An Introduction to The IELTS Test

1. What is IELTS?

IELTS, the International English Language Testing System, is designed to assess the language ability of candidates who need to study or work where English is used as the language of communication.  IELTS is required for entry to university in the U.S., U.K. and other countries.

IELTS is recognized by universities and employers in many countries, including Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S.  It is also recognized by professional bodies, immigration authorities and other government agencies.

2. Why choose IELTS?

It is the test for study – thousands of the world’s most reputable universities and colleges will accept your IELTS results as evidence of your English language proficiency.

It is the test for professionals – professional registration bodies in many fields will accept an IELTS result, including accounting, engineering, law, medicine, nursing, pharmacy and teaching bodies in many countries.  This means that after completing your studies, you may need to take the test in order to gain professional registration in an English-speaking country.

It is the test for migration – IELTS scores are required by governments in more countries than any other English language test as a requirement for permanent residency.  Unlike other providers, the IELTS General Training test is the only non-academic test available for migration to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, The United Kingdom and The USA.

It’s the test that helps you waive many other tests – In Vietnam, since 2015, the Ministry of Education has decided to waive the Foreign Language test for high school students if they have an IELTS 4.0 or higher certificate.  Thus, by having an IELTS 4.0, which is quite easy to get, students a lot of pressure in the national high school exam. Particularly, if a student has an IELTS score of 6.0 or higher, students will be considered equivalent to 10 English subjects to some universities.

It’s the test that’s fairer to you – IELTS assesses you on your practical communication abilities and provides an accurate assessment of the four skills being tested.  It focuses on testing the language abilities rather than specialist knowledge of the candidate and offers two versions – Academic and General Training.  Plus, it allows for a one-on-one Speaking test one with an examiner in a private room with no distractions.

3. What’s on the IELTS?

There are two versions of the IELTS: Academic IELTS and General Training IELTS.  As you might guess, Academic IELTS is used for school admissions. General Training IELTS is used most often for immigration and employment.  However, Academic IELTS is still used for medical jobs and medical skilled migration. The Academic and General Training versions of the exam have the exact same Listening and Speaking sections.  However, the Reading and Writing sections on these exams are somewhat different.

The IELTS is divided into four sections, each of which focuses on one language skill.  The sections are: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. 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. Below, we’ll take a closer look at each of the four sections individually.

  1. IELTS Listening TestThe IELTS Listening test will take about 30 minutes, and you will have an extra 10 minutes to transfer your answers to the answer sheet.  The Listening test is the same for both IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training modules.

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

The IELTS Listening test consists of four sections:

    • Section 1: A conversation between two people set in an everyday social context, e.g. a conversation in an accommodation agency.
    • 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.
  1. IELTS Reading TestThe IELTS Reading test will take about 60 minutes.  It 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, recognizing writers’ opinions, attitudes and purpose.
IELTS Academic Reading Test IELTS General Training Reading Test
The IELTS Academic Reading test includes three long texts which range from descriptive and factual to 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 recognizably appropriate for anyone entering undergraduate or postgraduate courses or seeking professional registration. The IELTS General Training Reading test includes three passages with tasks.  It requires you 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.
  1. IELTS Writing Test

The IELTS Writing test will take 60 minutes.  Task 1, which is worth ⅓ of the scores, must be at least 150 words long.  Task 2 is worth 2/3 of the scores and must be at least 250 words long.

IELTS Academic Writing Test IELTS General Training Writing Test
The IELTS Academic Writing Test includes two tasks.  Topics are of general interest to, and suitable for anyone entering undergraduate or postgraduate studies or seeking professional registration.

Task 1: You will be presented with a graph, table, chart or diagram and you will be asked to describe, summarise 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 written in a formal style.

The IELTS General Training Writing test Writing 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.

  1. IELTS Speaking Test
    The IELTS Speaking exam is an in-person interview. The interview takes 11–14 minutes and contains three sections.

Task 1: You will be asked to answer general questions about yourself and a range of familiar topics, such as your home, family, work, studies and interests. This part lasts between 4 and 5 minutes.

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

Task 3: You will be asked further questions connected to the topic in Part 2. These questions give you an opportunity to discuss more abstract issues and ideas. This part lasts between four and five minutes.

4. IELTS band scores: how they are calculated?

The Overall Band Score is the average of the four component scores, rounded to the nearest whole or half band. The component scores are weighted equally.

If the average of the four components ends in .25, the Overall Band Score is rounded up to the next half band, and if it ends in .75, the Overall Band Score is rounded up to the next whole band. If the average ends with a fraction below .25 or .75, the overall score is rounded down. For examples:

    • Reading 6.5 + Writing 5 + Speaking 7 + Listening 6.5 = 25
      25/ 4 = 6.25 → Overall band score = 6.5
    • Reading 6.5 + Writing 5.5 + Speaking 6.0 + Listening 6.5 = 24.5
      24.5/ 4 = 6.125 → Overall band score = 6.0
    • Reading 3.5 + Writing 4.0 + Speaking 4.0 + Listening 4.0 = 19.5
      19.5/4 = 3.875 → Overall band score = 4.0If you want to see a few more examples, look at the first table in this score conversion article.

On the British Council website, you can find official Speaking Band descriptors and Writing Band descriptors. These rubrics apply to both versions of the exam, and they give you a good idea of what each IELTS band looks like.

5. What is a Good IELTS Score?

Regardless of why you’re taking the IELTS, the better question to ask is, “What is an acceptable IELTS Score?”

The IELTS score is used by a vast number of institutions and organizations to figure out whether or not your English is ‘good enough’ for eligibility – immigration, admissions, hiring, etc. If you are taking the IELTS for immigration, what they’re looking for will depend on the type of visa you need (e.g. work, business, for investors, for students, etc.). If you’re taking the IELTS as an international student, both the government and the institution may have a say about what is acceptable. So needless to say, there’s no one answer to the question of what a good IELTS score is. But all institutions will give you guidance on what an acceptable score is for the institution’s purpose.

It’s also quite important to remember that institutions don’t just require different IELTS scores. Different organizations also sometimes require different versions of the test. IELTS Academic is used for school admissions and medical jobs. IELTS General Training is used for just about everything else; it’s the go-to exam for immigration and most employment. And the score requirements for General Training can be very different, depending on the visa or job. This makes perfect sense. After all, a factory worker won’t need the same English proficiency as a technical writer, to give just two examples.

Now, let’s look at the IELTS scores that schools may want to see on your applications. The universities in the chart below are all top, world-class universities, with competitive requirements for admission. As you can see, every university has its own unique IELTS requirements. This gives you an idea of the IELTS range you’ll need in order to get into a top school.

IELTS Requirements at Top Schools Worldwide

All data are taken from these schools’ official websites, as of late 2017.

University Country Undergraduate IELTS Requirements Graduate IELTS Requirements
Oxford University United Kingdom 7.0 (whole test and individual sections) Varies depending on program
Cambridge University United Kingdom 7.5, whole test, 7.0 for individual sections Varies depending on program
Massachusetts Institute of Technology United States IELTS not accepted (TOEFL only) Varies depending on program, but most commonly 7.0
UC Berkeley United States 6.5 7.0
University of Melbourne Australia 7.0 Varies depending on the program, but is usually either 6.5 or 7.0
University of Auckland New Zealand 6.0, with 5.5 in each section (higher in some programs) 6.5, with 6.0 in each section (higher in some programs)
Queen’s University Canada 6.5 7.0

It’s clear to see that if you’re planning to apply to top-ranked universities, you should strive to achieve at least a 7.0. But if you’re not applying to the world’s top schools, a “good” score will likely be lower for you. Be sure to check those requirements on each university’s website.

Everest Education is now offering you a reliable, high-quality IELTS prep to help you along the way. For more information, please go to our website: or make a visit to our learning center for an IELTS mock test.

In the next articles, we will deep dive into exam tips for each section of IELTS, as well as what and how you need to prepare for an outstanding IELTS result. Stay tuned for more!

Also leave comments below if you have any questions, our IELTS experts and teachers will promptly respond!



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