IELTS®  PREP – WHAT IS THE IELTS?

WHAT IS THE IELTS?

What you need to know about the IELTS, IELTS scores, IELTS test availability, and the IELTS sections

ABOUT THE IELTS

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is designed to measure language proficiency of people who would like to work or study in places where English is the language of communication.

IELTS is jointly owned by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia, and Cambridge Assessment English. Its official website is www.ielts.org.

Until recently, IELTS was administered as a paper-and-pencil test. Currently, the paper-based IELTS is maintained in parallel with computer-delivered IELTS.

The IELTS exam is available in two variants:

IELTS Academic

This test is designed for those planning to study in higher education (undergraduate and graduate studies) or those seeking professional registration. The IELTS Academic assess whether a person is well-equipped to begin studying or training in an English-speaking environment.

IELTS General Training

The IELTS General Training test should be taken by those who intend to complete secondary education in places where English is the language of communication or to participate in work experience or training programs. The IELTS General Training may be required for migration to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the UK.

Since most of our students here at SIGHT Test Prep prepare for the tests in order to pursue their studies at university level, we offer primarily IELTS Academic classes. The IELTS section of our website is also dedicated mostly to the IELTS Academic test. However, we will also gladly provide IELTS General Training classes if needed.

WHAT ARE THE IELTS SECTIONS?

The IELTS contains four distinct sections, measuring the four basic English proficiency skills:

  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking

The sections are administered in the order listed above. The Speaking section can sometimes be administered on the following day after the first three sections.

The Listening and Speaking sections are the same for both IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training, whereas the Reading and Writing sections differ.

IELTS AcademicIELTS General Training
Listening30-34 minutes (plus 10 minutes of “answer transfer time” in case of paper-based test).
4 parts containing 10 questions each:
Parts 1 and 2 deal with everyday social contexts.
Parts 3 and 4 deal with educational and training contexts.
Reading60 minutes.
3 long texts taken from books, journals, magazines, and newspapers – selected for a non-specialist audience, with topics of general interest.
60 minutes.
5-6 texts taken from notices, advertisements, company handbooks, official documents, books, and newspapers – materials likely to be encountered on a daily basis in an English-speaking environment.
Writing60 minutes.
Test takers are to describe a table, chart, or diagram (at least 150 words) and write a short essay (at least 250 words) in an academic, semi-formal/neutral style.
60 minutes.
Test takers are to write a letter (at least 150 words) and a short essay (at least 250 words) in a personal or semi-formal/neutral style.
Speaking11-14 minutes.
Face-to-face interview with an examiner, including an introduction and discussion on a familiar topic.
Test durationBetween 2 hours 45 minutes and 3 hours
ScoringAn individual band score of 1-9 for each skill section.
The average produces your overall band score of 1-9.

Here is some more detailed information about each section.

LISTENING

The Listening section of the IELTS exam is the same across both Academic and General Training exams.

TIMING

30-34 minutes to listen to 4 passages and answer 10 questions about each passage.

In the case of paper-based test, 10 additional minutes will be given at the end of the Section to transfer your answers to the answer sheet.

QUESTION TYPES

There are a various question types used in the Listening section and can be any of the following: multiple choice, matching, labeling, form/table/flow-chart completion, sentence completion.

You will listen to 4 recordings (10 questions each), and you will be able to make notes on your question paper while you are listening.
Recordings 1 and 2 are based on social situations and contexts, whereas recordings 3 and 4 are based on academic scenarios.
Recordings 1 and 3 will be conversations, whereas 2 and 4 are monologues.

Examiners will be looking for you to demonstrate that you understand the main ideas and detailed factual content, as well as opinions and attitudes of the speakers and the development of ideas throughout each passage.

SCORING

Each question is worth one mark – so your overall score is out of 40, but it is translated into a banded score ranging from 1 to 9. All parts are weighted equally and contribute equally to your overall band score.

SECTION TIPS

  • Answer questions as you listen – remember, you won’t hear the recording a second time.
  • Read the questions and instructions thoroughly – you will have time between parts to look at the next set of questions before its recording starts.
  • Keep to the word limit: If you are asked for a three-word answer then make sure you only write this many, as you could lose marks if you don’t.
  • Double-check spelling and grammar. If an answer is spelled incorrectly, it will be marked as incorrect.
  • Make sure you answer all the questions – even if you have to guess. You will not be deducted marks for an incorrect answer.
  • Be prepared to hear a range of accents, including British, Australian, New Zealand, and North American.

ACADEMIC READING

The Reading section of the IELTS exam differs between the Academic and General Training exams, mostly in the subject-matter and style.

TIMING

Strictly 60 minutes to read 3 passages and answer 12-14 questions about each passage (40 questions in total). In the case of the paper-based test, there is no additional time for answer transfer.

QUESTION TYPES

The question types used in the Reading section can be made up of any of the following: multiple choice, identifying information, identifying the writer’s views/opinions, matching tasks, completion (e.g. sentence, table, note completion, etc.), and short-answer questions.

The section consists of three passages taken from books, journals, and newspaper/magazine articles. These are all written for a non-specialist audience using different styles, e.g. a passage may be in a narrative, descriptive, or argumentative styles. There will be at least one text containing a logical argument.

SCORING

Each question is worth one mark – so your overall score is out of 40, but it is translated into a banded score ranging from 1 to 9. All parts are weighted equally and contribute equally to your overall band score.

SECTION TIPS

  • There are 40 questions to answer in 60 minutes, so you should aim to spend roughly 20 minutes on each passage and the corresponding questions.
  • Remember that the questions are given in the order that they appear in the passage, so do not restart reading the passage with each question.
  • Don’t be afraid to guess an answer. Simply make a mark on the question paper to flag for review. You can then return to the question later if you have time.
  • Pay attention to the text in titles, subtitles, and illustrations, as these will give you an instant idea of what the text is about.
  • Do not waste time reading the whole passage. Take a quick scan of the questions first before approaching the text, as this will help you locate the key information faster.
  • Keep your responses to the word limit. If you are asked for ‘NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS’, then do not write more or you will lose marks.
  • Copy words accurately from the text. Spelling mistakes will mean that you will lose the mark for that question.

ACADEMIC WRITING

The Writing section of the IELTS also differs between the Academic and the General Training tests, especially in terms of the writing style that the test taker is expected to use in his/her responses. The responses to the Academic tasks should be fairly formal/academic in style, whereas on the General Training test, the test taker may employ a semi-formal or even personal style.

TIMING

Strictly 60 minutes to complete both tasks. The test taker is free to decide how to distribute this time between the two tasks, knowing that Task 2 counts for twice as much as Task 1 in the final Writing score.

QUESTION TYPES

There are two tasks in this section.

Task 1 requires you to write at least 150 words describing information presented in a chart/graph. Alternatively, you may be given a diagram of a device or a process and asked to describe how it works. You will need to write in a neutral or academic style, including the most relevant points in the stimuli, leaving out insignificant or minor points. Although in this task you can go over 150 words, we recommend that you spend no more than 20 minutes on this task.

Task 2 requires you to write at least 250 words, responding to an opinion, argument, or problem. You are permitted to go over the word count, although you should bear in mind that only 40 minutes should be spent on this task (including time for checking and correcting your answer). You should also be careful of not making your answer too long, as you will be penalized for irrelevance if the response is off-topic or if it is not written in full (bullet points and note form are not be permitted).

Note that this question is worth twice as much in your final Writing band score as Task 1, so it is important to ensure your answer is relevant and answers the question in full.

SCORING

Each of the tasks is assessed using four main criteria:

  • Task achievement/response: Task 1 is marked on how accurately and appropriately you complete the task set out in the question. Task 2 assesses your ability to articulate a position from the question/statement given and to support your answer through evidence and examples.
  • Coherence and cohesion: Assesses the clarity and fluency of your answers.
  • Lexical resource: Assesses appropriate use and range of vocabulary.
  • Grammatical range and accuracy: Evaluates your use and range of grammar.

Your score will be translated into whole and half bands 0-9, which will contribute to your overall banded score.

SECTION TIPS

  • Allow approximately 20 minutes for Task 1 and 40 minutes for Task 2.
  • Make sure you write at least the minimum word count for each essay: 150 words for Task 1 and 250 words for Task 2.
  • Use your question paper to make a plan before you start to write. This will help you make sure your reponses are clear and accurately answer the question.
  • Make sure to leave time at the end to go back and check your spelling and grammar. Mistakes in this area will make you lose valuable marks.
  • Avoid repetition of the same words or phrases, to help demonstrate a good range of vocabulary.
  • Make sure you are clearly answering the question or task with each new point.
  • Do not use bullet points or any note form.
  • Do not copy words/phrases from the question paper, as this will not gain you marks.

SPEAKING

The Speaking section of the IELTS is the same across both Academic and General Training exams.

TIMING

Between 11 and 14 minutes.

QUESTION TYPES

The Speaking section of the IELTS exam is a recorded oral interview, separate from the other sections. It remains highly standardized though, and the interview will follow extremely precise guidelines to ensure the validity of the test. The interview can be vaguely split into 3 parts.

Part 1: The session will start off with introductory topics such as work, family, and interests. These questions will be taken from the examiner’s script to ensure consistency across candidates.

Part 2: The interviewer will give you a task card, which will ask you to speak about a particular topic and includes a list of points that should be incorporated. You will have a couple of minutes (along with a pencil and paper) to make notes and structure what you would like to say. The examiner will then ask you to talk for 1-2 minutes, after which they will stop you and ask you a couple of questions on the topic.

Part 3: In the final part of the interview, you and the examiner will discuss issues related to the topic in the previous part. Here you will get to express and justify opinions. This part usually lasts around 4-5 minutes.

SCORING
Your speaking will be scored by the trained examiner, who will assess you using the following criteria:

  • Fluency and coherence: assesses your ability to speak with normal levels of continuity in an easy-to-understand manner.
  • Lexical resource: assesses appropriate use of vocabulary, as well as how you fill a vocabulary gap without noticeable hesitation.
  • Grammatical range and accuracy: assesses the length and complexity of your sentences.
  • Pronunciation: assesses how easy/difficult it is for the examiner to understand you.

Your score will be translated into whole and half bands 0-9, which will contribute to your overall banded score.

SECTION TIPS

  • Pay close attention to the questions being asked in order to keep your answers relevant.
  • Answer the questions in some detail to make sure you are providing enough material to gain marks.
  • Practice speaking for 2 minutes so you become familiar with how much material is required for Part 2 of the interview.
  • Do not learn answers off by heart.
  • Do not stray from the topics on the task card.
  • If you have made a mistake it is perfectly acceptable to correct yourself. Although do not ask the examiner at any point if you have said something correctly.
  • Practice ways that you can delay answers to give yourself more time to think, e.g. “That’s a good question…” or “Let me think. I would say…”

HOW IS THE IELTS SCORED?

The score for each of the four IELTS sections – Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking – is reported as band scores on a scale from 1 (the lowest) to 9 (the highest).

Here are the official descriptions of each level, taken from IELTS website.

Band
score
User
level
Description
9 Expert The test taker has fully operational command of the language. Their use of English is appropriate, accurate, and fluent, and shows complete understanding.
8 Very good The test taker has fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriate usage. They may misunderstand some things in unfamiliar situations. They handle complex and detailed argumentation well
7 Good The test taker has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriate usage, and misunderstandings in some situations. They generally handle complex language well and understand detailed reasoning.
6 Competent The test taker has an effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriate usage, and misunderstandings. They can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.
5 Modest The test taker has a partial command of the language and copes with overall meaning in most situations, although they are likely to make many mistakes. They should be able to handle basic communication in their own field.
4 Limited The test taker’s basic competence is limited to familiar situations. They frequently show problems in understanding and expression. They are not able to use complex language.
3 Extremely limited The test taker conveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations. There are frequent breakdowns in communication.
2 Intermittent The test taker has great difficulty understanding spoken and written English.
1 Non-user The test taker has no ability to use the language except a few isolated words.
0 Did not
attempt
The test taker did not answer the questions.
Band
score
User
level
Description
9 Expert The test taker has fully operational command
of the language. Their use of English is
appropriate, accurate, and fluent, and shows
complete understanding.
8 Very good The test taker has fully operational command
of the language with only occasional
unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriate
usage. They may misunderstand some things
in unfamiliar situations. They handle complex
and detailed argumentation well
7 Good The test taker has operational command of
the language, though with occasional
inaccuracies, inappropriate usage, and
misunderstandings in some situations. They
generally handle complex language well and
understand detailed reasoning.
6 Competent The test taker has an effective command of
the language despite some inaccuracies,
inappropriate usage, and misunderstandings.
They can use and understand fairly complex
language, particularly in familiar situations.
5 Modest The test taker has a partial command of the
language and copes with overall meaning in
most situations, although they are likely to
make many mistakes. They should be able to
handle basic communication in their own
field.
4 Limited The test taker’s basic competence is limited
to familiar situations. They frequently show
problems in understanding and expression.
They are not able to use complex language.
3 Extremely
limited
The test taker conveys and understands only
general meaning in very familiar situations.
There are frequent breakdowns in
communication.
2 Intermittent The test taker has great difficulty
understanding spoken and written English.
1 Non-user The test taker has no ability to use the
language except a few isolated words.
0 Did not
attempt
The test taker did not answer the questions.

The four scores (one for each Section) are then averaged and rounded to half-points to produce the total score – the “Overall Band Score”, rounded to the nearest whole or half band. The component scores are weighted equally. All the five scores appear on the official IELTS score report.

WHAT IS A GOOD IELTS SCORE?

The answer to this question depends largely on the purpose with which you are taking the IELTS.

IELTS for immigration: Different countries have different requirements when it comes to the IELTS level. Moreover, for the same country the required IELTS scores can be different for different visa types.

IELTS for studies: Depends directly on the university/institution that you are applying to. Most universities list their requirements as a “minimum of 7.0 Overall Band Score, with no lower than 6.5 in each Section”. Moreover, within the same university the requirements can vary depending on the level of studies (graduate or undergraduate) and the field of studies (compare “Medieval English literature” with “Chemistry”).

IELTS for work: Each employer will have a more or less clear idea regarding what is considered an acceptable IELTS score.

To summarize: To find out if your IELTS score is good enough, contact the institution that requires you to take the test, for information about both minimal and average scores and about both the Overall Band Score and the scores for individual sections.

HOW TO REGISTER FOR THE IELTS?

Test administrations are available throughout the year all over the world through British Council and its affiliated structures.

The easiest way to register is online, on IELTS website, following this link.

The cost of the test depends on location and varies between 200 and 250 euros.