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Concise guide to IELTS

What is IELTS and who is it for?

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is a standardized English language test. IELTS can be one of the requirements when applying for visas to countries such as the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, or when you want to study in English in many universities across the world or register with professional bodies. Few employers accept IELTS. According to ielts.org, over 3 million IELTS tests were taken in more than 140 countries in 2017.

It is not your choice or your decision to take IELTS, but it is always a requirement – pay attention to whether you need to take IELTS Academic or IELTS General Training and what band score is required (both overall and for each skill). For example, medical students and doctors are usually required to take IELTS Academic and obtain band 7 or 7.5 from each of the 4 IELTS parts (reading, listening, writing and speaking), for engineering studies and internships the required IELTS Academic band score is usually 6 or 6.5, and for visas the requirement is usually IELTS General Training and the minimum band scores start with 4 and go up depending on the kind of visa you are applying for. If you are applying for a UK visa, you will have to take IELTS for UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) or IELTS Life Skills.

When and where can I take the IELTS test and how to register?

IELTS tests are provided up to four times a month in some big cities across the world, but it can be as rarely as once every 2 months in some locations, so do check test dates at your nearest IELTS test centre.

You can take IELTS in many locations all over the world. Here you can find the full list of countries and territories where IELTS tests take place, easily find the nearest test centre in your country and book your IELTS test.

What are the parts of IELTS tests and what is the difference between IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training?

There are 4 parts in both IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training tests: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. You will take the first three parts, in this particular order, on the same day and the Speaking test can take place either after a short break after the written part or within one week before or after your written test – you will be notified about your speaking test date when you have registered.

Listening and Speaking parts are the same for IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training. In the IELTS Academic Reading test you can expect 4 long academic-like texts, while General Training Reading starts with shorter texts, often brochures or leaflets, and only the last text is a sort of longer article. There are 2 tasks in the Writing test. For IELTS Academic you will need to write a kind of data report (analyse and summarise information presented in graphs, tables, diagrams, etc.) and an academic essay. For IELTS General Training, you will need to write a letter and an essay.

The written test is quite a challenge as it takes 2 hours and 40 minutes and there are no breaks between the 3 parts. The first part is Listening, which takes approximately 40 minutes – about 30 minutes to listen and answer all questions plus 10 minutes to complete an answer sheet. There are 40 questions and each question is worth 1 point. You will listen to each recording once only. The next part is Reading and you will have 60 minutes to read all texts, answer all questions and transfer them to an answer sheet. There are again 40 questions and each question is worth 1 point. The last part is Writing, which lasts 60 minutes. You will need to write at least 150 words in Task 1 and you shouldn’t spend more than 20 minutes doing it, and you will have to write at least 250 in Task 2 and should spend about 40 minutes on it.

The Speaking test takes 11-14 minutes and during this time you will have to answer examiner’s questions and give a short presentation on a given topic.

Here you can read more about the types of sections and questions in each part of the IELTS test.

How is IELTS scored?

Each part (skill) is scored separately and you also get an overall score, which is the average of all 4 skills. IELTS is scored in Bands from 0 to 9, including half points. When you are required to take IELTS, your overall band score as well as the minimum band scores you need to achieve in each skill will be specified.

Here and here you can find out about IELTS scoring in more detail and download specific assessment criteria for both Writing tasks and Speaking.

How to prepare for IELTS?

You can prepare for IELTS in a variety of ways that suit your learning style and budget. The Internet is full of free resources and materials – just be careful as some of them are poor quality and can do more harm than good, some will just be a waste of time, but for sure it is a good idea to explore the official IELTS website ielts.org and start with free sample test questions to learn about the test format and the types of questions you will encounter during the test. Then you can prepare on your own, find an IELTS tutor or course where you live, or prepare online with our expert IELTS teachers in Lessons Zone.