IELTS Exam: A Comprehensive Overview of the Test Format

IELTS, which stands for International English Language Testing System, is a globally accepted examination that assesses the English language proficiency of individuals seeking academic or immigration opportunities in English-speaking countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. The test is available in two formats: paper-based and computer-based, and there are 48 test dates available throughout the year.

Test takers can choose between IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training, depending on their academic or professional aspirations, or visa requirements.

The results of the exam are accessible online after 13 days from the test date. In the paper-based version, the test-takers are required to sit at a desk for the Reading, Listening, and Writing tests at an authorized examination center. They can respond to the questions in either pen or pencil. Meanwhile, the Speaking test is conducted face-to-face with an examiner.

On the other hand, in the computer-based format, the Reading, Listening, and Writing tests are taken on a computer, with the questions displayed on the screen at an official examination center. After completion of the test, the test-takers submit their responses online. The Speaking test is conducted face-to-face with a trained examiner in a separate room, either on the same day or a different day.

The difference between the two tests is that the Reading and Writing sections of IELTS Academic have subject matter and tasks suitable for the test takers entering undergraduate or postgraduate studies. The Listening and Speaking sections are the same.

Listening 30 minutes

Test takers listen to four recorded texts, monologues and conversations by a range of native speakers, and write their answers to a series of questions.

Reading 60 minutes

The Academic test includes three long texts which range from the descriptive and factual to the discursive and analytical. The texts are authentic and are taken from books, journals, magazines and newspapers and are on academic topics of general interest. All have been selected for a non-specialist audience.

The General Training test requires test takers to read extracts from newspapers, advertisements, instruction manuals and books. These are materials test takers could encounter on a daily basis in an English-speaking country.

Speaking (11–14 minutes)

The Speaking test is carried out face-to-face with a trained IELTS examiner, as we believe this is the most effective way of assessing a test taker’s speaking skills. This section takes between 11 and 14 minutes to complete. Every test is digitally recorded and consists of three parts:

Part 1

Test takers answer general questions about themselves and a range of familiar topics, such as their home, family, work, studies and interests. This part lasts between four and five minutes.

Part 2

Test takers are given a booklet which asks them to talk about a particular topic. They have one minute to prepare before speaking for up to two minutes. The examiner may ask one or two questions on the same topic to finish this part of the test.

Part 3

Test takers are asked further questions which are connected to the topic in Part 2. These questions give the test taker an opportunity to discuss more abstract issues and ideas. This part lasts between four and five minutes.

The format of the Speaking test is common across both the Academic and General Training tests. It is structured in such a way that does not allow test takers to rehearse set responses beforehand.

Academic Writing (60 minutes)

The Academic test includes two tasks. Topics are selected to be of general interest and suitable for test takers entering undergraduate or postgraduate studies or seeking professional registration.

Task 1

Test takers are presented with a graph, table, chart or diagram and are asked to describe, summarize or explain the information in their own words. They may be asked to describe and explain data, describe the stages of a process, how something works or describe an object or event.

Task 2

Test takers are asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem.

Responses to both tasks must be written in an academic or semi-formal neutral style. The General Training test also includes two tasks and is based on topics of general interest.

General Training Writing (60 minutes)

Task 1

Test takers are presented with a situation and are asked to write a letter requesting information or explaining the situation. The letter may be personal, semi-formal or formal in style.

Task 2

Test takers are asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem. The essay can be slightly more personal in style than the Academic Writing Task 2 essay.