Credit: by cstrom

What is the IELTS Test?

and why is it so important for English learners?

If you are studying English chances are you have already heard of the IELTS test.

IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System and it's become a very important test for anyone wanting to study in an English-speaking university almost anywhere in the world or even emigrate to English-speaking countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada. It is now the world's most popular English language test.  It is recognised by more than 6000 institutions in over 135 countries.

What is in the IELTS test?

IELTS is a standardised test made up of 4 papers. These papers test the main language skills you need to be a competent English user.

The papers are;

1. Listening

2. Reading

3. Writing

4. Speaking

The materials used in the test are as natural as possible and come from a variety of English-speaking countries making the test as close to real life as it can be.

An Introduction to the IELTS Test

IELTS blogs or websites

Free IELTS resources for you to explore

IELTS Blog - The IELTS Blog website has a vast amount of information on the exam papers and marking and tips from past exam candidates.

IELTS Exams - This comprehensive site includes lots of sample texts and answers. There is also a forum where you can ask questions

IELTS Test Practice Net - A non-profit organisation with lots of practice materials for students to work through

Other websites with IELTS practice materials

Speed Reading Self-Pacing Methods by Denis Doyle
This website by Glendale Community College in the USA simply explains 5 different methods you can use to increase your reading speed.
Exam English
This website has about a dozen test practice papers for you to work through. There are also exercises for TOEFL and Cambridge English Exams
Canada Visa - Free IELTS test practice
2 papers for each test along with writing a speaking videos are available from this site.

IELTS - 2 different tests

IELTS General Training and IELTS Academic

The IELTS exam is offered in two versions.

IELTS Academic Test

The Academic Test - This is for students who wish to study at a higher education institution in an English-speaking country. It is accepted by most institutions in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland and South Africa. It is becoming increasingly more widely accepted in US universities also. You can check the Official IELTS website to find out if the institution you plan on attending accepts IELTS scores for entry.The test is also used for acceptance to professional organisations such as medical and engineering associations in English-speaking countries.

The General Training Test

The General Training Test is used to enter secondary school or vocational colleges in English-speaking countries. It is also used for immigration to Australia and Canada.

The Speaking and Listening papers are the same for both tests but the reading and writing papers change with the academic test papers being substantially more difficult.

Need to pass IELTS general training exam?

This book will get you ready

What is in the IELTS English Exam?

IELTS Listening

The IELTS listening test is 30 minutes long with an extra 10 mins for recording your answers.

There are 4 parts to the listening test and a total of about 40 questions. This paper requires lots of concentration as they only play the recording once!

Some great listening practice from the British Council website

IELTS Speaking

The IELTS speaking test is made up of 3 parts.

Firstly an interview - you are asked basic information about yourself and your home town - perhaps to compare your town to another

The second part is a 3-4 minute speech - you will be given a topic with some questions to consider and a minute or so to prepare your speech.

The last part is a discussion style of speech - usually about the same topic as your speech - you will need to give your opinion and reasons for this opinion. You talk for about 4 minutes.

IELTS Writing

For both the Academic and the General Training writing tests you must complete 2 tasks in one hour. The tasks are different for the two tests.

 Academic Writing Test

  • Task one is usually a description of a graph or table.
  • Task two is an argument or discussion

 General Training Test

  • Task one is a letter
  • Task two is a short essay

You can see samples of the writing exam answers on this very good IELTS Blog IELTS Writing

IELTS Reading

40 questions in 1 hour!

Like the writing test the reading test has different version for the two exams, both consist of 40 questions to be answered in 1 hour.

General Training Reading Test

There are 3 sections in the paper, basic survival English, basic workplace English and long reading piece that may be fiction or non fiction.

A sample General Training Reading paper from the official IELTS organisation.

Academic Reading Test

This paper includes reading material from books, newspapers, magazines and journals. There are several types of exercises including labelling a diagram, determining a point of view. You can see a sample of Academic reading questions on the Official IELTS website

Frequently asked questions about the IELTS test

1.  Where can I take the IELTS test?  

There are over 800 IELTS testing centres around the world.  You can find the full list on the IELTS official website.

2. How popular is the IELTS test?

Over 1.7 million people took the IELTS test in 2011

3. If I am not happy with my IELTS result how long before I can take the test again?

You can take the test as soon as you can make a booking however you should allow some time for extra study to make sure you get a better result.

4.  Where can I find IELTS test practice materials?

There are lots of websites that offer free test materials.  Make sure the site you are using has some authority.  Remember anyone can make a website. Choose the websites you use carefully. Have a look on YouTube for programs by the BBC, British Council, the Australia Network, who have all produced some good IELTS television programs. 

Have you taken an IELTS test?

Share your experience

If you have taken the IELTS test and would like to share you tips with fellow students please leave a comment below.