Failed IELTS? Here’s What You Need To Know

Failing IELTS, or not getting the score you need, can certainly make you feel bad, but it is not the end of the world either. I mean, you can take the test as many times as you like and there is lots of quality free material out there, this site for example, that can help you get a better score next time.

As a sixth form tutor and former IELTS examiner, I deal with students all the time who need to get a certain band score to get into the university of their choice, or to get the visa they need. I’m going to talk you through some of their most common questions about failing IELTS and use some of their stories as inspiration and guidance for you.

If You Have Failed IELTS, Do This:

1. Accept the score 

The IELTS system is not perfect and is not always completely accurate. You may have been unlucky and the examiner may have scored you incorrectly. However, it costs more to have a test remarked than to do it again so accept your score and move on.

2. Improve your general English

If you have not gotten the score you need more than once then your English is probably simply not good enough to get the band score you need right now. You should work on improving your general English level first and then come back to IELTS in at least 3 months time. 

3. Work on your exam technique

If it is your first time taking the test and you are within one band score of your target band then use the techniques on this site or in my full IELTS course will help to improve your exam technique. Do plenty of past papers, under time pressure and get feedback on your speaking and writing.

4. Identify your weak areas

You probably know which sections of the test did not go so well for you. So, focus on these areas in your preparation. Work out what the different question types are and then work on strategies for tackling each of those question types.

Ideally, you would get an IELTS teacher, or at least a native English speaker to look at your writing and identify any repetitive mistakes you are making.

5. Consider your time scale.

Have a serious sit down and think about when you need to have ‘passed’ the IELTS test by. Is there a university application date you need to hit? Is there a deadline for visa applications?

If so, then plan to take your IELTS again so that you can still meet that deadline, or contact the universities or immigration office directly and ask them if they can extend the deadline for the IELTS score.

Remember, universities want you to apply. They want your money, you are a customer and so you can politely ask for an extended deadline. I have known plenty of students in the past get extensions as universities do understand the situation.

6. Make a plan

Once you have identified your weaker areas and you are clear on your deadlines then make a plan to fix these problems in a sensible time scale. Make a google doc and schedule in when you’re going to work on specific question types.

Use resources direct from Cambridge English to help you. The Official Guide To IELTS by Cambridge English is my recommendation and will help you prepare effectively.

7. Alternative options

Life is not perfect and you need to face the fact that you might not get the band score you need in time for your deadline. So, what are you going to do?

Start looking at alternative options, for example, some universities will still let you onto their courses without the required band score if you complete an English preparation course over the summer with them, usually a couple of months before the degree course actually begins.

You could also consider a different test altogether that has more dates available and is cheaper, Duolingo is one of these and can be done anywhere, anytime for a much lower price! PTE is another good option. Take a look at my TOEFL vs IELTS vs PTE comparison chart here. 

8. Don’t give up

Very few things in life are worth doing if they are easy. You have to earn success in life. IELTS is just a stepping stone to overcome on that road to success. You can and will succeed if you take note of the above points.

What Happens If I Fail IELTS?

You cannot fail IELTS, you can only not get the band score that you need. If you do not get the band score you need you can retake the test as many times as you can afford and as soon as places become available at a centre convenient for you.

You can check for when the next available test slot is through the central booking site for the British Council here.

I recently conducted a survey on this site that showed that over 51% of all IELTS test takers will not get the score they wanted at the first go. This means that most people will have to take IELTS at least twice – just knowing this can make you feel better because you are not alone! 

In fact, I would almost say it is ‘normal’ to have to take the IELTS test at least twice, no matter how clever you think you are. Let me give you the example of the school head boy a few years ago at my international school in Malaysia.

Now this boy had never failed a test in his life, he had gotten the highest score in the world for A Level Mathematics, 2 years early so he was incredibly intelligent and he was applying to Cambridge University.

At the start of the school year I did a short IELTS prep course for him and his year group, similar to the successful course I offer here, but I could tell he wasn’t interested and wasn’t really paying attention, he thought he was too good for IELTS. 

He needed a 7.5 for his writing and I knew for a fact that he would not be able to get that score easily but of course he did not listen to my warning because he had never failed an exam in his life before.

So, the inevitable happened, this student ‘failed’ his IELTS and came crawling back to me to ask me why he had failed and what he needed to do to succeed.

I wanted to laugh in his arrogant face for not listening to me the first time but I am not allowed to do that so I went through my prep course with him again and he duly listened, understood what I was saying, did numerous practice papers and questions for me and then, when I said he was ready, he retook the test.

This time, he did get the score that he needed and everything was okay. He did not get into Cambridge University but he did learn that failure is part of life for everyone and that failing is not the end of the story, it is just the beginning. 

Maybe you did not prepare properly for the test or maybe you did and you still failed but by accepting the fact that you did not get the score you needed and working out how you can improve next time is what you need to do now.

Check out my full course, click the picture.

Why Do Students Fail IELTS?

People commonly fail IELTS due to either having a level of English that is simply lower than the band score they need, poor exam technique, or, due to a combination of these.

The most common reason I see, is that students don’t take the test seriously the first time that they do it. They think they can just ‘ace’ it and get the results they need without having to put in any effort.

True, for some people that is the case, some people with a decent level of English can, with little practice, get the band score they need first time.

My research suggests that at least 50% of people cannot do this. Interestingly, I find that students who are very clever at subjects at school and are not used to failing anything assume that they will get the band score they need first time and overestimate their ability. 

It can be a nasty shock for them to find out that their English is not as good as they thought it was. Typically, though, these people tend to then apply themselves much better then second time around and get the score they need once they have mastered some of the exam techniques required.

How Many Times Can You Re-sit IELTS?

There is no limit to the number of times you can take the IELTS test. Research from this site suggests that 50% of test takers will have to retake the test at least once, 11% of test takers will take it 3-5 times, and over 3% of candidates will take it more than six times.

But look, if you just keep taking the test over and over again trying to get a better score then you are kidding yourself. Stop giving more and more money to IELTS and don’t take the test until you know you are ready for it.

Read my article here which tells you how to know you are ready for IELTS or you risk wasting even more time and money.

How Soon Can I Retake The IELTS Exam?

There is no restriction on how soon you can retake an IELTS test. However, you need to check with your preferred test centre as some test centres book up many months in advance.

It may be quicker to look for a different test centre with more dates available, however, this may mean you have to travel to a different location to do the test.

During the Covid situation, many IELTS tests were cancelled around the world leading to a backlog of people wanting to take the test. My advice is to book and take your IELTS test as soon as you are ready, so that if you do have to take it again you still have plenty of time to rebook and do the test again.

When I was an IELTS speaking examiner in Bangkok we would regularly have large groups of Chinese students flying over for the weekend just to take the test.

I am sure at the same time they also enjoyed a bit of sightseeing but the reason they came was because the test centres in their part of China were fully booked.

What Is The IELTS Exam Retake Fee?

The IELTS exam retake fee is the exact same as the first time that you booked it. That means that it is around $225 although you may pay slightly more or less depending on what region you are in.

Don’t forget though, that along with the retake fee there are plenty of other costs associated with retaking IELTS. First, you have got to spend money on travel expenses which could be considerable if you are having to travel to a test centre that is far away.

Secondly, presumably you will want to pass this time so you probably have to spend money on lessons, books, courses and so on. And then, there is also the time cost of all of this.

You will lose the time it takes to travel to and from the test centre the time taking the test and all of that time preparing for the test too when you could have been doing something else.

So, the true cost of failing IELTS can be far more than the $225 test fee and I have not even begun to discuss the mental and emotional energy lost redoing the test.

The message then is loud and clear. Prepare properly for your test. Don’t leave it to chance. Don’t skip the preparation. If you do, you will only have yourself to blame.

A great place to start would be my main pages for IELTS writing task 2 here which many people find tricky, or the IELTS speaking section here which people also get very stressed about.

You may also want to check out my full course here which cover everything you need to know for each part of the test and has helped thousands of people get the score they need, check it out here.

Recommended IELTS Study Tools

Thank you for reading this article. I always get lots of questions about how else to get a better band score quickly. So, this is what I recommend:

Complete IELTS Course: Of course, my full course ‘INCREASE YOUR IELTS‘ covers everything you need to need to know to pass IELTS, including practice questions, model answers, grammar work, strategies for every possible reading, writing and listening question type, as well as a complete speaking course too, check it out here.

IELTS Essay and Speaking Feedback: To complete full mock tests and get feedback from IELTS examiners on your IELTS essays or speaking tasks then visit: IELTS Feedback and Mock Tests, here.

Improve your grammar fast by using the Grammarly suggestions to improve your writing. Every IELTS students should have this free grammar improving tool.

Improve all-round English skill with If you have failed IELTS more than once then you probably need to improve your general level of English. Use the free online lessons and vocabulary building tools here and start improving today! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

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