IELTS: The Whole Foods of ESL Tests

Ah, Whole Foods. It still bothers me that there is a store, an incredibly popular one, that sells such expensive products, and yet they continue to rake in the profits. It doesn't even make sense!

As crazy as it sounds, that is exactly what Whole Foods has done to the grocery store industry. Aside from the fact that Amazon gobbled it up and, if we're really being honest, it still is super unaffordable even after the acquisition. What gives, right?

Why are some people willing to spend $10 on a cereal box, when a similar one, can be found at Aldi or Lidl for a fraction of the cost? Frankly, I’ll never understand these people and I’m perfectly fine by me.

This doesn‘t mean that I’m not flummoxed by it, though. In fact, it literally blows my mind, and most likely will continue to do so for all of eternity. Alas, this is not a blog about saving money by changing your shopping habits and frequenting a different grocery store--although that would be very fun to write!--you're here to gain insights and answers to your specific questions related to the thrilling world of IELTS.

Today you will get the following question answered: Why is IELTS so expensive?

What Gives?

IELTS is not a one-person operation—by far! It most certainly is a team effort, and there are a number of costs associated with the test. It's not just the physical price of taking it, which depending on your location in the U.S.A. is around $250.

There are a number of other people whose jobs are directly tied to IELTS—some of whom you meet—and others who will remain nameless forever. No, it’s not a cult. It does sound like it, though... just a little. 😉

To run an IELTS test center, you have to pay many people. Examiners: speaking and writing, clerical markers, invigilators (HUH?-no, worries, you’ll soon find out what this means), and test center staff.

For simplicity and uniformity, all of the below prices are in US dollars.

Let’s take the average cost of a test in America and say that it’s $250. That amount, as all things in life, will only go up, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s call the fee to register for IELTS $250.


You’re already familiar with what these IELTS-obsessed beings do. No, they do not volunteer in order to do this job. These people are paid, and yes, the amount varies depending on the test center; at least this is the case in the U.S. as I cannot speak (errrr.. write) what the rates are in other countries.

When you hear examiners, recall that there are two kinds: speaking and writing. Examiners do not only mark one—although they do have the choice—and conversely have the ability to mark both modules.

For speaking examiners, the average rate is $16 per interview. For writing examiners, the average rate is $8 per script. A script is defined as one, Task 1. Therefore, because there are two tasks in the writing module, the cost is $16 per candidate for solely the writing portion.

When you add $16 (for the speaking examiner) to $16 (for the writing examiner), you get $32. Already, off the bat, before you’ve done anything else, more than 10% of your original registration fee, goes straight to the examiner.

Up next are...

Clerical Markers

Clerical markers are the people who mark your listening and reading mark sheets. The average rate for these people is $5 per sheet. One sheet contains: one side of listening answers and the reverse side has the reading answers. Thus, the person marking your listening and reading answers, is looking at and marking both for the flat fee of $5. Again, this is the rate in the U.S. and each country differs.

Time for math, friend. When you add $32 to $5, you get $37, which means that almost 15% of your registration fee goes to only clerical markers and examiners.

Are there more people involved? Of course there are! IELTS is like a clown car when it comes to the number of people who are directly impacted by your registration payment. And that’s a fact. 😀


Another fancy word for proctors is invigilators. Sometimes it seems like this word only exists to confuse people who have zero clue was invigilating or that there ever existed a verb like “to invigilate” prior to entering the strange world of IELTS.

Invigilators do a LOT! These are the people who will meticulously examine your documents, collect your belongings, carefully go over the directions for the exam, escort you to the restroom when you need to go, hand you your testing booklet/pencil, and bring you to and from the testing room... plus much more. So as to not overwhelm you, those were just some of the MANY things that invigilators do on test day.

Their rate, again, varies from center to center in the U.S. but the general rate is $15 per hour. There is no clear-cut way to determine the precise amount of your test that goes to pay an invigilator, but to be on the conservative side, most invigilators work 6-8 hours on test day, so let’s call it a flat $15.

Sticking with the simple math, here, $37 + $15 = $ 52. Up to this point, more than 20% of your registration cost goes directly to the people who are there ensure that your exam is properly assessed. More significantly, they are the ones guiding you with precise step-by-step directions on how or what to do next.

Other Staff

These are the people— or sometimes, depending on the size of the center, a person—who actually run the center. Most likely this is the person who runs the day-to-day operations of the testing center, which means it may or may not be possible to actually identify this individual on test day.

Does this mean that this one person is a one woman/man show? No, not at all. In fact, this person has assistance in the form of staff. There may not be a large number of people that you encounter on test day, but rest assured that these people are highly trained and skilled for a variety of situations that may arise on test day.

For simplicity purposes, let’s say that $100 of your test go straight to paying for the additional IELTS staff members that are there to support testing center on the BIG day aka test day.

$100 + $52 = $152. How quickly the numbers add up, right? Suddenly, right before your eyes even had a chance to blink, more than 60% of your IELTS registration fee went to just the human beings responsible for pulling off the incredible magic that is IELTS test day.

Last but not least, drumroll, please...


Oh, wait there’s more?! 🤭You bet there is more.

Ah, the wonderful world of profits. Did you forget IELTS, like most things in life, is a business? After all, this is a lucrative business, right?! Yes, the answer is a resounding yes, but it doesn’t mean that there isn’t great care in ensuring you get the best possible testing experience.

All the warm and fuzzy feelings cast aside, there is a portion of each registration fee that goes directly to the IELTS partner in which your test center is affiliated. In America, that is more likely than not IELTS USA. In other parts of the world, that might be IDP, British Council, or Cambridge. There are absolutely more out there but there is zero need to bore yourself with all of the minute details.

Finally, the tiny slice of the pie that remains—once the IELTS affiliate takes their cut—stays with the actual test center. This ranges between $50-$70 per test. Yep, you guessed it, the exact amount that the test center gets to keep fluctuates between test centers. On the low end, each test center is gets to keep 20% of the profits for each test that you register for. 20% profit per test is not bad at all, friend.

In a Nutshell

IELTS—when looked at individually—may seem like a costly exam. However, when you pull back the curtains and learn that your fee covers plays a major role in other things, the financial sting isn’t as harsh as it could be. Yes, $250 is no small amount of money, but the fee could be much higher given the high-stakes nature of this assessment.

Okay, now, at this precise moment, you’re ready for the recap!

❇️ Your IELTS fee is a lot more complicated than you originally thought.

❇️ Many other people’s job depend on your registration fee.

❇️ Center staff, invigilators, and examiners say THANK YOU!

❇️ The registration fee will only go up; register now to lock in the current rate.

❇️ There are a lot of people involved in processing and evaluating your score.

❇️ Put in the necessary preparation for your test.

❇️ Your score matters!

Click here to gain weekly, IELTS insights💡 sent straight to your inbox. Better yet, send this link to your friends who are new to the wonderful world of IELTS. This weekly series will set you up for success as you get all the information of what you need to know: before, on the day of, and after—you take IELTS. No fluff, just facts. I promise!

Until next time, happy IELTSing!

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