Get ready for the most popular English language test.

What is IELTS?

The International English Language Testing System, or IELTS, is the world’s most popular English language proficiency test for higher education and global migration, with over 3 million tests taken each year.

It has an excellent international reputation, and is accepted by over 10,000 organisations worldwide, including schools, universities, employers, immigration authorities and professional bodies.

IELTS is accepted by most Australian, British, Canadian and New Zealand academic institutions, by over 3,000 academic institutions in the United States, and by various professional organisations across the world.

IELTS is the only Secure English Language Test approved by UK Visas and Immigration for visa customers applying both outside and inside the UK. It also meets requirements for immigration to Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

IELTS assesses all of your English skills — reading, writing, listening and speaking, and is designed to reflect how you will use English at study, work, and at play in your new life abroad.

If you’re stressing over IELTS though, don’t fear. Programs such as those offered by Macquarie University, Australia give students practice tests, study notes and exam explanations, all available online.

Established in 1989, IELTS was (and is) developed by some of the world’s leading experts in language assessment. IELTS 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, which is the most effective and natural way of testing your English conversation skills.

No minimum score is required to pass the test. An IELTS result or Test Report Form is issued to all test takers with a score from "band 1" ("non-user") to "band 9" ("expert user") and each institution sets a different threshold. There is also a "band 0" score for those who did not attempt the test.

How to prepare for the IELTS test?

IELTS measures your reading, writing, listening and speaking skills in a test that lasts less than three hours and assesses your ability to communicate for work, study or life in an English-speaking country.

The first step is to make sure you understand the IELTS test format and what will happen on test day. Once you are familiar with the IELTS test format, you will need to undertake a number of focused preparation activities, such as online courses where you can take practice tests.

Understanding the IELTS test format

There are two primary versions of the test. Which one you will take depends on the organisation you are applying to and your plans for the future. However, both are graded in exactly the same way.

There is also a separate test offered by the IELTS test partners, called IELTS Life Skills, which 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.

However, we will focus on the two primary IELTS tests, Academic and General Training.

IELTS Academic is intended for those who want to enrol in universities or other institutions of higher education and for professionals such as medical doctors or nurses who want to study or practice 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.

With the IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training versions of the test, you will take the first three parts of the test all on one day in the following order: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. There are no breaks between the first three tests.

You will take the Speaking test either on the same day, or 7 days before or after that, depending on local arrangements. The Listening, Reading and Writing components of all IELTS tests are completed on the same day, with no breaks in between them.

Listening and Speaking are the same for both tests, but the subject matter of the Reading and Writing components differs depending on which test you take.

Here is how long each section will take:

·         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 55 minutes.

Listening Module

This module comprises four sections, with ten questions in each section. It takes forty minutes: thirty for the test and ten for transferring the answers to an answer sheet.

A range of native-speaker accents (North American, Australian, New Zealand and British) are used in the Listening test, and all standard varieties of English are accepted in responses in all parts of the test.

Section 1 will feature a conversation between two speakers about an everyday social situation, such as travel arrangements.

For Section 2, you will have to listen to one person speak, again about a something normal social situation, like meeting friends or going for a meal.

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 you about the situation and the speakers. Then you will 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 ten minutes to transfer their answers to an answer sheet. Test takers will lose marks for incorrect spelling and grammar.

Speaking Module

The speaking test is a face-to-face interview between you and an examiner.

The speaking test contains three sections:

Section 1- introduction and interview (4–5 minutes). You may be asked about your home, family, work, studies, hobbies, interests, your reasons for taking IELTS exam, or any other general topic, such as clothing, your hobbies, or the internet.

Section 2- long turn (3–4 minutes). Test takers are given a task card about a particular topic. You have one minute to prepare something to say 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 two minutes, after which the examiner may ask one or two extra questions.

Section 3- discussions (4–5 minutes). The third section involves a discussion between the examiner and the test taker. Generally, the questions will be related to the themes discussed in Section 2.

Reading Module

The Reading paper has three sections and the texts you have to read generally total 2,150-2,750 words (so just slightly longer than this article is).

There will then be a variety of questions asked on your understanding of the texts, such as: multiple choice, short-answer questions, identifying information, identifying the writer’s views, labelling diagrams, completing a summary using words taken from the text and matching information/headings/features in the text/sentence endings.

You should be careful when writing down your answers as you will lose marks for incorrect spelling and grammar.

IELTS Academic Texts

The Academic version of IELTS features three texts, taken 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.

IELTS General Training Texts

Section 1 contains either two to three short texts, or several shorter texts that deal with everyday topics, such as timetables, signs or notices – things a person would need to understand when living in an English-speaking country.

Section 2 contains two texts that deal with the work environment. Things like job descriptions, contracts or 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.

Writing Module

The Writing paper has two tasks which must both be completed. In Task 1, test takers have to write at least 150 words in twenty minutes. During Task 2, test takers must write at least 250 words in 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 (so no notes or bullet points).

IELTS Academic

Task 1: test takers will 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, you may be required to: present a solution to a problem; present and justify an opinion; compare and contrast evidence/opinion/implications; 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 having problems with time management, or 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 interest. Such as whether smoking should be banned in public places, whether children’s leisure activities should be educational, or how environmental problems can be solved.

For more information about the format of IELTS, consider taking a course on how to succeed when it comes time for your test day.


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 particular competence in English. Overall Band Scores are rounded up to the nearest half band.

The nine bands are described as follows:


Expert User

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 inaccuracies and unnatural choices of language. Misunderstandings may occur in unfamiliar situations. Handles complex detailed argumentation well.


Good User

Has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, unnatural choices of language and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally handles complex language well and understands detailed reasoning.


Competent User

Has generally effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, unnatural choices of language and misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.


Modest user

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.


Limited User

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.


Intermittent User

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.


Non User

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.


So now you know about how the format of the IELTS test. If you want to prepare for the test directly, then master English with this online course.

It involves practical activities in listening and speaking, allowing you to listen to audio samples and to record your own speaking to be submitted for assessment by qualified IELTS Tutors.

You will get everything you need to succeed, accessible online, anywhere, anytime.