Understanding G.B.C. scores

What do the numbers mean?

To understand how to score high on a test, you need to understand the scoring system. G.B.C. scores are a little mysterious, but they are based on a system used by the U.S. government.

Let's look a little deeper at the G.B.C. scoring system. This is important so you can understand your level, why you lose points and what you need to do to improve your score.

Note: We use this scoring system on The English Farm. When you are graded on homework or given an assessment, we will score you using this scoring system.

This is from the ILR website (the US government agency that created the test). I have added my own comments.

Level 0 – Memorised skills

Memorised skills score between 0 and 1.

  • You can do very basic tasks with memorised phrases.
  • You can understand memorised phrases in some situations.
  • You cannot read and understand English, but you may be able to read numbers, isolated words and phrases, personal and place names, street signs, office and shop signs.

Matthew's comment:
This is basically first year junior high school English. You can say, "Hello. Nice to meet you. My name is..." It's also why over-practicing hurts your score and why you should never memorize your answer. You'll immediately put yourself on the 0 - 1 score range because native speakers always know when you are speaking from memory.

Level 1 - Elementary skills

Elementary skills have a score of 1:

  • You can have very simple face-to-face conversations on familiar topics with basic manners.
  • You can understand language about basic needs and minimum manners and travel requirements in important areas (hotel, airport or shopping), or on very familiar topics (yourself, your country, your job), can understand simple questions and answers, simple statements and very simple face-to-face conversations in a standard dialect.
  • You understand enough to read very simple writing that is printed.

Matthew's comment:
There are a few important points here:

  1. Manners—many of my students are too direct and sound rude (even if they do not mean to be). That's why we are so strict on being polite and professional in class.
  2. To get a score of 1 (!) you should be able to talk about yourself and your job (many of my students are bad at this).
  3. You can't understand my New Zealand accent? You can't get more than 1! Many Japanese people only understand standard American English. The English-speaking world is a much, much more complex place and if you want to get a high score, you need to experience and understand other English dialects.

Level 2 - Limited working skills

Limited working skills are rated 2:

  • You can manage normal social situations and limited work requirements.
  • You can understand conversations in normal social situations and some work situations.
  • You can understand simple, real-world writing on subjects within a familiar context.

Matthew's comment:
The key points here are that you can manage day-to-day social and work situations and that the topics must be known to you. This is a lot harder than it sounds. The important thing is to compare this with the next level. It's a big jump.

Level 3 - Professional working skills

If you are going to work in English, you need a minimum score of 3:

  • You are able to speak the language with enough grammatical accuracy and vocabulary to participate effectively in most conversations on practical, social, and professional topics.
  • You can understand the essentials of all speech in a standard dialect including technical discussions within a special field.
  • You can read within a normal range of speed and with almost complete understanding a variety of real-world writing on unfamiliar subjects.

Matthew's comment:
The jump from 2 to 3 is huge. You need to understand almost all speech. You have to have almost complete understanding of things written on unfamiliar subjects. You have to good enough grammar and a wide enough vocabulary to participate effectively in most conversations and situations. The good news is that once you reach this level, the way you learn changes from traditional study methods, with teachers and classes, to more organic ways of learning—namely, using the language and learning through experience and input.

Level 4 - Full Professional working English skills

Full professional proficiency is rated 4:

  • You can use English fluently and accurately on all levels and as normally needed in a work situation.
  • You can understand all forms and styles of speech used in professional situations.
  • You can read fluently and accurately all styles and forms of the language used in professional situations.

Matthew's comments:
Now we are getting to the level required if you plan to be the C.E.O. or an executive of an international company or the leader of an international organisation. Something important to notice here is that this is the first time anything is said about fluency. What that means is that speed is not something you should be worrying about at lower scores. You should be concerned with accuracy and understanding. Speed is something you will develop naturally. Another important thing to note is that if you want to get a high score on the G.B.C., you need range and variety in your English. This is the difference between someone who is good at a language, and someone who is amazing. The amazing person can talk about anything comfortably and accurately.

Level 5 - Native or bilingual proficiency

Native or bilingual proficiency is rated 5:

  • You have the same speaking skills as an educated native speaker.
  • You are able to understand fully all forms and styles of speech intelligible to the well-educated native listener.
  • You can understand a number of regional and illiterate dialects and highly colloquial speech.
  • You can understand conversations despite interference from other noise.
  • You can read fluently and accurately all styles and forms of the language.

Matthew's comment:
Unless you plan to move overseas and live there the rest of your life, you can basically give up on this. You would need to use English 100% of the time for years for you to be able to make it to this level. Either that or you have to be raised bilingual. If you have not been, then forget it. It would take too much time for someone working in Japan to realistically attain this level of English. If you are a student and you have five to ten years to go and live in an English-speaking country, then you might come close to this one day!

Please read this post on the G.B.C. test. Also note that The English Farm has no official information on the G.B.C. test and is in no way associated with the administration of this test. The information here is the result of independent research and interviews with more than 130 people who have taken the G.B.C.

There is a detailed description of levels on the ILR site.