Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Migration Chapter 3: The Singaporean's Guide to IELTS

Readers who have surfed directly to this page and missed the overview and earlier chapters may want to start here instead.

Most average Singaporeans who have done fairly well for GCE 'O' Level English Paper or GCE 'A' Level General Paper will probably wonder why you need to take an English Test to prove your competency in the English language. After all, you use it every day when you interact with people, be it in conversations, emails or on social media. Surely, this means you are competent?

Guess what, you still need to prove it - and Australia uses the International English Language Test System (IELTS) as an international benchmark for this purpose. 

(There is another English test system they accept known as the Occupational English Test (OET) but I couldn't find a decent test centre in Singapore so I didn't bother.)

So what exactly is it?

To put it simply, it's an English Test. You can choose between 2 types: 

  • General Training (as the name suggests, this is the test used for general migration purposes and it is the easier paper)
  • Academic (this is more difficult and is usually required for professionals or as an entry requirement into some Aussie Universities)

The whole test consists of 4 components and they are tested in the following order:


An approximately 50 minute listening exam. It is similar to Listening Comprehension except that you only get to listen to the tape once. Answers to be filled into an Optical Answer Sheet.
A one-hour paper, taken immediately after the Listening component. The idea is similar to the Comprehension papers we used to do at GCE ‘O’ level, only it is way easier because the final answers given are either True/False/No info, some sort of Multiple Choice or fill-in-the-blanks. Answers also to be filled into an Optical Answer Sheet.
A one-hour paper, taken immediately after the Reading component. It is basically 2 short essays for Academic, or 1 letter and 1 short essay for General.
This is taken on a separate weekday afternoon or morning, the week after the written components (which are taken on a Saturday morning). It is basically an interview of sorts with the examiner where you answer some generic questions and it is easier than the school-based oral exams!

Take note that the Listening component and the Speaking component are the SAME for both the General and Academic Papers! Only the Reading and Writing are more difficult for the Academic Paper. 

Before you register for IELTS, you should take note of the requirements of your offered occupation as part of the required skills assessment. Taking mine as an example,  my assessing authority requires me to take the Academic paper for Secondary School Teacher (Code 241411), so I wouldn't bother to take the General Paper. I believe most professional jobs in Engineering and Finance require the Academic paper, and the cut-off score is more than the minimum required for migration. So don't be too hasty in taking the easier paper or you may end up taking both (and it's not cheap)!

There are 2 IELTS test centres in Singapore- IDP or British Council. Registration for the test can be done online using the links provided. Depending on your urgency, you can have a look at the exam schedules available in both test centres before you make your choice. At the moment, IDP charges S$310 while British Council charges S$320 for the test (like I said, not cheap!) so if the $10 makes a difference then you should go for IDP. I chose British Council in the end because for the extra $10 I got a test date 3 weeks earlier (the cheaper IDP slots gets snapped up pretty quickly) and free access to some of the British Council practice papers for IELTS. 

How well must I do for IELTS?

Refer to my earlier post on the points test. To claim the maximum of 20 points, you will need at least 8.0 for each component. To just 'pass' the English Language requirement for migration, you only need to get 6.0 for each component (but you cannot claim points in this case). The maximum score for each component is 9.0. Let me illustrate with a few examples here:

Test Score
What it means
Listening  7
Reading  7
Writing  9
Speaking 8
Proficient in English.
You can claim 10 points in the points test, since each of your scores are at least 7.
Listening  6
Reading  8
Writing  7
Speaking 7.5
Competent in English.
You cannot claim points but you have passed the English Language Ability criteria for migration purposes (May not be good enough for your skills assessment though… You need to check)
Listening  8
Reading  5.5
Writing  7.5
Speaking 7.5
Considered to have ‘failed’, since you have one component with less than 6 points. Need to re-take IELTS!

So basically, you've got to look at the lowest of the 4 scores after you get your result and hope it's above 6.0 to pass, and above 7.0 to claim some points.

A special note: Citizens of New Zealand, UK, USA,Canada and Republic of Ireland are deemed as competent for the English Language ability criteria. However, in order to prove Superior or Proficient level and claim points, EVERYONE (including citizens from countries listed above) will need to take the IELTS.

How can I prepare for it?

I have read of some Singaporean forumers attempting the paper without 'studying at all' and passed with at least 7.0 score. Even though the paper is quite easy, I wouldn't recommend not preparing at all unless you are super tok kong in English or prepared to pay another $300+ to try again. 

If you had signed up with British Council, you will be able to access at least 2 sets of free practice papers when you log in. Alternatively , you can also access practice papers / sample questions from many websites online. There are also free tips for the different components given by IELTS 'tutors' online, though I found the practice questions much more useful.

Whether you are sitting for the General or Academic, I would recommend doing the practice papers for written components under test conditions at least once before your actual test. The written paper is taken back-to-back with no breaks in between, so be prepared to sit there for 3+ hours. The format of IELTS is also significantly different from 'O' level English paper.

  • For Listening, you only get to listen to the tape once - so if you daydream and miss out any part, too bad... Also note that the speakers in the listening component are native so if you are someone with some issues making out Ang Moh accent, practice is essential.
  • For Reading, the questions involving the true/false/no info given can be quite tricky. Everything else should be a piece of cake if you are a regular user of the English language.
  • For Writing, time is of essence as you need to complete 2 short essays in one hour. You also need to be generally well-read as the second essay is on a generic topic (Eg: In your opinion, is the development of nuclear power beneficial or detrimental to mankind? Explain in at least 250 words.)
  • Speaking is the easiest part IMO - I didn't think there was anything much to prepare. Just have a look at some types of questions they can ask beforehand and you're set. For the actual test, remember to fight the urge to speak in Singlish!

I tell you ah... If you please, allow me to elaborate further...

Lastly and most importantly, remember to have sufficient sleep the Friday night before the paper, because the Listening paper requires a lot of concentration!

~Exam Day~

You will receive prior instructions via email from the test centre on reporting time and venue, as well as what to bring and what not to bring for exam day. For me, I only brought a jacket and a water bottle to the test venue, as personal stationery was not allowed. If you want to bring a water bottle, you have to make sure that it is transparent with NO label whatsoever. The examiners are very particular about this - if you bring your own bottle and there are words on it, it will not be allowed into the exam hall. 

If you had prepared sufficiently beforehand, the papers should be a breeze (although quite mentally tiring, since I haven't sat for a 3 hour paper for many donkey years). 

$300 buys you the test papers and these 3 pieces of stationery. Very expensive stationery indeed!

Results Day!

British Council is quite efficient when it comes to marking - your Test Report Form (ie results slip) will be made available exactly 13 days after your written papers. They will mail it to you by default (then you will get your test slip 2-3 working days later) or you can also choose to collect it from the test centre directly.

The Test Report Form will show your individual results for each component, as well as an average overall score. 

Sample of IELTS TRF, printed on the most horrendous green paper ever made.

After you get your results, it is time to have your skills assessed, and I will be talking about that in Chapter 4.

- A


  1. Hey there! As someone who has also gone thru this, I'd like to add that one may get a reassessment for $180 should one think that a particular band score ought to be better.

    If it succeeds, the charge is refunded.

    For me, I did well in all except speaking! Only on my 2nd attempt did I acquire the scores that I wanted. It depends on the topic, I feel. As long as one is able to speak clearly and smoothly for the time allocated (speak until you are stopped), one should ace the speaking test.

    1. Hey disorder, thanks for your reply!

      We did consider getting reassessment for *A*, as she was short by one point for one section to get the next grade.

      But a staff member at the British Council told *A* that there is a chance that the reassessment result could turn out lower. If that's true, it's really quite a gamble to do a reassessment. It would be great if the score was better, but the opposite could happen - losing BOTH points and the $180 "bet".

      Are you over there now? :)

      Managing Editor,

    2. As you've said, it is a gamble.

      I've never been to the country, and know no one over there. My steps are unsure and hesitant. Nevertheless if things go my way, I should be in the same target destination as you are in a couple of months time.

      If it pleases you I would be glad to be friends as fellow countrymen in a alien place! If I were headed for Perth you can be certain that I'd hit Nix up.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience! Yours posts are really encouraging and informational. And I have to commend you for the perfect grammar :)

    All the best!!! Keep us posted on the developments in your journey :)

    1. Thanks for the compliments... And stay tuned for further developments. ;)

  3. Nice blog.

    Very informative.

    I'm also in the same journey as you guys are.

    All of my necessary papers are complete.

    But caught a bad case of procrastinititis. LOL.

    Ps - when you visit cebu. Don't forget to get some lechong cebu (roast pig). You'll thank me later. Peace out, y'all. ;-)

  4. Engineering degree and occupation generally required to take the general training IELTS paper.
    The assessing authority, IE Aust required a min 6.0 in every band.
    Listening was the killer due to 3 ang mohs talking at the same time in strong ang moh accent.

    1. Hi anon,

      I don't recall 3 native speakers talking at the same time. Anyway I think different people will find different components of IELTS challenging. A friend of mine taking the test finds speaking his greatest challenge, which I thought was a little strange.

      Thanks for ur comment anyways.


  5. Why Australia? Have you ever consider Canada?

    1. Hi Momonga. In short, yes. But A's has relatives in Oz and that makes all the difference.

      We will continue to evaluate Canada as an option. The priority is to get out of here first.

      Our experience with Canada is also zilch, though we have heard fewer bad things about Canada, probably because fewer of the people we know have been there.

      Looking forward to our first Canadian trip probably in 2015 or so. 2014 will be spent focused on settling down in Melbourne and any travels would be within Australia itself :)


  6. You are slightly ahead of me in terms of the process.

    I wished I read this before going for my IELTS. We have the same occupation and I took the general training version.

    I only saw the updates after taking the test. Now I need to retake the academic one.

    On a good note I got my score today and it's an 8.5.

    1. Ouch, for your retaking. But congrats on your great score and I'm sure your money is not 'wasted' per se, just an expensive practice session (but under actual IELTS test conditions!)


  7. Congratulation! Thanks!

  8. Can I inquire when should one take the test? I took the test less than 3 years ago & am wondering if I can still use the results from that test for the skills assessment or do I have to retake my IELTS?

    1. So I'm replying to my own post to perhaps save A & S the trouble :) I just read the AITSL form for skills assessment & under my category of skilled migration, I need an IELTS validity period of 12months. However, if I've lived in Australia for at least 4 years, then I do not need the option of taking the IELTS.

    2. Hey Anon,

      Thanks for that. Appreciate that thought. With that attitude, you will definitely succeed in Oz. ;)

      Nevertheless we will still try to help out where we can, just that we've been very busy in our daily lives (in a good way). But busy with different and more meaningful things.


  9. thanks for sharing your experience! it's very informative..
    do I still need to take IELTS if studied in Australia before for master degree?

    1. Hi there,

      Yes, if you want to claim any points at all for English Proficiency. Taking IELTS is a very good way to earn the points if you are indeed a native user of the language.

      If you have enough points from other aspects and can accept zero points for English Proficiency, then my guess (which may be wrong, pls do your research) is you WILL still need to take it if you are not a citizen of the countries Australia recognizes as Native speakers. Having completed your masters in Oz just means you met the criteria to enter and graduate from an Australian University.

      These days most international students who wish to study in Oz will likely need to take IELTS just to gain admission into the Uni. If you have taken IELTS before, do note that the IELTS results expires in 2 years.


    2. thanks for replying my query..will do some research on this, most likely need to take the exam..have a nice day!

  10. Dear A

    Thanks for sharing. It's so detail and useful for those who want to migrate to Australia.My hubby did the 2nd attempts of IELTS at British Council, but the result still short of 0.5 point in writing and speaking. Do you think he should do the retake at IDP? I heard the examiners more generous. Thanks!


  11. Hi there! My husband and I have started the Oz migration process with him taking the IELTS test. He got a minimum of 7 in all of the sections, so yay! I have read through some forums and it seems that even the dependent (me) would need to take IELTS as well, albeit with a lower minimum scores. We don't intend to claim the 5 points for partner though. Would you know if I still need to take IELTS test? Your advice will be greatly appreciated!

    1. No need to take IELTS if you are not the main applicant but you need to show evidence that you have a functional English by submitting your qualification (presuming from Singapore) together with the PR application.

  12. I attempted the IELTS Academic and got L8.5, R8.5, S8, W7.5. Although assessing authority (CPA Aust.) requires 7 in each component, I needed to get 8 for each component to secure 20 points (am a recent graduate with no work experience). Appealed for Writing score to be reconsidered and had to wait for 6 weeks. End of it all, appeal was unsuccessful. $180 down the drain. Retook IELTS, this time General, and got my 8s and above.

  13. Thanks for the information, it has been very helpful, thought I do have 1 enquiry regarding the IELTS and i hope you will be able to answer me. I am trying to get a job in Australia/PR, both works fine for me at the moment. Should i take the Academic or the General Training test ?

  14. Hi Neurotic Ramblings,

    So I want your opinion since I fuck up my O levels english and found out that I can go and seat for the IELTS to help me apply to go for a private diploma as I can no longer repeat my secondary school under the government. Hence wanted you opinion of the difference between the two test and if one was easier than the other. Your opinion would be a great help to me.

    Thank You

    1. I think IELTS is easier... But remember, O levels was 14 years ago for us...