IELTS

What is IELTS? A Detailed Guide

If you are going to take IELTS for immigration or education purposes, this article details the test's importance, format and preparation methodologies.

Written by Laiba Bukhari · 6 min read >

IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. It is the world’s most popular English language proficiency test for higher education and global migration. IELTS uses a nine-band scale to clearly identify levels of proficiency, from non-user (band score 1) through to expert (band score 9).

In case you’re applying for studies or immigration in Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the United Kingdom, you’ll be required to take the IELTS test.

In this article, we’ll look into the types of IELTS test and it’s test format.

Types of IELTS Test

IELTS offers two kinds of tests:

  1. IELTS Academic
  2. IELTS General Training

IELTS Academic

IELTS Academic test tests the suitability of one’s English language proficiency for academics. It is for people applying for higher education or professional registration.
If you are applying for foreign education or study scholarship, you’ll need to take this one.

IELTS General Training

IELTS General Training test tests the suitability of one’s English language proficiency for everyday practicality. It is for those migrating to Australia, Canada and the UK, or applying for secondary education, training programmes and work experience in an English-speaking environment.
In short, if you’re applying for work or residency, this is the one you need.

What does the IELTS test consist of?

IELTS is designed to thoroughly test your English language skills, therefore, it will test you in all four categories of English language proficiency. This includes:

  1.   Listening
  2.  Reading
  3.  Writing
  4.  Speaking

Test Format

The total test time is 2 hours and 45 minutes. We’ll discuss the test format for each section in detail in the following:

Listening

IELTS Listening – description

In IELTS Listening, you will listen to four recordings, with varying voices and native-speakers’ accents, and answer some questions on the answer sheet. The total time is 30 minutes and there are 40 questions. You’ll be given time after each recording to answer your questions relevant to the recording played. Each recording tests your listening ability in a different way. 

Recording 1 is a conversation between two people set in an everyday social context.

Recording 2 is a monologue set in an everyday social context, e.g. a speech about local facilities.

Recording 3 is a conversation between up to four people set in an educational or training context, e.g. a university tutor and a student discussing an assignment.

Recording 4 is a monologue on an academic subject, e.g. a university lecture.

Remember that the recordings will play only once, therefore, you must pay complete attention and listen carefully.

IELTS Listening – Types of Questions

Following are the different types of questions in the listening test:

  1. Multiple choice: The question has three choices. You are required to select one or more options depending upon the instructions on the top. Therefore, always read the instructions first before proceeding.
  2. Matching: You are required to match a numbered list of items from the listening text to a set of options on the question paper.
  3. Plan, map, diagram labeling: You are required to complete labels on a plan (e.g. of a building), map (e.g. of part of a town) or diagram (e.g. of a piece of equipment). The answers are usually selected from a list on the question paper.
  4. Form, note, table, flow-chart, summary completion: You are required to fill in the gaps in an outline of part or of all of the listening text. The outline will focus on the main ideas/facts in the text.
  5. Sentence completion: You are required to read a set of sentences summarizing key information from all the listening text or from one part of it. You then fill a gap in each sentence using information from the listening text. A word limit is given which should be followed strictly.
  6. Short-answer questions: You are required to read a question and then write a short answer using information from the listening text. A word limit is given.

Reading

IELTS Academic Reading – description

 In IELTS Academic Reading, there are three reading passages with a variety of questions using a number of task types, and you’ll be given 60 minutes to read the passages and answer all 40 questions. The passages are taken from books, journals, magazines and newspapers, and have been written for a non-specialist audience. All the topics are of general interest. The passages may contain non-verbal materials such as diagrams, graphs or illustrations. 

IELTS General Training Reading – description

In IELTS General Training Reading, there are three sections. Section 1 may contain two or three short texts or several shorter texts. Section 2 comprises two texts. In Section 3, there is one long text. You will be given 60 minutes to complete this section and answer all 40 questions.

IELTS Reading – Types of Questions

Following are the different types of questions in both the academic and the general training reading test:

  1. Multiple choice: You are required to choose the best answer/(s) from the given alternatives.
  2. Identifying information: You will be given a number of statements and asked: ‘Do the following statements agree with the information in the text?’ You are then required to write ‘true’, ‘false’ or ‘not given’ in the boxes on their answer sheets.
  3. Identifying writer’s views/claims: You will be given a number of statements and asked: ‘Do the following statements agree with the views/claims of the writer?’ You are required to write ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘not given’ in the boxes on their answer sheet.
  4. Matching information: You are required to locate specific information within the lettered paragraphs/sections of a text, and to write the letters of the correct paragraphs/sections in the boxes on their answer sheet.
  5. Matching headings: You are given a list of headings where each heading refers to the main idea of a paragraph in the passage. You must match the heading to the correct paragraphs and write the appropriate Roman numerals of the headings in the boxes on their answer sheets.
  6. Matching features: You are required to match a set of statements or pieces of information to a list of options. The options are a group of features from the text. For example, Match different research findings to a list of researchers. It is possible that some options will not be used, and that others may be used more than once. The instructions will inform test takers if options may be used more than once.
  7. Matching sentence endings: You are given the first half of a sentence based on the text and asked to choose the best way to complete it from a list of possible options.
  8. Sentence completion: You are required to complete sentences in a given number of words taken from the text. You cannot exceed the specified number of words/numbers or you will lose marks.
  9. Summary, note, table, flow-chart completion: You are given a summary of a section of the text, and are required to complete it with information drawn from the text. The given information may be in the form of note, table, and/or flow-chart. You may be asked either to select words from the text or to select from a list of answers.
  10. Diagram label completion: You are required to complete labels on a diagram, which relates to a description contained in the text.
  11. Short-answer questions: You answer questions, which usually relate to factual information about details in the text.

Writing

IELTS Academic Writing – description

In IELTS Academic Writing, there are two writing tasks and both must be completed in 60 minutes. Answers must be given on the answer sheet. Notes or bullet points are not acceptable as answers.

IELTS Academic Writing – Types of Questions

Following are the two types of tasks in academic writing test:

  1. You are asked to describe some visual information (graph/table/chart/diagram) in your own words. You need to write 150 words in about 20 minutes. You will not be penalized for exceeding word limit, but you must manage your time wisely as both questions must be finished in the allotted time. You can write the answer in an academic or semi-formal/neutral style and include the most important and the most relevant points from the diagram.
  2. You are asked to respond to a point of view or argument or problem. You need to write at least 250 words in about 40 minutes. You should provide a full and relevant response and should not just simply write in general.

IELTS General Training Writing – description

In IELTS General Training Writing, there are two writing tasks based on the topics of general interest. Both tasks must be completed in 60 minutes. 

IELTS General Training Writing – Types of Questions

Following are the two types of tasks in general training writing test:

  1. You will be presented with a situation and asked to write a letter requesting information, or explaining the situation. The letter may be personal, semi-formal or formal in style.
  2. You will be asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem. The essay can be fairly personal in style.

Speaking

IELTS Speaking – description

The speaking section assesses your use of spoken English. The test is a short interview with an examiner which takes 11 to 14 minutes. The test is based on three parts. Every test is recorded.

IELTS Speaking – Types of Questions

  1. Introduction and interview: the examiner will ask you general questions about yourself and a range of familiar topics, such as home, family, work, studies and interests. This part lasts between four and five minutes.
  2. Long turn: you will be given a card which asks you to talk about a particular topic. You will have one minute to prepare before speaking for up to two minutes. The examiner will then ask one or two questions on the same topic.
  3. Discussion: you will be asked further questions about the topic in Part 2. These will give you the opportunity to discuss more abstract ideas and issues. This part of the test lasts between four and five minutes.

Conclusion

IELTS measures the language proficiency of people who want to study or work in countries where English is used as a language of communication. 

Your existing proficiency in English obviously matters when preparing for IELTS. If you oftenly listen to the English news, and read books and novels in English, you are already a step ahead. In that case, you’ll only need to work on your writing and speaking skills and the time management to prepare for the test. 

Even if you’re a beginner, there is no need to worry. As long as you are determined to practice, you can ace the test. Familiarizing yourself with the test format is the best place to start. 

If you’re looking for an online preparation course as a beginner or an advanced, checkout the courses on our website.

Written by Laiba Bukhari
Laiba Bukhari is an engineering graduate deeply passionate about content writing and blogging. She is also a former USA Exchange Student. Laiba quotes "I achieve my work goals through hard work, passion, research, skills, and perseverance." Profile

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