Is band 9 possible?

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A few people have asked me whether it's possible to get a band 9 if English is not your first language.

The answer is Yes. Band 9 is not reserved for native English speakers. Remember, the IELTS exam is primarily a test for people whose first language is not English. An educated native English speaker should be capable of getting band 9 without too much difficulty. In fact, an English speaker who writes/speaks well (e.g. a journalist) should be 'off the scale' (beyond band 9).

We did give band 9 scores to a few candidates. Here are a few things I remember about those band 9 candidates:

  • They had all been working in an English-speaking environment, and were therefore surrounded by English every day.
  • They had picked up the kind of 'natural' phrases that English speakers use. They had not learnt 'big words' for the exam.
  • They read newspapers and books in English – not as a way of learning the language, but as part of everyday life.
  • None of them had a 'perfect' English accent, but they spoke clearly and fluently, without having to think about grammar or memorised vocabulary.

Let's be realistic: most people don't need a band 9. It's more useful to focus on band 7, which is more achievable and still a very good score.

Note: I said band 9 was possible, I didn't say it was easy!

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