IELTS Exam Format Overview

IELTS is one of the leading English language assessment tests for non-native English speakers. It is used for university admissions, work applications, and migration purposes. Various academic institutions and international companies have trusted this language proficiency exam. 

It is also highly recognized to provide an accurate English language proficiency certification. There are two types of IELTS formats that are used in different fields, including the IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training Test. 

This article will discuss the IELTS exam formats to help you choose which one you will take depending on your purpose. It will also help you understand the nature of each IELTS format and to prepare for it. 

What is IELTS?

The IELTS is a prominent language assessment proficiency exam for non-native English speakers. It is also commonly known as the International English Language Testing System

Consequently, this exam is designed by the British Council to assess the individual’s English writing, speaking, listening, and reading skills. It also accepts British and American English terms that is why most people prefer the IELTS over other English language proficiency exams available in the market. 

This exam offers two test formats to its test-takers, the IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training Test. These two test formats differ in test contents in terms of reading and writing test sections. 

And for the listening and speaking test sections, both the IELTS test formats have no significant difference. The IELTS exam is also one of the most reliable language proficiency exams as it offers a one-on-one speaking test session with an examiner.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

What are the Two IELTS Exam Test Formats?

The IELTS contains four test sections intended for each of the primary English language skills. There are two test formats for this language proficiency test: 

IELTS Academic Test

The IELTS Academic Test is intended for individuals who want to pursue a higher educational level, such as doctorate degrees, master’s degrees, and graduate schools.

This test format is widely used and recognized by international institutions and universities worldwide, where their medium of instruction is the English language. 

Consequently, the IELTS Academic features advanced English vocabulary generally used within an educational setting. And this format also assesses your readiness to study the English language at an advanced level. 

IELTS General Test

The IELTS General Test is generally suitable for those individuals who want to pursue a below degree level (Bachelor’s or Undergraduate). This test format is also widely accepted in English-speaking schools or local colleges. 

Moreover, the IELTS General Test is also used by international companies to provide a language proficiency certification for their applicants. It also measures one’s English language skills commonly used in a workplace and needed for other employment training. 

This test format is also one of the needed requirements for the migration process to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other English-speaking countries. 

And also, this test format uses the conversational English language in its test questions. In addition, it assesses your ability to use the English language in social and workplace type of settings. 


IELTS Test Exam Test Structure

The IELTS measures the primary English language skills including, writing, reading, listening, and speaking. There are four test sections for the IELTS Academic and IELTS General Test:

The first three test sections include the Reading, Writing, and Listening test sections. And these three test sections are taken on the same scheduled test date. Note that there are no breaks given in between these three test sections. 

However, for the Speaking test section, it is taken on a different day or schedule. The Speaking test section can be given the next day after the first part of seven days after your scheduled test date. And the schedule for it all depends on your testing center. 

1. Reading

There are two formats for the Reading test section intended for the IELTS Academic Test and IELTS General Training Test. 

The tasks for the reading section are to identify core ideas and essential information, understand the meaning of passages, identify the writer’s opinion, and summarize arguments accurately and effectively. 

There will be three different passages that you need to read at a given timeframe. And also, you need to answer the following test questions that are related to the context given. 

In addition, the reading section assesses your skills in how well you understand inferences, recognize the writer’s opinion, attitude, and purpose in writing. 

It also concerns your attention to details in the passages and how you can follow the development of an argument in the context. The duration of the reading test section usually lasts approximately 60 minutes and with 40 questions. 

IELTS Academic Test (Reading test section)

There are three long passages about different academic subjects, including descriptive, analytical, and factual topics. 

These texts are original texts taken from newspapers, journals, and the likes. In addition to that, these texts may be an objective, analytical, or opinion-based type of information. 

Test Part 1: 

There will be one long selection that you need to read. It can be taken from books, journals, magazines, and more that contain academic topics. 

The selection may contain 2,150 words above, and you need to answer ten questions about the topic. 

Test Part 2: 

The second following passage may contain 2,500 words above, and it discusses any academic topics. The selection presented here may come from journals, journals, books, and other educational reading materials. 

You will also be answering ten to 13 questions regarding the selection. It may also contain graphs, charts, or illustrations. 

Test Part 3: 

The third passage in the reading section may contain 2,000 to 2,750 words. It may also include graphs and charts depending on the topic presented in the selection. And there are also questions that you need to answer. 

Task Types:

In this section, you will encounter different types of test questions. For example, you are tasked to complete sentences, give short answers to open-ended questions, classifications, match headings to written text or charts, and answer multiple-choice questions. 

IELTS General Test (Reading test section)

The IELTS General Reading test contains a series of shorter and more factual sets of passages. In addition, these short texts are taken from newspapers, documents, magazines, advertisements, excerpts from books, and more. 

And also, these contexts are usually encountered in day-to-day scenarios where the English language is used. It is also commonly used in a working environment. Consequently, you also need to answer the following questions regarding the materials you have read. 

Test Part 1:

There are two to three short texts which talk about everyday situations in an English-speaking environment.  For example, the context is about an announcement for a party. 

Test Part 2: 

The second task is you need to read two short texts about two work-related contexts. For example, the short text will present job descriptions, work contracts, company memos, and training courses. 

Test Part 3: 

There will be one short text presented which concerns general interests topic. It may come from a newspaper article, magazine, book, and other reading materials. 

Task Types:

In this section, you are tasked to read short selections and answer the following questions about them. In addition, various test questions are used in this section, such as matching type, open-ended questions, and multiple-choice questions. 

2. Writing 

The Writing test section of the IELTS contains two formats for the IELTS Academic Test and IELTS General Training Test. 

This section assesses your various writing abilities, including how well you can write a response accordingly to a given topic. Moreover, it also considers how to organize your ideas properly, cohesively, and use a wide range of vocabulary in writing.  

And also, it measures your grammar knowledge, your ability to connect ideas and sentences. Consequently, the writing section also considers how well your write related examples to the topic and the overall impact of your write-up. 

The duration of this section is about 60 minutes, and there are two tasks that you need to comply with. 

IELTS Academic Test (Writing test section)

The IELTS Academic Writing test section requires a formal type of writing. Moreover, there will be two tasks that you need to accomplish within 60 minutes. The first task timeframe is 20 minutes, and for the second task, you are given 40 minutes. 

Test Part 1: 

For the first writing task, you need to write a description or report based on the presented graph, table, chart, or diagrams. The goal here is to explain comprehensively the data provided. It may involve describing stages of production, statistics, graphs showing development, and more. 

In connection with that, the first writing test requires you to write a report based on some data given or presented, including statistical tables, graphs, and more. 

Test Part 2: 

The second writing task involves writing an essay about an argument, opinion, or statement regarding a particular topic. In connection, you need to elaborate and provide important details regarding the context provided. 

Task Types:

In this section, you are tasked to write two essays. The first essay must contain 150 words, and the second one must have at least 250 words. 

IELTS General Training Test (Writing test section)

In the IELTS General Training Test, you are also tasked to write two essays. However, you can use any writing style for this test, unlike the IELTS Academic, which requires formal writing. 

The topics presented for the IELTS General Training Test are of general interest. You are given 60 minutes to complete the two tasks. For the first writing task, you are given 20 minutes and another 40 minutes to complete the second writing task.

Test Part 1: 

The first task requires you to write a request letter regarding the situation presented. You can either use a formal style, semi-formal or personal style of writing. 

Test Part 2:

The second task requires you to write an essay that corresponds to an opinion of a statement, argument, or problem.

Task Types:

In this writing section, you need to write two essays depending on the situation or topic given, and your writing style can be informal or formal. The first writing must contain 150 words, and the second one must have at least 250 words. 

3. Listening

The Listening test section measures your skills, including your ability to understand main ideas and specific factual information from the audio clip. It also concerns how you can recognize the opinions, attitudes, and purpose of the speakers.

The duration of this section is approximately up to 40 minutes, and there are 40 test questions that you need to answer. In addition, it consists of four recordings of conversations by native English speakers. 

It uses a wide range of British, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian and American Accents. Moreover, the listening section test components of the IELTS are the same for both IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training Test. 

The listening test section contains four tasks that you need to complete within the given timeframe. And also, all the audio clips presented in this section will only be played once. 

You need to listen to four recordings and answer the following ten questions per audio clip related to it. Consequently, the 40 questions are designed to show the answers on how they are heard in the audio. 

Test Part 1: 

The first recording is a conversation between two native English speakers based on a day-to-day scenario or situations based on a social context. For example, the audio clip presents a discussion about hotel accommodation. 

Test Part 2: 

The second recording presented in this section is a monologue that is set in an everyday social context. For example, the monologue talks about the individual’s experience while going to the grocery store.

Test Part 3:

The third recording is a conversation between a group of people in an educational setting or environment. 

In addition, it also presents a discussion between to main speakers discussing a topic with other people. For example, the audio clip shows a university tutor discussing a topic with five students. 

Test Part 4: 

And the fourth recording is a monologue regarding an academic topic or lecture. For example, the recording will play a university lecture. Note that the different speakers will use various English accents in every recording presented. 

Task Types:

The listening test section uses a variety of test questions. For example, you need to answer multiple-choice type questions, matching type, summary completion, interpretation of map or diagram, flow-chart, and more. 

4. Speaking

The IELTS Speaking test contains the same format for the IELTS Academic Test and the IELTS General Training Test. In addition, it assesses a wide range of listening skills, such as your ability to communicate clearly and cohesively your opinions and present information about day-to-day experiences. 

The speaking section also measures your skills in terms of grammar, vocabulary, intonation, pronunciation, and eloquence in the English language. It also considers your ability to discuss a topic at a certain length using appropriate examples and other important details related to the topic given. 

The exam proctor also needs to see how well you can analyze, discuss and speculate different issues at hand. And also, it is best that you speak naturally and not rehearsed. The duration of this section lasts 11 to 14 minutes. 

The speaking section is a face-to-face speaking kind of test. In addition, you are scored according to your ability in speaking clearly, and coherently.  There are three parts to this test. 

Part 1 or Task 1:

The first one is an introductory conversation, wherein the exam proctor will ask you about general topics such as personal interests, family background, career, studies, and the likes. This part will build rapport and help you speak naturally.

Part 2 or Task 2:

The second part is where you need to pick a cue card, and you will be given a short period to prepare for it. And also, expect some follow-up questions regarding the topic you have talked about. 

Part 3 or Task 3:

The last part of the speaking section is only a follow-up question regarding task two. And also, this part will assess how well you can discuss and elaborate more about abstract ideas and express your opinions. 


What is the IELTS Indicator Exam Format?

The IELTS Indicator is a timed test version of the IELTS exam, and it is one of the official products of the IELTS. It also matches the structure of the IELTS exam, which you take in their authorized testing centers. 

Consequently, due to COVID-19 restrictions around the world, some of these IELTS testing centers are not available. And if you want to demonstrate your language skills, you can take the IELTS Indicator instead. 

It is an English online test that you can easily access in the comfort of your home. Moreover, it assesses the four language skills, including listening, reading, speaking, and writing. 

And also, in the IELTS Indicator test sections, it can be done in one sitting, while the speaking test section is accomplished via video call. However, the IELTS Indicator is not a substitute for the IELTS exam that you take in their testing centers. 

Some universities and organizations accept the IELTS Indicator score if you cannot access the in-person IELTS exam. However, note that some of these institutions will require you to take the IELTS exam once it is accessible. 


What are the Different IELTS Modes of Delivery?

The IELTS offers paper-based tests and computer-based tests for its exam. These two formats contain the same test and have no significant difference in content, duration, and test sections. 

However, the speaking test section in both the paper-based and computer-based tests is done in a face-to-face format. 

What is the Difference Between British Council vs. IDP for IELTS?

The British Council and IDP are both organizations that offer the IELTS exam worldwide. However, there is no significant difference between these two organizations. They both follow the same test format, guidelines, test duration, and test scoring of the exam. 

The IDP is an Australia-based organization that conducts the IELTS exam. However, the British Council only offers the paper-based test version of the IELTS exam. 

The IELTS scores from these organizations are valid and accepted by various countries worldwide, including the USA, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and more. So you can either choose the British Council or IDP in taking the IELTS exam.


 Additional FAQs — IELTS Exam Format

Is the IELTS Exam Difficult?

The IELTS exam is challenging and is considered difficult by most of its test-takers. This language exam is designed to assess your English abilities and how well-versed you are in using the language in different settings. The IELTS test questions are also well-structured and standardized to fully measure one’s English language skills. That is why it is recommended to prepare for this exam before taking it. 

How Can I Score 8 in IELTS?

Achieving a score of 8 in IELTS indicates that you are an excellent user of the English language. Having this score range is considered an outstanding achievement by many. To get a score of 8 in the IELTS, you need to have an 89% overall score in the listening and reading test sections. It means that you need to answer at least 36 test questions per section. 

Which Format is Best for IELTS?

There is no best format for the IELTS, and both test formats are equally worth taking depending on your purpose. The IELTS General Test is recommended if you plan to migrate or pursue your career in any English country. Consequently, the IELTS Academic Test is applicable for those individuals who want to pursue a higher education degree, such as doctorate degrees, master’s degrees, and graduate schools.

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