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An Introduction to IELTS

Friday, February 8, 2013 @ 07:02 PM
posted by Jo

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is an exam which gives an accurate and reliable measurement of your English language abilities.  It is recognised by more than 7,000 educational institutions, governments and employers around the world and is often used for the purposes of gaining admission into a university or to obtain a visa to live in an English-speaking country.  It is the world’s most popular English language proficiency test and it is taken by more than 1.7 million people every year. 

The IELTS is divided into four parts to measure the four primary language abilities – listening, reading, writing and speaking.  Here is an overview:

  • Listening – 4 sections, 40 questions, 30 minutes
  • Reading – 3 sections, 40 questions, 60 minutes
  • Writing – 2 writing tasks, 60 minutes
  • Speaking – 3 parts, 11-14 minutes

Academic vs General IELTS

There are two different types of IELTS exams – Academic and General.  The Academic IELTS is usually for those who want to study in an English-speaking university, while the General IELTS focuses on basic practical language skills in social and workplace contexts and is typically for those who need the IELTS for visa purposes.  However, this is only a general guide and it is important to contact the organisation or institution where you are applying to find out what it requires.

The Listening and Speaking sections of the IELTS are exactly the same for both Academic and General tests. However, the Reading and Writing sections vary depending on which test you are taking.

Breakdown of Exam Sections


In the listening section you will hear four recorded texts, monologues and conversations by a range of native speakers.  Each section is heard only once. You will be asked questions which test your ability to understand main ideas, detailed factual information, opinions of the speakers and the purpose of a communication.

In Section 1, you will hear a conversation between two people in an everyday social context.

In Section 2, you will hear a monologue set in an everyday social context.

In Section 3, you will hear a conversation between up to four people set in an educational or training context.

In Section 4, you will hear a monologue on an academic subject e.g. a university lecture.


The reading section consists of 40 questions which test a wide range of reading skills.  These include: reading for main ideas, reading for detail, understanding local arguments, and recognising writers’ opinions, attitudes and purpose.

Academic Reading

The academic version includes three long texts which are appropriate for candidates entering university courses and are taken from books, journals, magazines and newspapers.

General Reading

The general training version requires candidates to read extracts from books, magazines, newspapers, notices, advertisements, company handbooks and guidelines and deal with situations encountered on a daily basis in an English speaking environment.


Academic Writing

In Task 1, you will be presented with a graph, table, chart or diagram and asked to describe, summarise or explain the information in your own words. You may be asked to describe and explain data, describe the stages of a process, how something works or describe an object or event.

In Task 2, you will be asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem.  Both tasks require a formal writing style.

General Writing

In Task 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.

In Task 2, you will be asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem.


In Part 1, you will answer 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.

In Part 2, you will be given a card which asks you to talk about a particular topic. You will have one minute to prepare and two minutes to speak about the topic.

In Part 3, you will be asked further questions connected to the topic in Part 2. These questions will give you the opportunity to discuss more ideas and issues in more depth. This part of the test lasts between four and five minutes.

Recommended Website

All candidates who are considering the IELTS exam should visit the official IELTS website which contains all the essential information:


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