What is IELTS?
The international English language testing system (IELTS) is the world’s most popular English language proficiency test for higher education and global migration. IELTS assesses all of your English skills — reading, writing, listening and speaking, and is designed to reflect how you will use English at study, at work, and at play, in your new life abroad.
The IELTS test is developed by some of the world’s leading experts in language assessment. It has an excellent international reputation, and is accepted by over 9,000 organizations worldwide, including schools, universities, employers, immigration authorities and professional bodies.
IELTS is the most widely accepted English language test that uses a one-on-one speaking test to assess your English communication skills. This means that you are assessed by having a real-life conversation with a real person. This is the most effective and natural way of testing your English conversation skills.
You can take IELTS Academic or IELTS General Training – depending on the organization you are applying to and your plans for the future.
IELTS test structure
There are two modules of the IELTS:
- Academic Module
- General Training Module
There’s also a separate test offered by the IELTS test partners, called IELTS Life Skills:
- IELTS Academic is intended for those who want to enroll in universities and other institutions of higher education and for professionals such as medical doctors and nurses who want to study or practise in an English-speaking country.
- IELTS General Training is intended for those planning to undertake non-academic training or to gain work experience, or for immigration purposes.
- IELTS Life Skills is intended for those who need to prove their English speaking and listening skills at Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) levels A1 or B1 and can be used to apply for a ‘family of a settled person’ visa, indefinite leave to remain or citizenship in the UK.
The four parts of the IELTS test
- Listening: 30 minutes (plus 10 minutes’ transfer time)
- Reading: 60 minutes
- Writing: 60 minutes
- Speaking: 11–14 minutes
The test total time is: 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Listening, Reading and Writing are completed in one sitting. The Speaking test may be taken on the same day or up to seven days before or after the other tests.
All test takers take the same Listening and Speaking tests, while the Reading and Writing tests differ depending on whether the test taker is taking the Academic or General Training versions of the test.
The module comprises four sections, with ten questions in each section. It takes 40 minutes: 30 – for testing, plus 10 for transferring the answers to an answer sheet.
Sections 1 and 2 are about everyday, social situations.
- Section 1 has a conversation between two speakers (for example, a conversation about travel arrangements)
- Section 2 has one person speaking (for example, a speech about local facilities).
Sections 3 and 4 are about educational and training situations
- Section 3 is a conversation between two main speakers (for example, a discussion between two university students, perhaps guided by a tutor)
- Section 4 has one person speaking about an academic subject.
Each section begins with a short introduction telling the test taker about the situation and the speakers. Then they have some time to look through the questions. The questions are in the same order as the information in the recording, so the answer to the first question will be before the answer to the second question, and so on. The first three sections have a break in the middle allowing test takers to look at the remaining questions. Each section is heard only once.
At the end of the test students are given 10 minutes to transfer their answers to an answer sheet. Test takers will lose marks for incorrect spelling and grammar.
The Reading paper has three sections and texts totaling 2,150-2,750 words. There will be a variety of question types, such as multiple choice, short-answer questions, identifying information, identifying writer’s views, labeling diagrams, completing a summary using words taken from the text and matching information/headings/features in the text/sentence endings. Test takers should be careful when writing down their answers as they will lose marks for incorrect spelling and grammar.
Texts in IELTS Academic
- Three reading texts, which come from books, journals, magazines, newspapers and online resources written for non-specialist audiences. All the topics are of general interest to students at undergraduate or postgraduate level.
Texts in IELTS General Training
- Section 1 contains two or three short texts or several shorter texts, which deal with everyday topics. For example, timetables or notices – things a person would need to understand when living in an English-speaking country.
- Section 2 contains two texts, which deal with work. For example, job descriptions, contracts, training materials.
- Section 3 contains one long text about a topic of general interest. The text is generally descriptive, longer and more complex than the texts in Sections 1 and 2. The text will be taken from a newspaper, magazine, book or online resource.
The Writing paper has two tasks which must both be completed. In task 1 test takers write at least 150 words in about 20 minutes. In task 2 test takers write at least 250 words in about 40 minutes. Test takers will be penalised if their answer is too short or does not relate to the topic. Answers should be written in full sentences (test takers must not use notes or bullet points).
- Task 1: test takers describe a graph, table, chart or diagram in their own words.
- Task 2: test takers discuss a point of view, argument or problem. Depending on the task, test takers may be required to present a solution to a problem, present and justify an opinion, compare and contrast evidence, opinions and implications, and evaluate and challenge ideas, evidence or an argument.
IELTS General Training
- Task 1: test takers write a letter in response to a given everyday situation. For example, writing to an accommodation officer about problems with your accommodation, writing to a new employer about problems managing your time, writing to a local newspaper about a plan to develop a local airport.
- Task 2: test takers write an essay about a topic of general interests. For example, whether smoking should be banned in public places, whether children’s leisure activities should be educational, how environmental problems can be solved.
The speaking test is a face-to-face interview between the test taker and an examiner.
The speaking test contains three sections.
- Section 1: introduction and interview (4–5 minutes). Test takers may be asked about their home, family, work, studies, hobbies, interests, reasons for taking IELTS exam as well as other general topics such as clothing, free time, computers and the Internet.
- Section 2: long turn (3–4 minutes). Test takers are given a task card about a particular topic. Test takers have one minute to prepare to talk about this topic. The task card states the points that should be included in the talk and one aspect of the topic which must be explained during the talk. Test takers are then expected to talk about the topic for 2 minutes, after which the examiner may ask one or two questions.
- Section 3: discussions (4–5 minutes). The third section involves a discussion between the examiner and the test taker, generally on questions relating to the theme which they have already spoken about in Section 2.
Test takers receive a score for each test component – Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. The individual scores are then averaged and rounded to produce an Overall Band Score.
There is no pass or fail. IELTS is scored on a nine-band scale, with each band corresponding to a specified competence in English. Overall Band Scores are reported to the nearest half band.
The following rounding convention applies: if the average across the four skills ends in 0.25, it is rounded up to the next half band, and if it ends in 0.75, it is rounded up to the next whole band.
The nine bands are described as follows:
||Has full operational command of the language: appropriate, accurate and fluent with complete understanding.
||Very Good User
||Has fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriacies. Misunderstandings may occur in unfamiliar situations. Handles complex detailed argumentation well.
||Has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriateness and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally handles complex language well and understands detailed reasoning.
||Has generally effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.
||Has partial command of the language, coping with overall meaning in most situations, though is likely to make many mistakes. Should be able to handle basic communication in own field.
||Basic competence is limited to familiar situations. Has frequent problems in understanding and expression. Is not able to use complex language.
||Extremely Limited User
||Conveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations. Frequent breakdowns in communication occur.
||No real communication is possible except for the most basic information using isolated words or short formulae in familiar situations and to meet immediate needs. Has great difficulty understanding spoken and written English.
||Essentially has no ability to use the language beyond possibly a few isolated words.
||Did not attempt the test
||No assessable information provided at all.
IELTS and the CEFR
|IELTS Band Score
||Did not attempt the test