What is the IELTS, who is it for and what does it comprise of? Here we give a simple breakdown of the examination and what it entails for our students, followed by help to answer students’ questions about the exam, and an introduction for students to examples of questions in the reading paper.


Photo of students sitting an exam or photo of the exam's name: IELTS.

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What is the IELTS and who is it for?

The IELTS (International English Language Test) was taken by over three million people in 2016 and is used by over 10,000 colleges, agencies and other institutions in over 130 different countries. It is taken at a specific location (there are currently over 1,100 locations across the world) on a specific date (there are 48 test dates each year).

There are two types of IELTS exam: IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training.

The IELTS Academic is for people applying for higher education or professional registration.

The IELTS General Training is for those migrating to Canada, Australia or the UK or applying for secondary education, training programmes or work-experience in an English-speaking environment.

What are the different parts of the test?

The IELTS has tests in listening, reading, writing and speaking.The listening and speaking tests are the same for the IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training; where they differ is in the reading and writing tests. The reading, writing and listening tests are all completed consequetively on the same day, with no breaks between them. The speaking test can be completed up to a week before or afterwards, however. The total test time is 2 hours 45 minutes.

Listening test

Time allowed: 30 minutes

Candidates listen to four recordings of native English speakers and write answers to questions.The four recordings consist of a two-person conversation, a monolgue on an everyday social subject, a conversation between up to four people in an educational or training context and a monolgue on an academic subject. Here examiners are testing the candidate’s understanding of the main ideas of the text, the text’s purpose, detailed factual information from the text, and opinions and attitudes of the speakers in the text.They will also be looking at the candidate’s ability to follow the development of ideas.

Reading test

Time allowed: 60 minutes

In this section there are 40 questions testing the candidate’s ability to read for gist, main ideas and detail. Skimming, understanding a logical argument and recognising a writer’s opinions, attitudes and purpose is also examined.

For the IELTS Academic test, there are three long texts taken from books, journals, magazines and newspapers.

For the IELTS General Training test, there are extracts from books, magazines, newspapers, notices, advertisements, company handbooks and guidelines.

Writing test

Time allowed: 60 minutes

There are two tasks in this section, which differ according to whether the candidate is taking the IELTS Academic or General Training.

For the IELTS Academic test:

Task 1:The candidate is given a graph, table, chart or diagram and asked to describe, summarise or explain the information in their own words. This may include data, stages of a process, how something works or describing an object or event. This is formal writing.

Task 2:The candidate has to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem. This is also formal writing.

For the IELTS General Training test:

Task 1:The candidate is given a situation and asked to write a letter requesting information, or explaining the situation. This may be personal, formal or semi-formal in nature.

Task 2:The candidate has to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem. This can be fairly personal in tone.

Speaking test

Time allowed: 11-14 minutes

This section consists of three parts.

Part 1: (4-5 minutes) The candidate will be asked general questions about themself and on a range of familiar topics such as home, family, studies, work and interests.

Part 2: (2-3 minutes) The candidate will be given a card, on which is written a topic.They have one minute to prepare before speaking on that topic for up to two minutes.1-2 questions are then asked to the candidate.

Part 3: (4-5 minutes) Further questions are asked on the topic from Part 2.This section is testing the candidate’s ability to discuss abstract ideas and issues.

How is the test graded?

Candidates are given a score between 0-9, going up in 0.5 increments. A score of 1 represents a non-user of English, whereas a score of 9 represents an expert English user. 

Each section is scored and the total is converted into a mark on the IELTS 9-band scale. The candidate’s overall score is their average score of their four sections (listening, speaking, reading and writing) rounded up to the nearest 0.5.

Most universities usually require an IELTS score of 7.0 or above.

The following is a rough guide to the correlation between IELTS scores and the Common European Framework (CEFR):

IELTS scoreCEFR band
1-2 A1
3-4 A2
4.5-5.5 B1
6-7 B2
7.5-8.5 C1
8.5-9 C2

IELTS scores are valid for two years.

For more detailed information, go to www.ielts.org.

Exam orientation for students

When students come on an IELTS preparation course they often have a lot of questions about the exam. This section helps to answer some of those questions and at the same time introduce students to some examples of different types of questions they will encounter in the reading paper. Worksheets are provided which you can download below.


  • Stage 1

    Write on the board: What do you know about the IELTS exam? Let students work in pairs or small groups to think about the question and share their information for a few minutes. Students feedback answers to the group. At this stage don’t give any answers to their questions, simply find out what information they already have.

  • Stage 2

    Hand out worksheet 2 and ask the students work through the questions discussing possible answers in pairs.

  • Stage 3

    Hand out worksheet 1. Ask students to skim read and check answers to the quiz questions. Set a time limit.

  • Stage 4

    Hand out worksheet 3 (Summary and True/False/Not Given question types). Allow students to work on questions individually. You may choose to go through one question at a time taking the opportunity to discuss exam technique for each type of question.

    You will find a key for the above exercises included with the downloadable worksheets below.


Click link to download and view these files