What is IELTS? An introduction to the most popular English Test

student on the way to do an IELTS exam

Do you want to study or migrate to an English speaking country? If so, then you may need to think about taking the IELTS exam.

So what is the IELTS exam? In this article we give an introduction to the IELTS exam, its different sections and its structure and how you can apply to take the exam.

What is the IELTS exam?

The IELTS exam, or ‘International English Language Testing System’, is one of the most acknowledged English language tests. It is widely recognised by companies and universities around the world as an accurate way to test someone’s level of English.  It is also the test of choice for many people who are planning to migrate to Canada, New Zealand, Australia or the UK and who need to demonstrate their abilities in English to the immigration departments.


Approximately 3 million IELTS exams are now taken each year, which shows that the IELTS exam is becoming more and more popular for potential students aiming to study or work in an English speaking country. One of the reasons for this popularity is is because the test is famous for its fairness and trustworthiness among students whatever nationality, cultural background or special needs they have. Its high-quality standards are the key to success of the test.

*Types of IELTS tests

There are two types of IELTS test you can take: Academic and General Training IELTS, serving either academic and non-academic purposes. Students decided which test to take based on what they will need it for.

*IELTS Academic test: This is taken by those who want to apply for higher education, which assesses whether they are ready to study in an English speaking environment. Some sections of this exam are more focused on academic language which you are likely to encounter when studying a Degree or Masters in English.

*IELTS General Training test: This test is generally taken by those who need to go to English speaking countries for work or even to do some professional training courses. It is also required for migration to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK.

*What is the difference between the IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training?

The Reading and Writing sections of both tests are different, while Listening and Speaking are the same for both types of tests..

*How is IELTS scored?

Each part of the IELTS test are given ‘Band Scores’. Examiners give all parts of a band score between 0 – 9. The results scale from 1 (non-user) to the highest 9 (expert user). The table below gives you an idea of the English proficiency level associated with each ‘Band Score’. Candidates who take the IELTS test can also be given half scores (4.5, 5.5, etc.). The candidate’s overall band score is determined by calculating the average of the scores for each part of the test (Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking).

Table of the different band scores for the IELTS exam

(source: www.IELTS.org)

Writing and speaking skills are checked and assessed by certified IELTS examiners. The other two part of the test, Reading and Listening, work on a a correct answer basis. You can learn about the IELTS scoring in more detail here.

*Exam Structure

The IELTS test has four sections to be assessed: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. The Listening, Reading and Writing sections of the IELTS test are taken on the same day, without any break in between. The Speaking can be taken up to a week before or after the other parts of the test.

Now let’s look at the different sections or ‘modules of the exam

*Reading section – 60 minutes – 40 questions
There will be 40 questions in the Reading section and candidates have 60 minutes to complete the test.The sources of the Reading section in the IELTS test come from English publications.

The Academic Module has three long reading texts ranging from descriptive to analytical. Do not worry, you do not have to the specialist to answer the questions in this section, because they are edited for the non-specialist audience.

The General Module has small extracts from different publications, you will probably read on a daily basis in an English-speaking environment.

*Listening section – 30 minutes – 4 recordings
There are 4 recordings in the Listening section and the test lasts for 30 minutes .

Dialogues and talks represent a wide range of accents in the English language. In the four recordings there are: two dialogues and two monologues which aim to assess the proficiency of your ability to understand native speakers.

*Speaking section – 11- 14 minutes – 3 Parts
Your Speaking IELTS exam section is recorded to be assessed by the examiner who will be conducting your exam. There are three parts in IELTS speaking test. You will be asked to talk about a specific topic for two minutes and later to elaborate on more abstract ideas related to the topic you previously spoke about. Read more about the speaking topics here

*Writing section – 60 minutes – 2 tasks
In IELTS Writing test you have two tasks to complete in 60 minutes.These tasks are different for the IELTS General Training test and for the IELTS Academic test.

For the writing Task 1 of the Academic Test you will be given a graph or a chart or a diagram to describe, compare and summarize the information visualized.  The task 2 is to write an essay to answer the question stated in the task.

For Task 1 in the IELTS General Training Test you will have to write a situational letter either personal or formal in style and for Task 2 you need to write an essay of at least 250 words to state or support an opinion or describe advantages or disadvantages of a situation.

*How should you book and register for the IELTS exam?
You should try to find a test location in your area. This site has a list of test centres around the world. The test centers usually provide an online application form to register for the exam. After filling in the application form, you will have to pay the IELTS exam fee. The IELTS exam fee is around 215-240 USD depending on whether the testing center will have their own IELTS certified examiner, or whether the examiner will have to travel to your location.

To conclude, taking IELTS test can open up many opportunities for you with over 10,000 universities, schools, employers and immigration bodies around the world. As soon as you have finally decided to take the test, you need to start preparing intensely! It is important to study a lot before before you register for the exam and pay the IELTS exam fee. The IELTS is a tricky exam, but not impossible. We have seen many students do much better that they expected by studying and putting in effort.