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How Are English Language Tests Graded? Understanding English Proficiency Scores

When you choose to study in Australia as an international student, you’ll need to meet certain English language requirements to obtain your Student (subclass 500) visa. Depending on your country of citizenship, you may need to prove your English language skills by taking an English proficiency test

However, as various English test options are available, it can be tricky to understand the differences and the different grading schemes at play. In this explainer, we provide some background on each of the tests and how they’re scored. Read on to discover everything you need to know.

Why English language tests are important

As noted in the introduction, providing evidence of English language proficiency is a key step in obtaining your visa. In essence, it’s your opportunity to show the Australian Government that you have the linguistic skills required to succeed in your course.

It’s also important to demonstrate your skills to your education provider. Regardless of where you study, your university will be extremely invested in ensuring your academic success. Using your test results, your institution can recommend the appropriate pathways for you to improve your abilities and meet the English prerequisites for your course. Certain universities even offer their own English language tests and programs as a form of additional English language support.

One such English program is run by Curtin English, which offers three courses: General English, Gateway English and English Language Bridging. Each of these courses is designed to suit students of various English proficiency levels. So, no matter where you are in your English language journey, you’re sure to find the right course for you.

The types of English language tests available 

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

The International English Language Testing System is an English test designed to test your ability to listen, read, write and speak in English. This helps you to work, study or migrate to a country where English is the native language.

The Pearson Test of Engish (PTE Academic) 

PTE Academic is an international computer-based test. It assesses your ability of English language proficiency according to the standard of educational institutions and government organisations. 

The Test of English as Foreign Language (TOEFL) 

TOEFL is another English test to measure the ability of non-native speakers seeking enrolment in English-speaking universities/ institutions. 

The Occupational English Test (OET) 

OET is an English test exclusively for healthcare professionals to assess their language communication skills.

Cambridge English

The Advanced (CAE) Test – also known as C1 Advanced – is an in-depth exam that is accepted by all major education providers in Australia and the Department of Home Affairs for visa purposes. 

Read more: Free English Test Resources for International Students in Australia

How English language tests are graded


The overall IELTS score is an average of its four sections: listening, reading, speaking and writing. Each section assesses different criteria to award a particular band score (from 1 to 9).

Writing and speaking sections are graded on your grammatical range and accuracy, along with fluency and coherence. 

To obtain a Student visa, you need a minimum band of 5.5. Alternatively, a band of 5 with 10 weeks of ELICOS (English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students) training or 4.5 with at least 20 weeks of ELICOS training is also acceptable.

PTE Academic

PTE Academic is scored on a scale from 10-90 points in each of its four sections of listening, reading, writing and speaking. 

Across each category, the algorithm used to score the tests uses different criteria. For example, the speaking section uses criteria like pronunciation and oral fluency. The writing section grades you on vocabulary and the clarity of your argument.

You receive scores in each category and an overall score for your whole test. A minimum score of 42 is required to be granted a Student visa (or a score of 36 with 10 weeks of ELICOS, or a score of 30 with 20 weeks of ELICOS).


Each section within TOEFL is scored on a scale of 0-30. In each category, you will be given a proficiency level based on your score range. These proficiency levels include:

  • Advanced
  • High-Intermediate
  • Low-Intermediate
  • Below Low-Intermediate

The reading section is scored on your ability to interpret lengthy, complex sentences and nuanced ideas. Similarly, the listening section assesses your ability to understand complex vocabulary, sentence structures and intonations. The speaking section is scored on fluency and ease of communication, while the writing section is graded on confidence and clarity.

All four sections are added together for a score of 0-120. A minimum score of 46 is required to gain a Student visa. With 10 weeks of ELICOS, a minimum score of 35 is required and with 20 weeks of ELICOS, a minimum score of 32 is required. 


For OET, you receive letter grades in each category which is equivalent to a number score ranging from 0-500. For example, an OET letter grade “A” will be awarded to you if your numeric score ranges from 450 – 500. Each of the categories is assessed uniquely.  

Your listening and writing sections are assessed by trained OET assessors who use a detailed marking guide to identify which answers receive marks.

The writing section is assessed on six main criteria:

  • Purpose,
  • Content
  • Conciseness & Clarity
  • Genre & Style
  • Organisation & Layout
  • Language

The speaking section is assessed on nine main criteria:

  • Intelligibility
  • Fluency
  • Appropriateness of Language
  • Resources of Grammar and Expression
  • Indicators of Relationship Building
  • Indicators of Understanding & Incorporating the Patient’s Perspective
  • Indicators of Providing Structure
  • Indicators for Information Gathering
  • Indicators for Information Giving

To be eligible for a Student visa, you must score at least a B grade in each test component. There is no overall score.

Cambridge English

A result is given for each category of C1 Advanced. Your overall score is calculated by averaging the individual scores received. 

The reading and listening sections of the test are scored predominantly on comprehension. 

The writing section is scored based on the following criteria:

  • Content
  • Communicative Achievement
  • Organisation
  • Language

The speaking section is scored based on the following criteria:

  • Grammatical Resource
  • Lexical Resource
  • Discourse Management
  • Pronunciation
  • Interactive Communication 

A minimum score of 162 is essential for a Student visa (or 154 with 10 weeks of ELICOS and 147 with 20 weeks of ELICOS).