The Ultimate Guide to the IELTS Exam (2020)
Over 3 million people around the world took the IELTS test last year. This staggering number suggests the popularity of the IELTS exam as an English language proficiency test globally.
But why exactly do so many people take this standardized exam? What does the IELTS seek to measure?
In this blog, we’ll cover everything you need to know about this high-stakes exam!
Table of Contents
1. What is IELTS?
IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. Simply put, the IELTS is a test of English language proficiency for non-native English language speakers.
The test can be taken by anybody looking to study, work or migrate to a primarily English-speaking country. Other tests of English proficiency include the TOEFL (primarily taken by students looking to study abroad), TOEIC (primarily taken to assess English language skills as required in the workplace), PTE:A, and OPI/OPIc.
Fast Facts about the IELTS Exam
Over 10,000 organizations in 100+ countries recognize and accept the IELTS results – including universities, employers and governments. Managed jointly by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge Assessment English, the test was first established in 1989.
Fun Fact: If you want to study in the UK, you will be required to apply to a university using scores from a Secure English Language Test (SELT). The IELTS is currently the only SELT approved by the UK Home Office.
While the TOEFL test is another popular option available to students, it is not currently recognized by the UK Home Office as a SELT.
Like with most standardized tests, there is no official ‘passing mark’. You will be graded based on your skills and receive a report with results ranging from the lowest possible ‘Band 1’ (understood as a “non-user”) to the highest possible ‘Band 9’ (understood as an “expert-user”).
The IELTS is administered in two forms – as a computer-based test and a paper-based test. There is no difference between the two tests – the content, level of difficulty and format remain the same. You can choose between the two based on your what’s most convenient for you.
But that’s not the only choice you will have to make! Did you know there are two types of the IELTS exam? One is the Academic IELTS and the other is the General Training IELTS. Depending on your purpose, you’ll have to pick one of the two types. We’ve covered more about the two types later in the blog!
2. Who accepts IELTS scores?
The IELTS aims to test your communicative and professional English levels. To do this, you’ll be tested on four skills – Writing, Reading, Listening and Speaking. These are the four ‘foundational’ skills you need in order to thrive in an English-speaking country. A notable feature of the IELTS test is that the ‘Speaking’ portion of the test is conducted separately, in the form of a one-on-one interview with the examiner.
The content for the test is developed by experts at Cambridge English Language Assessment with extensive research and inputs coming in from teams around the globe to ensure the test is fair; any biases detected are removed. So, regardless of where in the world you are from, the IELTS is not stacked against you. For these reasons, it’s one of the more popular English-language tests.
IELTS To Study Abroad
Want to study abroad? Thousands of universities across the globe will accept IELTS results as proof of your English proficiency. In fact, nearly 51% of all IELTS test-takers do it in order to secure admission to a university in an English-speaking country.
IELTS scores are accepted by universities in Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Canada and over 3000 universities in the United States. Universities in non-English speaking countries such as Belgium, France, Japan, Korea (and more!) accept IELTS scores as well.
The level of proficiency required by universities will vary, but in general, top-ranked universities will ask for an IELTS band of 7 or higher for those pursuing higher education. For undergraduate study, an IELTS band of 6-7 is usually sufficient.
As you’ve already read in this blog, the TOEFL is another popular option among students looking to study abroad. But the IELTS is more widely accepted and in some cases (as with the UK) – it’s the only option.
IELTS for Working Professionals
If you want to register to work in an English-speaking country, you will most likely need to take an English proficiency test. That’s where the IELTS comes in. Whether in a STEM field (including medicine, nursing, engineering, science), law or finance, most professional registration bodies accept IELTS scores.
It’s important to mention that score requirements for a professional will vary based on the standards the countries have set for different professions.
For example, if you are a skilled emigrant looking to move to New Zealand, you would need a minimum IELTS score of 6.5 band. (This figure might be lower if you meet certain other requirements, but to be on the safer side, you should aim for a Band 6.5).
On the other hand, if your profession falls in a ‘Business category’ (for instance, if you’re an investor or an entrepreneur), you only need an IELTS score of a Band 5.0 to move to New Zealand.
Depending on the country you’re moving to as well as your area of profession, the minimum score requirement will vary.
IELTS For Migration to a Commonwealth Country
Most universities and professional organizations in Australia, UK, Canada and New Zealand ask for IELTS scores as a requirement for different types of visas (Skilled Migrant, Investor and Entrepreneur, Residence from Work, Permanent residency, Parent etc).
Depending on your profile, you might need to take the IELTS General Training test. It’s the only non-academic test of English proficiency available to people looking to immigrate. If you’re unsure of which test to take, a quick look at the immigration website should tell you what you need to know.
3. What are the types of IELTS tests?
A lot of people are surprised when they hear there are TWO types of IELTS tests. One is the Academic IELTS and the other is the General Training IELTS.
IELTS Academic Test
Who should take the IELTS Academic Test? People looking to pursue their higher education at a university in an English-speaking country.
The Academic IELTS is typically considered the more difficult test because it tests your analytical and critical thinking skills appropriate for university-level learners. The content for the Reading and Writing Sections will be chosen accordingly – from books, journals, magazines and newspapers.
IELTS General Training Test
Who is the IELTS General Training test for? People looking for work experience, to participate in specialized training programs or for secondary education take this test. It might also be a requirement for anybody looking to emigrate.
The General Training IELTS tests only your ability to comprehend and communicate well enough to survive in a new environment. You’ll be given extracts from books, magazines, newspapers, notices, advertisements, company handbooks and guidelines – the kind of material you’re likely to encounter on a regular basis.
Do both follow the same exam pattern?
Both tests have the same 4 sections – Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. The Listening and Speaking sections remain the same for both types of tests – but the content of the Reading and Writing Sections will differ based on the test you take.
4. How many times is the IELTS test
conducted in a year ?
This is a good question. The (Computer-based) IELTS Academic Test is conducted (jointly by the British Council and IDP) up to 7 days a week, 3 times a day –morning, afternoon and evening! Clearly, you now have plenty of options to choose from!
If you want to take the paper based test, they are conducted at least twice a month (usually 4 times a month). This number may be higher but it’s very unlikely to be lower. 48 times a year. That works out to be nearly once every week. However, not every centre will offer the test 48 times a year.
So while choosing the IELTS exam date, you will have to be mindful of the fact that your preferred exam centre may not be conducting the exam on that date. You can take either the paper test or the computer-based test at the official IELTS test centres.
The General Training test, on the other hand, is conducted 24 times a year.
5. How do I register for the IELTS exam?
You have a couple of options when it comes to registering for the IELTS test.
Registering on the British Council Webpage – Online
1. Using the ‘online payment’ option
- Check the availability (British Council IELTS dates) and select your preferred date (you will need to select a separate test date for your Speaking test).
- Create an account with the British Council.
- Book and pay.
In order to be able to do this, you will need:
- An identification document (a valid passport is your best, and sometimes, only option). Make sure you have a photocopy or a photo of the identification document at hand, as you will need to upload this as part of the booking process.
- A payment card (if you wish to pay online). You also have the option of paying via Demand Draft or cash at certain banks but an online payment is the easiest method. If you choose to pay offline, there are additional steps you must complete for a successful registration.
Registering on the British Council Webpage – through post/courier
- Download the IELTS registration form.
- Pick your preferred test-date and then complete the application by entering required details
- Pay by demand draft or by cash (To pay by cash visit the nearest ICICI bank with the ICICI payment slip)
- On the registration form, please provide a Blue Dart courier serviceable address. This is so the IELTS study book and TRF can be sent to you.
Choose how you want to make the payment:
- Cash (make cash payment at any ICICI bank branch by filling in the ICICI deposit slip)
- Demand Draft (in favour of ‘British Council’, payable at New Delhi)
Send in your documents:
Candidates who apply using the online application form and are paying by ICICI deposit slip or demand draft must:
- Scan the ICICI deposit slip and upload it in the candidate area or send it via courier.
- Send the DD via courier.
IDP IELTS Registration Processes
Note: IDP IELTS dates are the same dates as those you will find on the British Council website.
Option 1: Register Online. Make the payment via Netbanking, Debit/Credit card or PayTM
Option 2: Visit your nearest IDP branch to book it offline.
- Visit the IDP IELTS Login page for India.
- Select the option ‘Register for Test.’
- Choose the test you’d like to take – computer/paper-based (IELTS, IELTS for UKVI or Life Skills).
- Select your test type/module (choose carefully) – Academic or General Training for IELTS, IELTS for UKVI, A1 and B1 for Life Skills
- Pick your preferred IELTS test centre
- Once done, you will find a list of dates available for your preferences. Select your desired IELTS test date and time slot.
- Enter the required details and complete your online application. You will be asked to upload a clear, scanned colour copy of your passport to complete the process.
- Proceed to pay the test fee.
- Upon booking your test date, you will receive an acknowledgment on your registered email/phone number.
- Note: For the Speaking module of the test, you can book a slot online on your preferred date and time. If you fail to do so within the slated time period, a time slot will be automatically allocated to you.
If online registration is not something you want to do, you may register in person at the nearest IDP IELTS branch or Referral Partner.
Documents required at the time of the IELTS exam registration include a photocopy of your passport ID (front and back page) and the signed & dated declaration document.
6. What is the IELTS Exam Fee?
For those of you deciding whether or not taking the IELTS test is the right decision, you will naturally factor in the cost of the test. The IELTS (like most standardized tests) isn’t inexpensive.
Depending on where you’re from, the cost may vary a little. Most IELTS test centres charge about $225 to take the test. But this fee might be a little higher or a little lower, based on the test centre.
In India, you can expect to pay INR 13,250 as the IELTS exam fee. This is the fee for both the computer-delivered as well as the paper-based test.
|Computer-delivered IELTS||INR 13250|
|Pen-and-paper based IELTS||INR 13250|
|IELTS for UKVI||INR 18500|
|Life Skills||INR 13850|
7. What is the IELTS exam pattern?
The IELTS Exam Pattern is pretty straightforward – there are 4 sections on the test, each with varying number and types of questions. The four sections you will encounter are – A Reading Section, Writing Section, Listening Section and a Speaking Section.
These are considered the four ‘foundational skills’ of a language, and that is why you are tested on each of these skills.
Test-takers should know that the Reading, Writing and Listening sections are tested together, on a single day. The Speaking Section could be taken up to 7 days before or after your chosen test day OR on the same day along with the other sections. You are offered this flexibility.
For the IELTS Academic test, the total duration is about 2 hours and 45 minutes.
IELTS Exam Syllabus
The question types across sections on the test vary quite a bit. So let’s look at the IELTS Syllabus for each section.
IELTS Reading Section
On the Reading Section, you will be required to parse through three texts of general interest (relevant and appropriate for candidates entering postgraduate or undergraduate courses) and then answer 40 questions. Question types vary and include multiple-choice, identifying data for short-answer questions, sentence or summary completion, matching lists or phrases, and identifying writers’ views/attitudes.
They aim to test your ability to understand academic reading material written in English.
IELTS Listening Section
The Listening section is divided into four activities: the first two conversations are concerned with social needs and the last two are concerned with situations more closely related to education.
All conversations are typically three minutes long. They could be either monologues or dialogues. A variety of question types are asked, like multiple-choice, short-answer questions, note completion, sentence completion, labeling a diagram, etc.
Note: You can only listen to these audio clips once!
- Recording 1: The first audio clip is usually a conversation between two people set in an everyday social context.
- Recording 2: The second audio clip is usually a monologue set in an everyday social context.
Sections 3 and 4 are about educational and training situations
- Recording 3: This audio clip will be of a conversation between four people set in an educational or training context.
- Recording 4: The final audio clip will be a monologue on an academic subject, like a classroom lecture.
IELTS Writing Section
All IELTS test-takers will be required to write two short essays directed at an educated but non-specialist audience.
For the first essay, test-takers are asked to look at a diagram, table or data and to present the information in their own words in 150 words.
The second essay works differently – a point of view, argument or problem will be put forth, and you will be asked to provide general factual information, present a solution, justify an opinion, evaluate ideas and evidence in less than 250 words.
As we mentioned earlier, the tasks are NOT the same across the IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training tests.
For the IELTS Academic Test, you will be given two tasks where you will be asked to write on topics that are of general interest and relevant to the candidates applying to study (whether at the undergraduate or postgraduate level).
The first task will require you to look at a diagram, table or graph and summarize what you deduce from the data in your own words. You may be given a specific task – such as explaining certain data or processing the information or flowchart to reach a specific conclusion.
The second task will require you to elaborate (in the form of an essay) on your deductions from Task 1 and support your deductions with relevant evidence picked from the information provided. Both tasks seek to test your critical thinking skills and so the style of writing should be strictly formal.
Writing Module for the IELTS General Training Test:
The Writing section for the IELTS General Training test is much simpler than that of the IELTS Academic test.
First, you will be required to write a letter (formal or semi-formal) based on a particular situation. The intent of the letter could be to explain, support your argument to a certain authority or request for something.
For the second task, you will be asked to draft an essay based on the views or arguments you espoused in the letter above, pointing out relevant instances. For this, the writing style can be a bit personal.
IELTS Speaking Section
The aim of this section is very simple – it seeks to assess whether test-takers have the requisite skills to communicate effectively in English with native-English speakers. This module is structured like an interview. The entire exercise should not last more than 15 minutes.
Part 1: Introduction and Interview (4–5 minutes)
For the first part, you will be asked basic questions about yourself – including questions about your family, studies, hobbies, interests, and so on.
For the second part, the examiner will hand you a flashcard containing a certain topic. You will then be given a minute or two to collect and organize your thoughts post which you need to talk for about two minutes. After that, the examiner might ask a few questions based on your understanding of the topic.
Part 3: Discussions (5–6 minutes)
Based on your speech from Part 2, deeper questions and abstract discussions will follow to test the depth of your understanding of the topic you have just spoken about. This will go on for about 5-6 minutes.
8. How long is the IELTS score valid?
Two years. The IELTS Score report (a.k.a Test Report Form) will be available to you about 13 days after you take the test. This Test Report Form will include a breakdown of your performance across all 4 test modules (Reading, Listening, Writing and Speaking). It will also include the average of your scores across modules which is your overall Band Score.
This report is valid for two years. Universities generally do not accept scores that are older than 2 years.
Other Useful Links:
- [Vocab App] The Ultimate Vocabulary Builder is a unique learning tool: far from being forced to study a long and boring list of English words, here you will experience a gamified vocabulary journey.
- Get Profile Evaluation For Free By An Alumna Of University of New Mexico, USA
- [Galvanize Premier Videos] Watch top-notch videos related to word-learning for tests like the IELTS and GRE!