A Comprehensive Guide for IELTS Test

A Comprehensive Guide to the IELTS Test

Discover everything you need to know about the IELTS test, including general information, test format, grading, band scoring, and overall band score criteria.

What is the IELTS Test?

The IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is the most renowned English language proficiency test worldwide for non-native English speakers. The objectives of the test vary depending on the individual's purpose, whether it be for studying, working, or immigration. Recognized by over 10,000 organizations in more than 100 countries, including educational institutions, professional associations, employers, and governments, the IELTS test is taken by millions of candidates annually.

Formerly a paper-based test, candidates now have the option to take the test on either a computer or paper. The format and content of the test remain the same for both options. There are two categories of the IELTS test: IELTS Test for Academic Purpose and IELTS Test for General Purpose. Candidates must choose the appropriate module for their specific test.

Why Choose the IELTS Testing System?

The IELTS test is widely accepted by prestigious universities, colleges, and professional institutions as a reliable measure of English language proficiency. This makes it a popular choice for students who wish to pursue higher education or embark on a professional career abroad.

In addition, some countries where English is the native and official language require IELTS scores for permanent residency. Candidates seeking permanent residence in Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States must take the IELTS Test for General Purpose.

The IELTS test's popularity and credibility stem from its well-structured test layout, fairness, and comprehensive assessment of practical communication abilities across all four language skills. The test content is meticulously prepared by a team of expert examiners, ensuring its impartiality and suitability for candidates from diverse backgrounds, nationalities, lifestyles, genders, and locations.

IELTS Test Format

The IELTS Test evaluates all language skills, including listening, speaking, reading, and writing. While the speaking and listening sections are the same for both the Academic and General tests, the reading and writing sections differ depending on the chosen test module. The reading, listening, and writing sections are completed consecutively on the same day, with no breaks in between. However, the speaking section can be scheduled up to a couple of days before or after the other tests, as per the exam center's instructions. The total test duration is 2 hours and 45 minutes.

IELTS Listening Test

The IELTS Listening Test requires candidates to listen to four recordings by native speakers and answer questions on the provided answer sheet.

The four recordings encompass various patterns:

  1. A general conversation between two native speakers based on everyday social contexts.
  2. A monologue by a native speaker, focusing on social context.
  3. A conversation between a group of up to four native speakers, set in a training or educational context.
  4. A monologue on an academic subject for Academic test takers or a general subject for General test takers.

Time: 30 minutes (additional 10 minutes for question transfer)

Number of Questions: 40

Format: Paper

The test consists of four parts, each containing ten questions. The question designs mirror the audio content the candidates hear:

  1. Parts 1 and 2 focus on everyday social contexts. Part 1 involves a conversation between two native speakers (e.g., discussing travel arrangements), while Part 2 features a monologue (e.g., a speech about local facilities).
  2. Parts 3 and 4 center around educational and training contexts. Part 3 entails a conversation between two or more native speakers (e.g., a group of university students engaged in a debate guided by an instructor), while Part 4 presents a monologue on an academic subject.

Candidates can listen to the recordings only once. The recordings feature various accents representing the five major English varieties: New Zealand, British, American, Canadian, and Australian.

Task Types

The IELTS Listening Test includes various question types, such as multiple-choice questions, labeling, matching, planning, maps, diagrams, flowcharts, summary completion, and sentence completion.

Answering

Candidates write their answers on the question paper while listening and are given 10 minutes at the end of the listening section to transfer their answers to an answer booklet. It is crucial to be mindful of grammar and spelling errors when writing answers, as there may be penalties for such mistakes.

Marks: Each question carries 1 mark.

IELTS Reading Test

Academic Reading Test

The IELTS Academic Reading Test requires candidates to answer 40 questions within a duration of one hour (60 minutes). This test evaluates a candidate's reading skills and is specifically designed for academic purposes. The reading test differs for the Academic and General Training modules. Below is a brief overview of the Academic Reading Test.

The Academic Reading Test includes three long reading passages that cover a range of styles, from descriptive and factual to discursive and analytical. These passages are sourced from books, journals, magazines, and newspapers. While they are intended for a non-specialist audience, they are suitable for individuals pursuing university courses or seeking professional registration.

Timing: 60 minutes

Questions: 40

Paper Format:

  • Three long reading passages
  • A variety of question types

Task Types:

  • Multiple-choice questions
  • Labeling
  • Matching
  • Plan, map, diagram, flow-chart completion
  • Summary completion
  • Sentence completion

Sources for the Test:

The passages are typically selected from journals, magazines, books, and newspapers, catering to a non-specialist audience. The topics cover areas of general interest and are suitable for candidates pursuing undergraduate or postgraduate courses or seeking professional registration. The passages may adopt different styles, such as descriptive, narrative, or argumentative. Some texts may include non-verbal materials like graphs, diagrams, or illustrations, and a glossary is provided if any technical terms are present.

Answering:

Candidates must transfer their answers to an answer sheet within the allocated time for the test. No additional time is provided for transferring answers. It is essential to pay attention to grammar and spelling accuracy, as errors may incur penalties.

Marks: Each question carries 1 mark.

General Reading Test

The IELTS General Reading Test also requires candidates to answer 40 questions within a duration of one hour (60 minutes). Like the Academic Reading Test, this test assesses a candidate's reading skills but focuses on materials encountered in daily life in an English-speaking environment. Here is a brief overview of the General Reading Test.

The General Reading Test includes a selection of materials from magazines, books, newspapers, notices, and advertisements. These materials are representative of what candidates might encounter on a regular basis in an English-speaking environment.

Time: 60 minutes

Questions: 40

Paper Format:

  • Three parts
  • Part 1: Two or three short texts or many shorter texts
  • Part 2: Two texts
  • Part 3: A long written text

Task Types:

  • Identifying information
  • Identifying writer's views/claims
  • Multiple-choice questions
  • Matching information
  • Matching features
  • Matching headings
  • Matching sentence endings
  • Summary completion
  • Note completion
  • Sentence completion
  • Table completion
  • Diagram label completion
  • Flow-chart completion
  • Short-answer questions

Sources:

  • Part 1: "Social survival" - Texts related to basic linguistic survival in English, focusing on retrieving and providing general factual information (e.g., advertisements, notices, timetables)
  • Part 2: "Workplace survival" - Emphasis on the workplace context, including job descriptions, contracts, staff development, and training materials
  • Part 3: "General reading" - Involves reading more extensive prose with a slightly complex structure, emphasizing descriptive and instructive texts rather than argumentative ones. The content is relevant to a wide range of test takers and may include magazines, newspapers, and extracts from fictional and non-fictional books.

Answering:

Candidates must transfer their answers to an answer booklet within the allocated time for the test. No additional time is provided for transferring answers. It is essential to pay attention to grammar and spelling accuracy, as errors may incur penalties.

Marks: Each question carries 1 mark.

IELTS Writing Test

Academic Writing Test

The IELTS Academic Writing Test consists of two tasks and covers topics of general interest relevant to the module. The test duration is one hour (60 minutes). Below are the details of the two tasks for academic candidates.

Time: 60 minutes

Questions: 2

Paper Format: Two writing tasks

Task Types:

  • Task 1: Candidates will be presented with a table, graph, diagram, or chart and will be required to describe, summarize, or explain the information in their own words. They may need to describe and explain data, describe how something works, outline the stages of a process, or describe an event or object. Candidates should aim to write around 150 words within a time limit of 20 minutes.
  • Task 2: Candidates are to write an essay based on an argument or problem. The writing style should be formal for both tasks. Candidates should aim to write around 250 words within a time limit of 40 minutes.

Answering:

Candidates are required to write their answers in the answer booklet provided. Bullet points or notes, either in whole or in part, are not considered sufficient as answers. Candidates may write on the question paper, but they cannot take it out of the test hall, and the examiner will not see it.

General Writing Test

The IELTS General Writing Test also consists of two tasks and covers topics of general interest relevant to the module. The test duration is one hour (60 minutes). Here are the details of the two tasks for general candidates.

Timing: 60 minutes

No. of Questions: 2

Paper Format: Two writing tasks

Task Types:

  • Task 1: Candidates will be presented with a situation and asked to explain the situation or write a letter requesting information. The letter can be formal, semi-formal, or personal in style, but the language used must be formal.
  • Task 2: Candidates will be asked to write an essay based on a point of view, argument, or problem. The essay can be written in a personal style.

Answering:

Candidates are required to write their answers in the answer booklet provided. Bullet points or notes, either in whole or in part, are not considered sufficient as answers. Candidates may write on the question paper, but they cannot take it out of the test hall, and the examiner will not see it.

IELTS Speaking Test

The IELTS Speaking Test assesses candidates' spoken English proficiency. The test consists of three sections and has a duration of 11 to 14 minutes.

Timing: 11–14 minutes

Paper Format: Oral interview with an examiner

Task Types:

  • Part 1: The examiner asks the candidate general questions about themselves, focusing on familiar topics related to everyday life, such as studies, home, work, family, and interests. This part lasts between 4 and 5 minutes.
  • Part 2: The examiner provides a card with a particular topic, and the candidate is asked to talk about that topic for two minutes. They have one minute to prepare. The examiner may ask one or two additional questions related to the topic.
  • Part 3: The candidate is asked further questions related to the topic discussed in Part 2. This section provides an opportunity to discuss more abstract ideas and issues. Part 3 lasts between 4 and 5 minutes.

IELTS Band Scores

The IELTS Band Scores range from 0 to 9 and are a measure of a candidate's performance in the test. The scores are divided into 10 bands, each indicating a specific level of English language proficiency. The band scores for each of the four tests—Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking—are equally weighted. The overall band score is determined by taking the mean result for each part of the test.

The Overall IELTS Band Score:

  • The band score is calculated to the nearest whole (e.g., 7) or half band (e.g., 7.5).
  • If the average score across the four tests (Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking) ends in .25, it is rounded up to the next half band (e.g., 7.25 becomes 7.5).
  • If it ends in .75, it is rounded up to the next whole band (e.g., 6.75 becomes 7).

IELTS Band Scoring for Writing Test

When scoring the IELTS Writing Test, examiners use assessment criteria to assign a band score for each of the four criteria:

  1. Task Achievement (for Task 1) / Task Response (for Task 2): The extent to which the candidate addresses and fulfills the requirements of the task, presents a clear position or argument, and provides relevant support and examples.
  2. Coherence and Cohesion: How well the candidate organizes and connects ideas, uses logical sequencing and linking devices, and maintains coherence throughout the response.
  3. Lexical Resource: The range and appropriateness of vocabulary used, as well as the ability to use collocations, idiomatic language, and academic vocabulary effectively.
  4. Grammatical Range and Accuracy: The range and accuracy of grammatical structures used, including complex sentences, varied sentence structures, and appropriate use of punctuation and capitalization.

The Writing Task 1 and Task 2 assessment criteria can be downloaded for more detailed information on the scoring criteria for each task.

IELTS Band Scoring for Speaking Test

When scoring the IELTS Speaking Test, examiners use assessment criteria to assign a band score for each of the four criteria:

  1. Fluency and Coherence: The ability to speak fluently with a smooth flow of speech, appropriate use of hesitations and cohesive devices, and the ability to maintain coherence and communicate ideas clearly.
  2. Lexical Resource: The range and accuracy of vocabulary used, including the ability to use a wide range of words, paraphrase effectively, and use appropriate idiomatic expressions.
  3. Grammatical Range and Accuracy: The range and accuracy of grammatical structures used, including the use of a variety of sentence structures, tenses, and appropriate verb forms.
  4. Pronunciation: The clarity and intelligibility of the candidate's pronunciation, including accurate pronunciation of individual sounds, stress, and intonation patterns.

The assessment criteria are used to evaluate the candidate's performance in each of these areas, resulting in an assigned band score for the Speaking Test.

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