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Is IELTS Easy or Hard?

Many candidates thinking of giving IELTS assume that the exam is difficult. Therefore, many students face similar problems when it comes to the IELTS exam. It is not as difficult as many test-takers say. If you are well prepared for the test, you can easily score higher and pursue your career or further studies in an English native state.

Like all the other language proficiency tests, IELTS examines your English skills on various parameters. For this, you only need thorough preparation- there is no pass or fail in the IELTS exam. The results are based on a 9-band scale, where 1 is the lowest and 9 is the highest. However, the IELTS score varies in the visa requirement and admission to your choice of university.

What to Expect in the IELTS Exam?

The IELTS exam is of total 2 hours and 45 minutes and is divided into four different modules:

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

1. IELTS Listening Section (30 Minutes):

In the IELTS Listening section, you will listen to four different audios of native English speakers and write your answers to a series of questions asked.

  • The first audio (Part 1 or Section 1) consists of a conversation between two people in everyday social life. 
  • The second audio (Part 2 or Section 2) will feature a monologue set in an everyday social context, for example, a speech about local facilities. 
  • In the third recording (Part 3 or Section 3) , you will be given a conversation between two to four people in an educational setting, for instance, between a student and a tutor. 
  • For recording four (Part 4 or Section 4) , there will be a monologue on an academic topic, e.g., a lecture.

The examiners will assess your ability to understand the information, opinion, and behavior of the speaker.

2. IELTS Reading Section (60 Minutes):

The IELTS Reading section features text ranging from factual to descriptive to analytical. The texts are usually taken from authentic sources, for instance, journals, books, and newspapers. However, there is a difference in the reading section of IELTS Academic and IELTS General.

In IELTS Academic, there are three long texts based on any topic from newspapers, magazines, etc. You will then answer 40 questions testing your understanding of each passage. 

For IELTS General, the section will have 40 questions that test your reading ability in a wide range. This includes reading for main ideas, reading for detail, skimming, recognizing the writer’s purpose or opinion, etc. The extracts presented are usually taken from the sources like magazines, company handbooks, notices, etc. It has three sections.

3. IELTS Writing Section (60 Minutes):

The IELTS Writing section consists of two tasks. They vary in IELTS Academic and General.

For the IELTS Academic Writing section, candidates have to answer two tasks. 

  • In Task 1, you will be given data in the form of a graph, table, or diagram. You will write a 150-word summary, in which you will show your understanding of the concept and describe the main features. Depending on the type of data you get, you will be asked to narrate an event or an object or describe a process and its stages. 
  • For Task 2, you will write a short essay of about 250 words in response to a statement or a question to show your ability to build and express your argument. Both tasks have to be in a formal style.

For the IELTS General Writing section,  you will have two tasks. 

  • In Task 1, you will be given a situation and asked to write a letter requesting any information or explaining that situation. The letter style can vary from personal to formal.
    For Task 2, you will write an essay in response to an argument or a point of view.

4. IELTS Speaking Section (14 to15 Minutes):

The IELTS Speaking module requires you to have a face-to-face interview with the examiner, who assesses your ability to answer questions and communicate with them on familiar topics.

  • In the first task (Part 1 or Task 1), the examiner will ask you topics ranging from social to work-life, for example, family, studies, and interests.
  • For the second task (Part 2 or Task 2), the examiner will give you a cue card with a specific topic written on it, and you will have a minute to prepare. You will speak on the topic for two minutes. The examiner will end it with a few questions regarding that subject. In the final part, the examiner will inquire further about the topic from the second task, with a more conceptual approach. 
  • In the thid and final task (Part 3 or Task 3), the examiner will ask you to express your opinions on a particular subject. Here, you will be asked to analyze your judgement, compare and contrast concepts, and explain the causes and effects of that particular topic or issue.

The Speaking test is usually held after a break on the same day as your written test or up to seven days before and after. This depends on your test center.

Is the IELTS Exam Difficulty?

IELTS is no more difficult than any other exam. 

The questions are to the point and test your English skills. Just like all the other exams, it requires a thorough preparation of all the IELTS modules. There is no pass or fail in IELTS either. 

All the universities and countries have different eligibility criteria for application. 

In this section, we will discuss some common challenges that candidates face in each module. While preparing, you must keep these areas of issues in mind.

Difficulty in IELTS Listening

For the listening exam, you need to know what type of questions are asked and efficient preparation for listening to the audio, as it plays once. The test is taken in a quiet room, so there are no distractions or extra noise to disrupt the concentration of the students. 

The most common mistake, however, is the lack of focus. Focus is the key to ace speaking and listening tests alongside continuous practice.

Difficulty in IELTS Speaking

In the speaking section, candidates are required to speak on a topic for about 2 minutes. What usually happens is that the candidate runs out of ideas and ends up repeating the same story. To tackle this problem, it is preferred to use the PPF (Past, Present, Future) technique, where you give three different points of view regarding the topic.

Difficulty in IELTS Reading

This section is said to be the most challenging section in the IELTS Academic and General. In both of these, you are presented with three long passages. You have to answer 40 questions in one hour. The primary problem candidates usually face is time management and slow reading habits, along with poor vocabulary. 

To avoid this, you must practice reading the section thoroughly by skimming the extracts from newspapers and journals. While you are preparing, try to allocate equal time to each passage and understand the questions asked. 

Difficulty in IELTS Writing

In IELTS Academic, more than 20% of the students are not able to write 250 words or more. 

Remember that you have to write up to the required word count, and not more than that. Candidates have to write 150 words for the first task and 250 words for the second task. In this case, you need to practice writing within the set limit. Always keep a lookout on the IELTS sample essays to get an idea about the topics. 

For IELTS General, many test-takers fail to understand the main topic of the writing task. The essay task assesses our ability to understand the argument and articulate it properly. 

Hence, coherence is the key to acing the writing module. Just like in IELTS Academic, word count here is important as well. On the other hand, time management is also just as essential as other requirements. You can only write accurately in the allocated timings if you have practiced for it.

Why Will the IELTS Exam Be Difficult for You?

Even after preparation, there are some areas that you might lack. Given below are some challenges that candidates personally face. We have also included a checklist to help yourself with the self-assessment before attempting the IELTS test.

1. Mispronunciation 

IELTS is an English proficiency exam, and the examiners are aware that you are an international student. With that being said, your accent will not cause you to lose any points, so it is safe to speak in your mother tongue. 

However, clarity is a must. You must say the words clearly and loudly; for instance, say ‘probably’ instead of ‘probly’ as it is incorrect. Moreover, you can practice with a native English speaker to know how to pronounce certain words in a better way. 

2. Lack of Transition

A common mistake that is observed in the IELTS is the lack of transition words. These phrases build a connection between your sentences and give your conversation a flow. 

Without transition words, your writing sounds disconnected, and there is no flow between the sentences. Hence, usage of transition words can help you get a better score in any section. 

3. Spelling Errors 

Spelling errors are one of the most common mistakes in IELTS. When the candidates hurry to finish their tasks, they forget to recheck what they have written. It can be easily avoided just by skimming through your text before you submit your answer paper. 

If you are unsure of the correct spelling of a word, find its synonym. Many words in English sound the same but mean different. Therefore, having four to five synonyms of common and familiar words can help a lot.

4. Self-Assessment Checklist

To see where you stand, you must take a practice test. This will help you know how many commands you have over certain areas and where you need to work on them. Below are the checklists for each module. You will assess yourself at the end of each practice test and circle the number 1-9, where 9 is the highest.

If most of your circles are in 1-5, that shows you will find the IELTS exam challenge. If you stand at 8-9, the test will be relatively smooth and easy for you. 

Here is the checklist to assess your abilities for the IELTS Listening section:

  • I can understand different accents and dialects, for instance, British, Australian.
  • I find monologues easy to listen to and comprehend.
  • I find the conversation between two people on a general theme easy to listen to and comprehend.
  • I find the conversation on academic themes between four people easy to listen to and comprehend.
  • I can interpret any academic theme, example, lecture.
  • I can listen, read and write at the same time.

Many candidates find this section easy, but sometimes, that is not the case. It can get hard to stay on the topic and avoid repetition and monotony in front of the examiner. Although it is best to practice speaking with a native English speaker, you should use a checklist.

Here is the checklist to assess your abilities for the IELTS Speaking section:

  • I speak clearly and loudly.
  • I have fluency when I speak.
  • I use precise vocabulary.
  • I can answer questions spontaneously.
  • I know a variety of prompt words like, first of all, last but not the least .
  • I give relevant answers related to the topic.
  • I can easily maintain eye contact with the person in front of me.
  • I can make a rough sketch of what my short talk should look like.

The Reading section tends to be difficult as the candidates have to read over three long passages and answer 40 questions. You will find this section relatively easy if you have a profound vocabulary and know how to do a quick skim.

You can self-assess with the help of this checklist for the IELTS Reading section:

  • I am able to skim and scan the text.
  • I can predict and comprehend the context of the text as I skim through it.
  • I can recognize transition words easily.
  • I can compose the answer within the word limit.
  • I can ignore the words I don’t know/ don’t have any idea about.

The Writing section can be pretty confusing. You have to give a clear response to the given prompt in just 60 minutes. During your practice, you can assess your writing skills with a self-assessment checklist.

Here is the checklist to assess your abilities for the IELTS Writing section:

  • I take time to plan my answer.
  • I can rephrase the question in my thesis/introduction.
  • I can quickly write 250 words for task 2 and 150 words for task 1.
  • I use a wide range of vocabulary.
  • I use transition words.
  • I can properly present my ideas.
  • I always write a proper conclusion.
  • I always keep 5-10 minutes to recheck for any silly mistakes like spelling errors.

What Are Some Common Misconceptions About the IELTS Exam?

  • The IELTS varies between countries: IELTS has two exam formats, namely IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training. Apart from these, there is no other format of IELTS. On any day, IELTS is the same around the globe.
  • IELTS prep courses are not required: The courses are not compulsory, but they certainly help. You can find various preparation courses and tutors online and in-person as well. A good course will guide you in the right direction and help you have utmost preparation.
  • IELTS can only be taken once: The test can be taken as many times as the candidate wants. There are no set criteria for how many times you can attempt the IELTS test. However, each time you register for it, you will be required to pay the fee. Therefore, it is recommended to prepare well and attempt the IELTS exam.
  • The passing score is 7.0: There is no pass or fail in the IELTS exam. It judges your English skills on a scale, where 1 is the lowest and 9 is the highest. Universities and organizations have different eligibility criteria, and you need to get the required IELTS band score to pursue studies and a career.

General Tips to Ace the IELTS Exam

Below are some practical tips to ace your exam, and these are easy to follow as well. Not just that, these tips are likely to get you a better score than before. However, remember: practice makes perfect!

  • Learn your Common Mistakes: When you are practicing, make sure to write down the common grammar mistakes you have seen, for instance, spelling errors or pronunciation, in case of a speaking test. This will help you in figuring out your mistakes. Furthermore, it will also increase the chance of achieving higher scores.
  • Record Yourself: Readout any excerpt or story you have read and record yourself. When you listen to it, you can quickly point out any pronunciation and grammatical mistakes. Listening to yourself helps with the identification of lacking areas, which might bring your band down.
  • Use Sample Answers: Nowadays, IELTS sample answers are available online on websites like IELTS material. There are also model answers on the back of the IELTS textbooks that can help you solidify your grammar and fluency.
  • Use Material from Authentic Sources : Sites like the BBC Podcast Site can prove to be helpful. You can learn the pronunciation and accent through podcasts and news channels. Furthermore, newspapers like The Guardian have extracts that have similar length and complexity to those found in the exam. That will help you understand the format and increase your vocabulary.
  • Understand the Test Format: Understanding the test format consists of knowing the word count, the given task, and the timing allocated for each section. If you practice just according to it, it will save you a lot of time and even loosen up your burden. As you prepare, you will get used to writing in the given time, and you will have fewer issues on the exam day.

Additional FAQs about IELTS Difficulty

Is IELTS easier than the TOEFL?

This is complicated because both the IELTS exam and the TOEFL test assess your English proficiency level.

The difficulty depends on your language, test preferences, and exposure to English. In simple words, it depends on several factors.

Believe it or not, many of these factors are in our control. With a well-organized plan, authentic study material, and immense practice, you can achieve your dream.


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