There are two versions of the IELTS test.

The Academic Module is for students who want to attend a university or institution of higher education to take an undergraduate or post-graduate degree.

The General Training Module is for people who seek entry to a secondary school, a vocational training course, employment in a sector which demands a specific level of English, or for people who need IELTS for immigration purposes

All students must take a test for each of the four skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. All candidates take the same Listening and Speaking modules, but may choose between the Academic or General Training versions of the Reading and Writing sections of the test. You should seek advice from a teacher or student advisor if you are in any doubt as to which of these tests to take.

Test Format

4 sections, 40 questions
30 minutes + 10 minutes transfer time

Academic Reading
3 sections,
40 questions
60 minutes


General Training Reading
3 sections,
40 questions
60 minutes

Academic Writing
2 tasks
60 minutes


General Training Writing
2 tasks
60 minutes

11 to 15 minutes

Total test time
2 hours 55 minutes

The Listening Module

Whether you are intending to study or work in an English-speaking country, you will need to interact with people in many different types of situations: social, professional/academic and “survival”. The IELTS listening test reflects some of these realistic situations. The difficulty of the tasks increases through the paper and there is a range of different types of listening skills. For example, you might have to listen for specific details, precise information, or just the general gist; or you might be asked for a speaker’s attitude or opinion on something.

Listening Test Format

Section 1:                  A conversation between two speakers in a social or semi-official context.

Section 2:                  A monologue: a talk by a single speaker on a non-academic topic.

Section 3:                  A conversation with a group of up to four speakers based on academic topics or course-related situations.

Section 4:                  A university-style lecture or talk

The Listening test is always the first part of the IELTS examination. It takes approximately 40 minutes and consists of four sections, each covering a different type of language and context. There are ten questions in each section and you will be given time to read them before you listen to each part.

Please note: you will hear each part only once, unlike other types of examination that you may have taken in the past.Therefore it is important to understand exactly what you are being asked to do in each question. The question types focus on a variety of different listening skills. For example, some questions require you to complete a form or diagram, others involve selecting pictures which represent what you have heard. There are also note-taking exercises and multiple-choice questions.

The Reading Module

IELTS Reading Test

You will need to be able to read between 1500 and 2500 words quite quickly.

You will have 60 minutes to answer 40 questions, which become increasingly difficult, and you will have a better chance of success if you can identify which skills are being tested.

Academic Reading Test

There are three passages to read, each passage has a set of questions. Each passage may contain questions that test different types of reading skills. For example, you may be required to find detailed information; you may be asked to identify views and attitudes, or to complete a graph or diagram. The passages may be written in a variety of different styles: argumentative, descriptive, narrative, discursive, etc.

When you take a university course we say that you are “reading” a subject. You are expected to read a lot! One of the most important skills that IELTS prepares you for is how to select the most important information from a large amount of written material. Skimming, scanning, reading for gist and for detail are all important skills which you will need to practise.

General Training Reading Test

There are three sections to this test.

Section 1 contains two or more texts which are based on social situations.

Section 2 contains two texts based on course-related situations.

Section 3 contains one text that tests general reading comprehension.

The question types are similar to those in the Academic module. The texts in the first two sections are likely to be descriptive and factual. The text in Section 3 may contain some argument.

The Writing Module

Academic Writing Test

You have one hour to complete two tasks. These two tasks test your ability to produce quite different styles of writing.

Writing Task 1

You are presented with a graph or some pictorial information. Your task is to write a descriptive report of at least 150 words on the information provided.

Writing Task 2

The second task is more difficult. You will have to produce a written argument on a given topic and to organise your answer clearly, giving examples to support your points. You will have to write at least 250 words. It is advised that you divide your time according to the proportion of marks available: approximately 20 minutes on Section 1 and 40 minutes on Section 2.

General Writing Strategies

In preparation for a university course, where you will have to produce a lot of written material, IELTS tests your ability to write in a range of styles. For example, you will have to write short essays and reports, which need to give clear, concise information. Other tasks require longer answers and require considerable planning and attention to detail. Grammatical accuracy is rewarded, but even more important is the content of your writing: how well you answer the question. So, careful planning is crucial so that you are able to express your ideas as logically, clearly and accurately as possible.

General Training Writing Test

The GT writing test is the same in terms of the format (two sections, 150 and 250 words respectively) but the content is different. Section 1 will always be a letter to write, and Section 2 is an essay based on a given topic.

The Speaking Module

What to expect in an IELTS speaking test

After a brief introduction you will speak to the examiner (yes, just one) on a number of general topics. You will also be required to find out some information from the examiner by asking questions. The next stage is a topic on which you will have to express some opinion and show the ability to speculate. The test ends with a short conclusion. During the course of the interview (which lasts between 11 and 15 minutes) you will be given the chance to demonstrate your ability to produce English in the variety of contexts described above. They are designed to be as close as possible to real-life situations.

IELTS speaking examiners are trained to be encouraging and sympathetic, and should enable you to give your best possible performance in what can be a stressful situation. Your performance is rated on a scale of 1-10 on your ability to:

  • communicate fluently
  • communicate on general topics
  • communicate accurately
  • communicate on topics related to your area of study
  • speculate about future plans
  • give opinion backed by reasonable argument
  • develop the conversation
  • ask questions
  • demonstrate a wide vocabulary
  • speak with intelligible pronunciation
  • use a variety of structures

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