believe you are, it is always helpful to practice any test beforehand. Being familiar with the format before you take any test is a clear advantage. 

The IELTS General Training test is made up of 4 parts that take a little less than 3 hours in total and are arranged as follows:

 

Listening

In this part, you will listen to 4 recorded monologues and/or conversations and answer questions at the same time as you listen. The monologues and/or conversations are not repeated so you must listen very carefully and use the relevant information given to answer 40 questions divided into 4 sections. For example, you might listen to a conversation between a clerk with a transportation service speaking with an Australian accent responding to questions from a man speaking with a British accent who wants information on what train or bus to take. The clerk might say, “If you can catch the 9.30 am express, I’d recommend that you should do that”, in the middle of a conversation lasting several minutes. One of the question you might have to answer will look like this:

⇨Express train leaves at 1 ……………………….. (The answer is: 9.30 am.)

The 1 means it is question #1. Note that each section will restrict the length of your answer, as in: “write no more than two words and/or a number for each answer.” You should carefully read the questions in each section of the Listening part of the test beforehand even if they appear simple. This ensures that your answers fit the requirements and so that you know what to listen for. Remember, your ability to listen carefully and respond to instructions is being tested, as well as your English proficiency. The Listening part of the test will take 30 minutes. You will then be given 10 additional minutes to review your answers and transfer them to your IELTS Listening and Reading Answer Sheet. Each question is worth 1 point and wrong answers are not penalized.

 

Reading

In this part of the test you will read several different passages totalling about 2,500 words, and respond to questions related to what you have read. There will be 40 questions and they purpose of the test is to see how well you:

  • Read for the general sense of a written passage.
  • Read for main ideas.
  • Read for detail.
  • Understand what is being inferred and the related implied meaning.
  • Recognize a writer’s attitudes or opinions or their purpose.
  • Follow an argument’s development.

The texts you read will come from real world examples like notices, company handbooks, advertisements, or official documents. There will be a number of types of questions:

  • Being asked to fill the gaps in written texts or charts or tables.
  • Being asked to match headings to charts or written text.
  • Being asked to complete sentences or give a short answer to an open question.
  • Having to answer multiple choice questions.

Unlike the Listening part, you will not be given additional time to write your answers on the answer sheet. You must write your answers on the answer sheet to be given credit for a correct answer. Remember, you are like a journalist or detective looking for specific information that will be needed for the questions. 

  • Do not spend too much time on any question, move on to the next one if you do not know the answer.
  • Do not change the form of the words in the Reading text, use them in your answers as they appear in the text.
  • Always check your spelling and be sure to use grammatical number, singular or plural, correctly.
  • Only give exactly what is asked for. For example to fill in the following “in the ____” where “evening” is the answer, do not put “in the evening.” The correct answer is “evening.”
  • Always be sure what the word limit is for any answer. If it is two words for example, then “a shirt made of cotton” is incorrect while “cotton shirt” is correct.
  • Try to answer all the questions. There are no penalties for incorrect answers.
  • Check your answers if you have time left at the end.

For example, a section might involve reading the emergency evacuation procedures of a school campus and answering questions like:

⇨They will then walk quickly to the ___________ (answer “paved quadrangle area” from one of the procedures in the list of emergency evacuation procedures that you have read)

Or, you might have to answer questions about a community college short course description like:

⇨Booking has no practical component. True of False (answer “False” because the Bookkeeping Course summary describes it as containing “a great deal of hands-on experience”)

You will have 60 minutes to complete this section and no added time to write your answers on the answers sheet, so please do this before the 60 minutes is up. Each question is worth 1 point.

 

Writing

You will have 60 minutes to complete 2 writing assignments. The 2nd one counts for twice as much as the 1st in terms of your score, so you should ideally allocate 20 minutes to the first part and 40 minutes to the 2nd part of the Writing portion of the IELTS test. 

  • Writing Task 1: This will consist of at least 150 words written in a personal and formal or semi-formal style. It should take about 20 minutes out of the 60 minutes allotted to the writing part of the test. An example would be a letter you write to a friend who is going to take care of your house and your pet while you are away. You are to give information on: contact details, how to take care of your pet, and any other house duties they should do while you are away.
  • Writing Task 2: This will consist of at least 250 words on a topic like, for example, the advantages and disadvantages of home schooling versus sending your kids to school. You will have to give the reasons for the answers you give and include any relevant examples you may have from your own experiences. You should spend about 40 minutes on this task. 

 

Speaking

In this part of the test you will have a one-to-one interview with a certified examiner where you will interact in as close to a real-life way as possible. This will be similar to a real-life interview. The speaking test is 11 – 14 minutes long and will have 3 parts:

  • You will have to answer some questions about yourself and your family.
  • You will speak about a topic.
  • You will then a longer discussion about the topic you have had to speak about.

You will have to speak fluently, clearly, and accurately as well. You are being tested on your ability to converse in a spontaneous fashion and prepared answers will not go over well in the speaking test. To practice for this part, you will need to rehearse the same interview format with a teacher or friend who is fluent in English. You should time yourself and do all three sections in a row. Taping your practice conversation is a good idea in order to review how you appear and sound when conversing in English. You should ask yourself the following when reviewing your performance:

  • Were you fluent and did your speech sound natural?
  • Were you able to express yourself clearly?

You should ideally practice this repeatedly. Of course, taking English courses with conversation classes is also helpful. And any chance to interact in English with a fluent English speaker should be taken advantage of.

Remember to practice all of the sections of your IELTS test as much as possible and you will find your results in the actual test will improve noticeably. 

 

Results

Your IELTS English test is graded in 9 so-called bands:

  • Band 9: Expert user: Fully operational command of English. You are fluent, accurate and appropriate and you understand English fully.
  • Band 8: Very good user: Fully operational command with occasional inaccurate and inappropriate uses of English but can handle complex arguments.
  • Band 7: Good user: Operational command with inaccurate and inappropriate uses and misunderstandings in some situations. Handles complex language and understands detailed reasoning.
  • Band 6: Competent user: Generally effective command of language with some inappropriate and inaccurate uses and some misunderstandings. Can understand fairly complex language in familiar environments.
  • Band 5: Modest user: Partial command of English. Gets meaning in most situations but is likely to make many mistakes. Handles basic communication in their field.
  • Band 4: Limited user: Basic competence in familiar situations. Problems understanding English and expressing themselves. Unable to use complex language.
  • Band 3: Extremely limited user: Only understands general meaning in familiar situations. Frequently suffers communication breakdowns.
  • Band 2: Intermittent user: Can only communicate basic information using isolated words and familiar formulae in familiar situations. Has great problems understanding spoken and written English.
  • Band 1: Non-user: No ability to use English beyond a few isolated words.
  • Band 0: Did not attempt the test. No information available.

Minimum results necessary for applicants claiming English as a first language under, for example, the Federal Skilled Workers program are as follows:

CLB Level speaking Listening Reading writing Points Per Ability
7 6.0 6.0-7.0 6.0 6.0 4
8 6.5 7.5 6.5 6.5 5
9 and Above 7.0-9.0 8.0-9.0 7.0-9.0 7.0-9.0 6

You will note that you must be at least a competent user of English as described in Band 6 above, or a Canadian Languages Benchmark score of 7 or higher.

Minimum results necessary for applicants claiming English as a second language under the FSW program are as follows:

CLB Level Speaking Listening Reading Writing Points Per Ability
5 and Above 5.0-9.0 5.0-9.0 4.0-9.0 5.0-9.0 4

Note that you must be a modest user or better except for reading where you may be a limited user, or a Canadian Languages Benchmark score of 5 or higher.

Go here for minimum requirements in the Federal Skilled Trades program and the Canadian Experience Class program. Both have similar minimum requirements.

Please note that your IELTS results must be sent when you build your online profile at Express Entry. Do not send the results directly to IRCC. You should also keep the original copy of your test results with you in case they are needed by IRCC. As well, please realize that minimum language requirements are just that, a minimum necessary but far from sufficient in order to successfully apply to Express Entry. You should ensure you score as high as possible on your IELTS English tests to give yourself the best possible chance of being selected from your pool of candidates and invited to apply for permanent residence in Canada.

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