IELTS – The International English Language Testing System
IELTS is a high-stakes English language test, this means that you have a lot to gain if you obtain a good result, but there is a risk, it is expensive. The advantages of an IELTS qualification is that is valid for work and study including visa applications where English is the language of communication, including the UK, Canada, the USA and Australia. IELTS is a Cambridge qualification offered in conjunction with the British Council, if you are not sure you are ready to pass this high-stakes exam, you can try another cheaper English test such as Aptis.
IELTS test scoring
The test scores come in 9 bands which clearly identify levels of proficiency, starting from band score 1 (non-user) through to band score nine (expert). Educational institutions and immigration bodies have different requirements, so it is a good idea to check which band score you need for your situation before taking this high stakes English language test.
IELTS Academic or IELTS General Training
There are two test versions of IELTS: Academic and General Training. The academic version is suitable if you are applying to study higher education or register as a professional. For example as a doctor on the general medical council in the UK. Whereas the General Training test works well for people migrating to Australia, Canada and the UK. It is also apt for those applying for secondary education (high school), training programmes and work experience placements. Both versions provide an accurate evaluation and valid certification of the four language skills: listening, reading, writing and speaking.
The IELTS Academic test is perfect is for students and professionals who wish to apply for university-level education places or registration in a professional field. IELTS academic evaluates whether test-takers are prepared to start studying or training by reflecting some of the features of academic language.
IELTS General Training
If you are thinking about going to an English speaking country for secondary education, a work experience internship or a training program, then the IELTS General Training test is probably the best option. It is also valid for visa applications and migration to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK. The test centres on basic survival skills in social situations and within the context of the workplace.
Varieties of the English language
Fortunately, the IELTS test is very fair when it comes to the variety of the English language that can be used. As long as you use one of the standard varieties of native-speaker English, including North American, British, Australian and New Zealand English you will be OK.
Where can you take the IELTS test?
More than 1,200 international locations offer IELTS testing services. In fact, there are over 50 locations in the USA. It is easy to find a test location and there are normally 48 test dates per year.
The IELTS Test Structure
The Listening, Reading and Writing sections of both the IELTS academic and the IELTS general tests are on the same day. However, the speaking component is either a week before or a week after. Listening and Speaking tests are the same for both the IELTS academic and the IELTS general tests, but the topics of the Reading and Writing components are different depending on the version.
IELTS Test structure – Listening, 30 minutes
Candidates listen to four tracks of native English conversations or monologues and have to answer a series of questions about each recording.
Listening Track 1
Test takers listen to a dialogue set in an everyday social situation between two people.
Listening Track 2
You will hear a monologue such as a speech about local facilities.
Listening Track 3
Candidates have to listen to a conversation between up to four people. The dialogues are set in an educational situation, for example, a college lecturer and a student talking about a project.
Listening Track 4
This time the topic will be more academic, it will be a monologue, so, for example, you might hear part of a university lecture.
In all of the tasks, you will have to show your ability to understand the main ideas and to pick out details from the recordings. The people who mark your test will be checking to see that you can understand opinions and infer attitudes of the speakers. Furthermore, you must be able to to get the purpose of the spoken language and show you can follow the development of ideas.
IELTS Test structure – Speaking, 11-14 minutes
Candidates have 11- 14 minutes to prove their level of spoken English. IELTS record every test.
Speaking Part 1 – Four or five minutes
Candidates answer general questions about simple and familiar topics such as home and family life, work, studies and hobbies.
Speaking Part 2 – One minute for preparation, up to two minutes speaking
The examiner gives a card to the test-taker which ask the candidate to talk about a specific topic. You have time to prepare the topic and then must speak on your own.
Speaking Part 3 – Four or five minutes
Test-takers answer further questions about the same topic as in part 2. The questions should lead to discussion about more abstract ideas and issues.
IELTS Test structure – Reading, 60 minutes
The IELTS reading section has the same structure for both General and Academic tests. There are 40 questions which evaluate a variety of reading skills such as
- reading for gist,
- reading for detail,
- reading for main ideas,
- understanding logical argument
- recognising writers’ opinions, attitudes and purpose.
IELTS General Training reading test
The reading materials include extracts taken from books, magazines, newspapers, notices, advertisements, company handbooks and guidelines. Passages are always on topics you could easily come across on a daily basis in an English-speaking environment.
IELTS Academic reading test
There will be three long texts from books, journals, magazines and newspapers. The written style ranges from descriptive and factual passages to the discursive and analytical texts. The topics are not specialist subjects, but are of a general nature and are suitable for people who would like to access university courses or obtain professional registration.
IELTS Academic test structure –writing, 60 minutes
The test aims to cover topics which are suitable for people interested in accessing university studies or looking to obtain professional registration. There are two tasks:
Academic Writing Task 1
Candidates have to respond to a graph, table, chart or diagram. The task involves describing, summarising or explaining the information. Questions typically ask candidates to describe or explain. For example, explain data, describe the stages of a process, how something works or describe an object or event. Understandably, the writing style is formal.
Academic Writing Task 2
Next, the test taker must write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem. Again, the writing style is formal.
IELTS General training test structure –writing, 60 minutes
There are two tasks to this test, both of which cover topics of general interest
General training writing Task 1
Test takers have to write a letter in order to ask for information or explain a situation. The style will be neutral to formal.
General training writing Task 2
As in the Academic test, task two is an essay, although the style is more personal or informal. The essays are usually in response to a point of view, argument or problem.
How to prepare for the IELTS test
The best way to prepare for any test with a native English teacher. At break into English, we have a team of specialist teachers who have proven experience working to prepare candidates. If you would like to try a free class to see our unique method and how we can help you achieve your goals, do not hesitate to get in touch. Just click the picture to the right.