IELTS Overview

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The IELTS exam is taken by around 3 million people a year. The main reasons to take this exam are to:

  • Get into university, either in an English speaking country (e.g. the UK, USA, etc) or on a course taught in English in other countries.
  • Emigrate to an English speaking country.
  • Get a job or a promotion.

Which Exam?

There are actually several variants of the IELTS exam:

Most IELTS candidates (around three quarters) take the academic exam. This is the one you need to get into university (even if the university is in a different country). The general training exam is the preferred option for emigrating to a country. If you are asked to take IELTS for work, you should ask your employer (or future employer) which version they will accept.

UKVI simply means you take a more secure examination. This is a requirement for the UK. The exam is the same, but more requirements are in place to check you are who you say you are and that you can’t cheat on the exam.

IELTS Life Skills are also exams aimed at the UK particularly for someone emigrating there as a secondary applicant. Life Skills exams exist for levels A1, A2 and B1, although A2 can only be taken in the UK. The idea is that someone going to the UK with A1 level English should get to and take the B1 level certificate within 2 years.

The IELTS indicator is an exam that was brought in during the Covid-19 pandemic. It may still be happening in some parts of the world where face to face tests are not possible. The idea was that this would give universities an indication, but candidates should still do a normal IELTS test when they can.

Finally, you need to decide (for the academic and general training tests) whether you wish to take the exam as a computer-based or paper-based exam. There are advantages and disadvantages to both which are covered here.

Exam Contents

The academic and general training exams consist of the following:


30 minutes (plus 10 minutes to transfer your answers to an answer sheet).

40 questions in 4 sections.

Sections 1 & 2 are general situations, while 3 & 4 are academic. However, all candidates take the same test.

The audio is played ONCE only.


11-14 minutes. 3 parts.

Part 1 (4-5 minutes):

Answer questions on familiar topics e.g. family, hobbies, work or study.

Part 2 (3-4 minutes):

Talk about a topic for 1-2 minutes. You have 1 minute to prepare notes beforehand.

Part 3 (4-5 minutes):

Answer discussion questions based on topics related to part two.


60 minutes (no additional time for transferring answers).

40 questions in 3 sections.

In the academic exam, the three texts are from semi-academic articles on topics of general interest. In the general exam, the first two texts are composite texts from documents relating to living, studying or working in an English speaking country.


60 minutes. 2 tasks.

Task 1 (at least 150 words):

General – write a formal or informal letter

Academic – describe a graph or diagram

Task 2 (at least 250 words):

Both – write an essay

Band Scores

When you have completed IELTS you will get a band score between 0 and 9. This could be a half band score such as 6.5.

In listening and reading, the number of correct answers you give are added up. These are then converted into a band score. Note that incorrect answers do not negatively impact your score – it is therefore worth guessing any answers you don’t know.

In speaking and writing the examiner uses four criteria to assess your answers. These are then added up and an average is taken.

The following guide may help to understand overall IELTS scores:

0 = Didn’t turn up to exam.

4 = Pre-intermediate (A2). Lowest level usually accepted/awarded points by immigration for secondary applicants.

5.5 = Intermediate (B1). Typically accepted for bachelors programs in home country.

6/6.5 = Upper Intermediate (B2). Minimum usually accepted to study abroad on a bachelors program.

7/7.5 = Advanced (C1). Typical band required for a masters program.

8 = Typical native speaker level.

9 = University educated native speaker level.

While the above are intended to be indicative, the IELTS band required for a university place depends on the popularity and prestige of the university as well as the demand for English on the course. A law degree at Oxford will require a higher band score than an engineering degree at Norwich.

For immigration authorities, you will typically get points according to how well you do in IELTS. The stronger your application is in other areas, the fewer IELTS points you will need.


It typically takes two weeks to receive your score after the exam. You need to factor this into whatever you are applying for. Also IELTS is only considered valid for 2 years after the exam. You don’t want to take the IELTS too early.

To get the IELTS score you need you typically need to improve your general English and also your exam skills and academic English. IELTS courses typically only focus on exam skills. If you are below the level you need, you should first improve your level. It may therefore take months, rather than weeks, to prepare adequately.

To find where you can do IELTS in your country or city, google IELTS and your city or country. IELTS exams take place in many large cities around the world. 

Categories: IELTS

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