Understanding the IELTS: Exam Format

If you’re thinking about living, studying or working in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom or Australia, having successful IELTS results is just as important as having a valid passport.

Understanding IELTS Test Format

There are several tips and tricks to being a successful IELTS candidate, first and foremost is knowing what the exam looks like!

There are four different papers (or, sections) to the IELTS: Listening, Reading, Speaking and Writing.  Both the Academic and the General exams have all four sections, although the reading papers and writing papers are different for the Academic and General tests.

The exam takes place during two different days – the listening, reading and writing papers are completed during 2.5 hours one day, and the 11 to 14 minute speaking exam is scheduled for another day in the same week as the other parts of the exam.

Listening Test – 30 Minutes (+10 minutes to write answers on the answer sheet)

Candidates listen to a number of recorded texts once only. The texts increase in difficulty as the test progresses. They include a mixture of conversations and dialogues and feature a variety of English accents. The candidates are given a limited time to read the questions before listening. After the listening test candidates are given 10 minutes to transfer their answers to an answer sheet. N.B marks are not generally awarded for incorrect spelling of answers. Occasionally marks are awarded for particular variants of spelling.

Academic Reading – 60 Minutes

There are three reading passages with different kinds of questions to answer. Texts are taken from books, magazines, journals and newspapers, all written for a non-specialist audience. Answers are recorded on an answer sheet within the hour.

General Reading – 60 Minutes

The texts are based on the type of material candidates would be expected to meet on a daily basis in an English speaking country. They are taken from sources such as newspapers, advertisements, instruction manuals and books. Answers are recorded on an answer sheet within the hour.

Academic Writing – 60 Minutes

For the first task, candidates write a report of around 150 words based on material found in a graph, chart, table or diagram, demonstrating their ability to describe and explain data. For the second task candidates write an essay of around 250 words in response to a given topic. They are expected to demonstrate an ability to discuss issues, construct an argument and use the appropriate tone and register.

General Writing – 60 Minutes

The first task requires candidates to write a letter either asking for information, or explaining a situation. The second task is an essay of around 250 words, and is written in response to a given title. Candidates are expected to be able to present their own ideas and challenge other ideas, using appropriate tone and register.

Speaking Exam – 11 to 14 minutes

The test takes the form of a one-to-one interview between the candidate and the examiner. Candidates are asked questions, speak for one to two minutes on a given topic (one minute is given for making notes and preparing what you want to say), and answer further questions expressing opinion and speculation.  The speaking exam typically is scheduled for a different day than the exam, but within the same week.

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