IELTS (International English Language Testing System)

IELTS assesses the range of English language skills that students usually need when studying, working or training in an English-speaking country.

There are two different IELTS tests available*:

  • IELTS Academic test
    The popular IELTS Academic test is designed for candidates applying to universities and other professional or non-governmental institutions.
  • IELTS General Training test
    While the IELTS General Training test is suitable for candidates intending to undertake work experience or non-academic training, and for immigration purposes.

*There is in fact a third test, Life Skills, that assesses your English listening and speaking skills for certain types of visa. This test is outside the scope of this page.

IELTS certification is accepted by most British, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian and American universities for admission purposes, and by various non-governmental organisations too. The acceptance grade depends on the institution or organisation in question.

IELTS is traditionally a paper-based test, although some examination centres in the UK and abroad now offer computer-based tests as well. Exams are held on fixed dates four times per month in over 140 countries. The cost of each exam is approximately €250 (as of 2024). Candidates can expect to receive their results within thirteen days.

IELTS format

IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training are similar in that each test consists of four papers:

  • Listening paper
  • Reading paper
  • Writing paper
  • Speaking paper

However, while the Listening and Speaking papers are the same for both tests, the Reading and Writing papers are different.

Overall time: under 3 hours

IELTS Academic

  • Listening (30 minutes)
    4 recordings, 40 questions
  • Reading (30 minutes)
    3 texts, 40 questions
  • Writing (60 minutes)
    Task 1: Describing data
    Task 2: Essay
  • Speaking (11-14 minutes)
    Part 1: Background
    Part 2: Topic
    Part 3: Discussion

IELTS General Training

  • Listening (30 minutes)
    4 recordings, 40 questions
  • Reading (30 minutes)
    2-3 texts, 40 questions
  • Writing (60 minutes)
    Task 1: Letter
    Task 2: Essay
  • Speaking (11-14 minutes)
    Part 1: Background
    Part 2: Topic
    Part 3: Discussion

IELTS description

Listening paper

Four recordings, each followed by ten questions.

You will hear each recording only once, and there will be a pause after each one to allow you to consider your answers. You will be given time at the end to transfer your answers to the answer sheet.

  • Recording 1: A conversation between two individuals in an ordinary social situation.
  • Recording 2: A monologue set in an everyday, informal context.
  • Recording 3: A conversation between up to four people in an educational environment.
  • Recording 4: A monologue on an academic topic.

Question types include:

  • matching headings
  • multiple-choice
  • map, plan, or diagram labelling
  • table, flow-chart, form, note, or summary completion
  • short-answer questions

Reading paper

Reading - Academic
IELTS Academic Reading is made up of three texts and includes 40 questions in total. It focuses on three long texts that are taken from journals, books, magazines or newspapers. Though these texts have been chosen for a non-selective audience, they are suitable for those seeking employment or applying to universities.

The paper is intended to assess your ability to do the following:

  • read for gist, detail or main ideas
  • identify the writer’s opinions or intentions
  • follow the development of an argument

All three texts are of similar length but can vary in style and type. For example, one could be factual or analytical, while another might be descriptive or opinion-based. Each text is usually followed by at least two types of questions, sometimes more; so it’s important to read the instructions carefully so that you know exactly what to do.

Possible question types include:

  • true/false/not given
  • multiple-choice
  • diagram completion
  • matching headings

However, unlike the General Training Reading paper, in which the three texts are sequenced, going from easiest to most difficult, in the Academic Reading paper, there is no definite order as to which question types follow which text.

As the Reading paper is only 60 minutes long, you should, ideally, spend no more than 20 minutes on each text, so mastering the art of skimming and scanning is essential as you won’t have time to reread full texts.

Reading - General Training
Focuses on common situations that you might encounter in everyday life in an English-speaking country.

  • Section 1: consists of short texts such as schedules, notices, ads, or handbooks. It tests your survival skills in daily situations in an English-speaking setting.
  • Section 2: tests your ability to survive in a working environment. Texts in this section range from contracts to training manuals, to general staff-development materials.
  • Section 3: consists of a longer text taken from a newspaper, book, or magazine. It is slightly more complex than the other sections and focuses on topics of general interest.

Questions in both versions of the Reading paper include the following types:

  • identifying information
  • multiple choice
  • identifying a writer's views or claims
  • matching headings
  • matching information

Writing paper

Writing - Academic Focuses on what you might face in a university or academic environment.

  • Task 1: You will be given a table, graph, or diagram, which you are required to summarise in your own words. This could entail analysing and describing data, explaining how a process works or describing an event. You are expected to spend approximately on this section and write a minimum of 150 words.
  • Task 2: You will be required to write a formal essay on a topical issue. Your essay will be in response to a particular point of view or argument. You are expected to spend 40 minutes on this task and write at least 250 words.

Writing - General Training Focuses on topics of general interest.

  • Task 1: You will be presented with a situation and asked to write a letter in response to it. Depending on the situation, you will be required to write in a formal, informal, or semi-formal style. You should spend a maximum of 20 minutes on this section and write approximately 150 words.
  • Task 2: You will be asked to write an essay in response to an argument, problem, or opinion. Your essay may reflect your opinions and can be written in a semi-formal or formal style. You are expected to spend around 40 minutes on this task and write at least 250 words.

Speaking paper

  • Part 1: After introducing himself or herself, the examiner will ask you to introduce yourself. He or she will then go on to ask you several questions about your life, to put you at ease.
  • Part 2: The examiner will provide you with a task card that requires you to talk in a monologue on a particular topic. You will then have one minute to make notes and decide what you are going to say. After this, you will speak, uninterrupted for one or two minutes. When you have finished, the examiner may ask you a couple of follow-up questions.
  • Part 3: The examiner will ask you several more questions that are connected to the topic in the previous section. The questions are intended to get you to speak fluently about the topic on a more abstract level.

Scoring

Both IELTS tests (Academic and General Training) use the same scoring system.

Overall, IELTS is not a level-based system. It has its own grading method and scoring is done on a 9-band scale.

IELTS
Band score Skill level Description
9 Expert You have a partial command of the language, and cope with overall meaning in most situations, although you are likely to make many mistakes. You should be able to handle basic communication in your own field.
8 Very good You have a fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriate usage. You may misunderstand some things in unfamiliar situations. You handle complex detailed argumentation well.
7 Good You have an operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally you handle complex language well and understand detailed reasoning.
6 Competent Generally, you have an effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings. You can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.
5 Modest You have a partial command of the language, and cope with overall meaning in most situations, although you are likely to make many mistakes. You should be able to handle basic communication in your own field.
4 Limited Your basic competence is limited to familiar situations. You frequently show problems in understanding and expression. You are not able to use complex language.
3 Exremely limited You convey and understand only general meaning in very familiar situations. There are frequent breakdowns in communication.
2 Intermittent You have great difficulty understanding spoken and written English.
1 Non-user You have no ability to use the language except a few isolated words.

Each paper (Listening, Reading, Writing, Speaking) of the test is worth 25% of your overall IELTS band. To get your overall IELTS band score, each paper is scored and then your IELTS score is the average of those four scores.  Your IELTS qualification is then valid for two years, but if you wish to improve your score, you can always take the test again.

CEFR comparison

The scores listed in the IELTS table above are equivalent to the CEFR levels below:

IELTS/CEFR Comparison
IELTS bands CEFR levels
9 C2 Proficient user
8 C1
7.5
7
6.5 B2 Independent user
6
5.5
5 B1
4.5
4
  A2 Basic user
A1

*Common European Framework of Reference (for Languages)

Further reading