What exactly is IELTS?

IELTS is an international ‘high stakes’ language exam for work, study or migration purposes, testing the fours skills of your English knowledge: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. ‘High stakes’ simply means that usually a lot depends on your scores as certain results might be the condition upon which you can do your MA at a foreign university, if that is your dream (typically with an academic module 7.0 overall band score), or receive your visa to move abroad (normally with a general module minimum 6.0 overall band score).
Unlike other (Cambridge ESOL) language exams IELTS does not explicitly test your grammar and vocabulary knowledge, because both are tested implicitly: through your ability to skillfully manage various reading and listening tasks in the so-called receptive skills (listening and reading) as well as where you have to ‘produce’ the language, also known as the ‘productive skills’ (i.e writing and speaking). As a result of this difference, the exam is shorter and more hands-on than other Cambridge exams, testing a wider variety of sub-skills, represented in a great variety of different question types in the papers.

What do the band scores mean?

IELTS is not a ‘pass or fail’ type of exam, because your results of the fours skills are assessed on a scale of 0-9, also known as the ‘bands’. Other than receiving a band score for each skill, your overall performance is also awarded a score of 0-9. Both in the case of the individual skills and your overall band score result the bands mean the following, in CEFR (Common European Framework Reference) terms:

  • IELTS 4.0-5.0=B1 (intermediate)
  • IELTS 5.5-6.5=B2 (upper-intermediate)
  • IELTS 7.0-8.0=C1 (advanced)
  • IELTS 8.5-9.0=C2 (proficient)

If you want to read more about the general structure of the exam, click here:

What is the difference between ‘general’ and ‘academic’ training?

There are two versions to IELTS: academic and general. The academic test is for those who want to get a degree at an English-speaking university. The general training test is for those who want to work or migrate to an English-speaking country. All candidates take the same Listening and Speaking tests but Reading and Writing are different.

Which version should I do?

Before choosing to take either the academic or general version of the test, you need to read the immigration website of the country you want to move to, or contact the organization or institution to which you are applying for work or study, to find out what type it requires.

What is the test format and how long will it take?

IELTS has four parts – Listening (30 minutes), Reading (60 minutes), Writing (60 minutes) and Speaking (11–14 minutes). The total test time is 2 hours and 45 minutes. The Listening, Reading and Writing tests are done on the same day. The Speaking test may be on the same day or up to seven days before or after the other tests.

What is IELTS writing like?

If you have chosen the academic module, in the exam you will have to write a so-called ‘descriptive report’ of about 150 words, in about 20 minutes at first. Task 2 is an academic essay, written in approximately 40 minutes.
In the general module task 1 is a letter of about 150 words composed in about 20 minutes, and task 2 is an essay of 250 in 40 minutes.