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(International English Language Testing System)

IELTS test format

What to expect in each section of the test

A test of all four language skills

IELTS is a test of your language skills in Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. IELTS is
available in two test formats: Academic or General Training. There are four parts –
Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. The total test time is 2 hours and 45 minutes.

All test takers take the same Listening and Speaking tests but different Reading and Writing
tests. The difference between IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training is in the subject
matter of the Reading and Writing sections.

Listening, Reading and Writing must be completed on the same day, with no breaks in
between them. The order in which these tests are taken may vary.

The Speaking test will either be after a break on the same day as the other three tests, or up
to a week before or after the other tests. This will depend on your test center.

Why is the IELTS test format fairer for you?

- You deserve a fair chance to do your best.

- Unlike other tests, IELTS gives you a quiet room with no distractions for your
Speaking test.
- IELTS recognizes that people have different approaches to answering questions.
- For example, with IELTS, you can answer in the order that suits you.
- You can go back and make changes to your Reading and Writing answers at any time
during the test.
- You won’t get timed out on individual questions as you do in many other tests.


Test Format – Listening (30 minutes)

You will listen to four recorded texts, monologues and conversations by a range of native
speakers, and write your answers to a series of questions. These include questions that test
your ability to understand main ideas and detailed factual information, ability to
understand the opinions and attitudes of speakers, ability to understand the purpose of an
utterance and the ability to follow the development of ideas. A variety of voices and native-
speaker accents are used and each section is heard only once.

Section 1

A conversation between two people set in an everyday social context.

Section 2

A monologue set in an everyday social context, e.g. a speech about local facilities.

Section 3

A conversation between up to four people set in an educational or training context, e.g. a

university tutor and a student discussing an assignment.

Section 4

A monologue on an academic subject, e.g. a university lecture

Academic Reading

Test Format – Academic Reading (60 minutes)

The Reading component consists of 40 questions. A variety of question types is used in

order to test a wide range of reading skills. These include reading for gist, reading for main
ideas, reading for detail, skimming, understanding logical argument and recognizing
writers' opinions, attitudes and purpose.

The Academic version includes three long texts which range from the descriptive and
factual to the discursive and analytical. The texts are authentic and are taken from books,
journals, magazines and newspapers. These have been selected for a non-specialist
audience but are appropriate for people entering university courses or seeking
professional registration.

General Reading

Test Format – General Reading (60 minutes)

The Reading component consists of 40 questions. A variety of question types is used in

order to test a wide range of reading skills. These include reading for gist, reading for main
ideas, reading for detail, skimming, understanding logical argument and recognizing
writers' opinions, attitudes and purpose.
The General Training version requires test takers to read extracts from books, magazines,
newspapers, notices, advertisements, company handbooks and guidelines. These are
materials you are likely to encounter on a daily basis in an English-speaking environment.

Academic Writing

Test Format – Academic Writing (60 minutes)

The Writing component of IELTS Academic includes two tasks. Topics are of general
interest to, and suitable for test takers entering undergraduate and postgraduate studies or
seeking professional registration.

Task 1
You will be presented with a graph, table, chart or diagram and asked to describe,
summarize or explain the information in your own words. You may be asked to describe
and explain data, describe the stages of a process, how something works or describe an
object or event.

Task 2
You will be asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem.
Responses to both tasks must be in a formal style.

General Writing

Test Format – General Writing (60 minutes)

The Writing component of IELTS General Training includes two tasks which are based on
topics of general interest.

Task 1
You will be presented with a situation and asked to write a letter requesting information,
or explaining the situation. The letter may be personal, semi-formal or formal in style.

Task 2
You will be asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem.
The essay can be slightly more personal in style than the Academic Writing Task 2 essay.


Test Format – Speaking (11-14 minutes)

The Speaking component assesses your use of spoken English, and takes between 11 and
14 minutes to complete. Every test is recorded. The Speaking component is delivered in
such a way that it does not allow people to rehearse set responses beforehand.
Part 1
The examiner will ask you general questions about yourself and a range of familiar topics,
such as home, family, work, studies and interests. This part lasts between 4 and 5 minutes.

Part 2
You will be given a card which asks you to talk about a particular topic. You will have 1
minute to prepare before speaking for up to 2 minutes. The examiner will then ask one or
two questions on the same topic to finish this part of the test.

Part 3
You will be asked further questions connected to the topic in Part 2. These questions will
give you the opportunity to discuss more abstract ideas and issues. This part of the test
lasts between 4 and 5 minutes.

About Your Results

The Academic and General Training papers are graded to the same scale.

How your overall band score is calculated

Your overall band score is calculated by taking the mean score of the four test components
(Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking). The score for each component is equally
weighted. Your overall band score is rounded to the nearest whole or half band.

For example:

If you achieve 6.5 for Listening, 6.5 for Reading, 5.0 for Writing and 7.0 for Speaking, you
will be awarded an Overall Band Score of 6.5.
Total score of 25 ÷ 4 = 6.25 which is a band score of 6.5.

If you achieve 4.0 for Listening, 3.5 for Reading, 4.0 for Writing and 4.0 for Speaking, you
would be awarded an Overall Band Score of 4.0.

Total score of 15.5 ÷ 4 = 3.875 which is a band score of 4.0.

Listening and Reading scores

IELTS Listening and Reading components each contain 40 questions. Each correct item is
awarded one mark, therefore the maximum raw score you can achieve for each component
is 40. Band scores ranging from Band 1 to Band 9 are awarded to candidates on the basis of
their raw scores.

The tables are indicative of the number of marks required to achieve a particular band
Note: In order to equate different test versions, the band score boundaries are set so that
all candidates’ results relate to the same scale of achievement. This means, for example,
that the Band 6 boundary may be set at a slightly different raw score across versions.

Writing and Speaking scores

When marking the Writing and Speaking components of the test, examiners use detailed
assessment criteria which describe written and spoken performance at each of the 9 IELTS

Writing: Examiners award a band score for each of four criterion areas: Task Achievement
(for Task 1), Task Response (for Task 2), Coherence and Cohesion, Lexical Resource and
Grammatical Range and Accuracy. The four criteria are equally weighted.

Speaking: Examiners award a band score for each of four criterion areas: Fluency and
Coherence, Lexical Resource, Grammatical Range and Accuracy and Pronunciation. The
four criteria are equally weighted.

Assessment criteria

To get a better understanding of the level of performance required to attain a particular

band score, you should familiarize yourself with the assessment criteria.

Why is my IELTS result valid for only two years?

The IELTS partners recommend that a Test Report Form which is more than two years old
should only be accepted if it is accompanied by proof that you have actively maintained or
tried to improve your English.


A question I regularly get from students is ‘Should I take the IELTS or TOEFL test,’ and also
‘Which is the easiest?’

This post will look at the main similarities and differences between the two tests and then
look at which one you might find easier. I have asked many teachers and students who have
experience with both tests and used their thoughts in this article.
IELTS vs TOEFL: Availability

The first thing you need to check is which universities and colleges accept each test. If you
really want to go to a certain university and it only accepts IELTS, then that is the test you
should do. You can check which institutions accept IELTS and the band score you need. You
should also check if there is a test center in your local area. The test is already stressful
without having to do lots of travelling.

You should also think about why you want to do the test. If it is for university entrance
there is not much difference between the two tests, but if you are not attending university
and just need it to move to another country, the General Training paper that IELTS offers is
probably much more suitable for your needs.

IELTS vs. TOEFL: Similarities

Both test the four main language skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking. They are
both standardized tests which- in theory- means that the scores are consistent throughout
the world.

There is not much difference in price either, with both costing between $150 and $250
dollars depending on where you do it.

That is where the similarities end and there are many more differences. Below I will look at
how each of the four skills is different.

Differences: Speaking

This is probably the biggest difference between the two tests. In the IELTS test you will talk
to a real person and in the TOEFL test you will speak to a computer!

Some people find talking to a computer very strange while others actually prefer it.

In the TOEFL test you will be asked 6 questions and it lasts around 20 minutes. You will be
asked two questions on familiar topics, such as your home town or family. You will also be
asked to summarize information from a text or conversation and to give your
opinion. Finally, you will be asked to summarize information from a short conversation.

The IELTS speaking test consists of 3 sections and lasts around 15 minutes. This test is with
a real person and feels more like a real conversation. The first part is on familiar topics
such as your home, job or studies. You will then be given a topic and you will have one
minute to prepare a monologue of between 1-2 minutes. Finally, you will be asked question
linked to the topic you spoke about in part 2.

Some of my students have commented that they find the TOEFL test more of a challenge
because it feels very unnatural talking to a computer. However, lots of other students
(normally the shy ones) actually prefer talking to a computer and don’t like talking to a

Another point I should add is students have remarked that they can clarify information
with examiners and ask them occasionally to repeat a question. This is obviously not
available in the TOEFL test.

Differences: Writing

The biggest difference here is how you actually input your words. For TOEFL you will type
everything on a keyboard, but for IELTS you will be writing on paper.

I would hate to do a test on a computer, but lots of my students, especially those with bad
handwriting, actually like it. Think about how neat your handwriting is and how fast your
typing is. If the examiner can’t read your writing at all, they will have to give you are very
low grade.

Both writing exams have two questions but the formats are a little different.

In the TOEFL writing test you have to first read a text and then listen to a 2 minute lecture
on the same topic. You must then write a short response to a specific question on that
topic. Some students prefer this approach because it does not require as much
prior knowledge about the topic.

The second question is a longer discursive essay on a particular issue, similar to a

university style academic essay.

IELTS has two different types of writing paper: Academic and General Training. Academic
is suitable for people hoping to attend university and General Training are mostly used for
immigration purposes.

The test has two parts and they both take 1 hour. In the Academic paper you will be
required to write a short essay about a graph, chart, map or process. In the General
Training paper you will be asked to write a letter for task 1. In the second part you will be
asked to write a short essay on a particular topic.

Lots of my students have remarked that the IELTS writing test tends to follow the same
format again and again and it is therefore easier to prepare for.

Differences: Listening

The main differences here are the length of the test, context, question type and accent.
The TOEFL test is 60 minutes long and the IELTS listening test is 30 minutes. Most of my
students have never listened to English for more than a few minutes at a time and find the
TOEFL test very long and this results in them losing concentration and missing answers.

The TOEFL test is all in an academic context whereas the IELTS test is half academic and
half social.

The TOEFL test is multiple choice only, so if you like those questions this might be the test
for you. IELTS has a range of different questions including sentence completion, matching
headings and True, False or Not Given.

You will also hear a range of different accents from English speaking countries such as
Ireland, Wales, Scotland, the USA, Canada and Australia on the IELTS test whereas the
TOEFL test will always be standard American English.

Some students have commented that it is easier to listen to American accents and this
makes the TOEFL listening easier, but you should also bear in mind that you will never get
a very difficult accent on the IELTS test.

Difference: Reading

The two main differences here are questions types and context.

The TOEFL test is multiple choice only and the IELTS test has a wide range of question
types. If you like multiple choice then TOEFL might be the test for you but other people
really don’t like them and feel that a range of question types gives them a better chance of
getting a high score.

TOEFL has only academic texts available, but with IELTS you can choose either the
Academic paper or the non-academic one, if you would like to do the General Training

Students have remarked that the TOEFL paper is much longer than the IELTS paper and it
requires greater levels of concentration and mental stamina. Many have also said that they
did not like the fact that it was just multiple choice questions and they found it very difficult
to do the same thing over and over again.

IELTS vs. TOEFL: Which should I choose?

If you can answer yes to most of the following questions you should do the TOEFL test:

I find American accents easy to listen to.

I like multiple choice questions.

I prefer reading and listening in an academic context.

I can concentrate for long periods of time.

I prefer talking to a computer.

I am good at typing.

I can easily follow a lecture and take notes.

I am comfortable with computers.

If you can answer yes to most of the following questions you should do the IELTS test:

I like talking to people one-on-one.

I don’t like multiple choice questions.

I don’t like reading or listening to academic contexts.

I like to write by hand.

I can understand a variety of English-speaking accents.

I prefer shorter tests.

I prefer a range of questions.

I find it difficult to concentrate for long periods of time.

IELTS vs. TOEFL: Which is easier?

I know quite a few students who have done both tests, including some students who did
both tests at the same time and nearly all of them prefer IELTS. Most of them even
got comparatively higher scores in the IELTS test.

I also looked on a few IELTS and TOEFL forums and Facebook groups and this also seems
to the consensus there. What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts especially if
you done both tests.

Pham commented: ‘Half way through the TOEFL exam I was exhausted. I found it
impossible to maintain 100% concentration for that long. I did much better in the IELTS
test and felt it was a true representation of my English abilities’.
Nguyen commented: ‘I’m pretty shy and spend most of my time on computers every day, so
TOEFL was a natural fit.’

Chi said: ‘Multiple choice grrrrr……I hate them. It felt like a multiple choice test and not an
English test and talking to a computer is just weird. I really liked the IELTS speaking test
because the examiner was really friendly and it felt like a real conversation.’

Banan Shams gave his thoughts ‘According to my experience in teaching both tests and
according to the educational system we have in Gulf Countries, I found that IELTS is easier
than TOEFL because our educational system has likely being more European. So, whenever
students ask for an advice I recommend IELTS.’