By Tony Rusinak, IELTS Expert
“Band 7, I just need a Band 7!” I’ve worked in international education, Canadian immigration, and human resources for two decades. This is something I hear again and again, “How do I get a seven?” The IELTS 7 is the magic number for so many things. To clearly satisfy immigration programs like the Federal Skilled Worker in Canada, a Band 7 easily meets the requirement. To be admitted to many English language universities, IELTS 7 is usually enough. For pay scales in international companies, a Band 7 might bring you top salary offers. So, if you’re immigrating, studying, or working and you need a seven, it’s quite helpful to know what this actually means.
A Seven Without a Seven
Interestingly, you can have a Band 7 without scoring a seven. Let’s explain with an example. On your speaking and writing you score eights. On your listening and reading, you only manage sixes. So your scores are 8 | 8 | 6 | 6. Even though you didn’t score a seven on any test here, you would still rate a Band 7 overall. Be careful with this, however. Sometimes the requirements for your university or immigration program might have minimums. For instance, for a Masters Program in History, you may need a minimum of Band 7 on the reading and writing tests. Reason being, these two skill sets are highly important in this field of study. So, if you see “Required IELTS 7”, make sure you also check the requirements for each major skill.
Let’s take a closer look to see what a Band 7 is in each of the IELTS skills tests.
Band 7 Reading
You don’t need a perfect understanding of what you read, but you do need to understand most. On the IELTS test, there are three readings. The first is relatively easy, while the next two are increasingly difficult. If you can read the third text at a normal speed and understand most of it, you are in good shape. The challenge is to use your reasoning skills to carefully think about what you have read. The higher-level questions will be complex, and require you to use skimming, scanning, and critical thinking.
When you’re doing your timed practice tests, you’ll need to regularly score over 30/40 to be in the Band 7 range.
Band 7 Listening
For a seven on the listening test, you’ll need similar skills to the learning. The test will push you to listen fluently and catch both specific ideas and generalizations. In other words, you need to hear and understand details, and then be able to identify generalizations. Like the reading test, there is a strict time limit, so you don’t have much time to think carefully – you have to be quick.
A Band 7 in listening will allow you to misunderstand a few ideas and a few words, but ONLY a few. Most of what you hear will have to be understood. You’ll also have to use your critical thinking skills when reading the questions. The questions will push you to do this.
Like the reading exam, you’ll need to regularly score above 30/40 to be in the Band 7 range.
Band 7 Writing
There are two writing tasks on the IELTS and they are a challenge. It is important you prepare beforehand to know the style of writing IELTS is looking for. Many Native English speakers do not prepare and actually score low on the writing test for this reason.
In brief, to score a seven you need to know how to write a five-paragraph essay. If you are writing the academic test, you will need also need to know how to write a summary. If you’re writing the general test, you’ll need to know how to write a formal letter.
The writing scores are basically graded for organization, content, vocabulary, grammar, and other writing features. You’ll have to use a wide range of subject-specific vocabulary well; have few grammar mistakes; and show you can organize your thoughts in a clear, fulsome way.
If your writing is full of spelling mistakes, has only simple grammar, and is disorganized, you’ll have trouble scoring a Band 7.
Band 7 Speaking
One of the main reasons Band 7 is required so often is for speaking. A Band 7 speaker can do almost everything a proficient native English speaker can.
Band 7 speakers are fluent. This means they need skills to talk, and talk, and talk about any topic. Band 7 also requires a range of vocabulary to speak about any topic; have complex grammar that has meaning; and have mostly clear pronunciation.
The Band 7 speaker can speak with anyone about any topic. He/she will regularly make small mistakes with grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, but they will be small. If you have trouble speaking for long turns; trouble being understood; make significant grammar mistakes, and have trouble finding words, you will need more work to reach Band 7.
IELTS is designed as a language test that tests language. The best way to get your Band 7 is to challenge yourself every day by using your English. Find your little mistakes and your big weaknesses, then overcome them one by one. Band 7 takes 1000s of hours of study, but you can do it!