The IELTS Test Format


The IELTS test format is the same wherever you take your exam.

The exam is divided into four parts – Writing, Listening, Reading, and Speaking. This ensures that your skills in all four components of the English Language are tested.

There are two test formats – Academic and General Training – and you can choose which one to take. I outline the two formats below and have included more information to help you decide which version of the exam to take on the following page: Which IELTS? Academic or General.


How long does the IELTS exam take?

The total exam time is 2 hours and 45 minutes whichever IELTS test format you take:

Writing: 60 minutes – 2 tasks.

Listening: 30 minutes – 40 questions.

Reading:  60 minutes – 40 questions.

Speaking: 11 to14 minutes – three-part conversation with an examiner.

You will take the Writing, Listening and Reading components on the same day, one after the other with no break in between them.

Your Speaking test may take place on the same day after a break. Alternatively, it may take place either 7 days before or 7 days after your main exam date. This will depend on your test centre.

All candidates take the same Listening and Speaking tests but different Reading and Writing tests. The key difference in the IELTS test format between Academic and General Training is in the subject matter of the Reading and Writing sections.




IELTS Test Format - The Details


Writing

Timing – 60 minutes

IELTS Test Format – You can choose to take either the Academic or the General Training test. The only difference between the two is the material used in the test and the type of language you will use in your answers.

The IETLS test format for Writing has two parts – Task 1 and Task 2.

You must write a minimum of 150 words for Task 1 and a minimum of 250 words for Task 2.

 

Academic Writing

Task 1 – You will be presented with a graph, table, chart or diagram. You are required to describe, summarise or explain the information in your own words. For example, you may be asked to:

  • describe and explain data
  • describe the stages of a process
  • describe how something works
  • describe an object or event

Task 2 – You will be required to write an essay on a topic of general interest. Your essay will be a response to a specific point of view, problem or argument that will be stated in the question.

Your response to both tasks should be written in a formal style.

 

General Training Writing

Both writing tasks in the General Training test are based on topics of general interest.

Task 1 – You will be required to write a letter requesting information or explaining the situation in relation to a specific circumstance. The letter may be written in a personal or semi-formal style as appropriate to the situation.

Task 2 – You will be required to write an essay on a topic of general interest. Your essay will be a response to a specific point of view, problem or argument that will be stated in the question.

You may use a more personal style than would be required in the Academic Writing Task 2 essay.




Skills Assessed


The Writing test is designed to assess your ability in the following aspects:

  • content
  • organisation of ideas
  • accuracy and range of vocabulary and grammar

Below are the assessment criteria for each IELTS test format. The criteria for any specific essay will depend on the type of task you are asked to complete.

 

Academic Writing

Task 1 – Your essay will be assessed in relation to your ability to achieve one or more of the following:

  • organise, present and possibly compare data
  • describe the stages of a process or procedure
  • describe an object or event or sequence of events
  • explain how something works

Task 2 – Your essay will be assessed in relation to your ability to achieve one or more of the following:

  • present a solution to a problem
  • present and justify an opinion
  • compare and contrast evidence, opinions and implications
  • evaluate and challenge ideas, evidence or an argument


General Training Writing

Task 1 – Your letter will assess your ability to engage in personal correspondence and be assessed in relation to one or more of these skills:

  • elicit  and provide general factual information
  • express needs, wants, likes and dislikes
  • express opinions (e.g. views, complaints)

Task 2 – Your essay will be assessed in relation to one or more of the following:

  • outline a problem and present a solution
  • present and justify an opinion
  • evaluate and challenge ideas, evidence or an argument




Marking

The overall assessment criteria for IELTS Writing, stated on the official website, are:

  • Task Achievement (i.e. appropriate response to the task)
  • Coherence and Cohesion (i.e. ability to present a well-structured essay)
  • Lexical Resource (i.e. ability to use vocabulary correctly and to use a range of appropriate vocabulary)
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy (i.e. ability to use grammar correctly and to use a range of grammar forms)

Click these links for PDF downloads giving detailed descriptions of the criteria for each of the writing tasks.

Writing Task 1 – Assessment Criteria

Writing Task 2 – Assessment Criteria

* Note that Task 2, the longer of the two essays, carries twice as many points as Task 1.

Your marks for the two essays are converted to an overall Writing score on the IELTS Band Scale.




Listening


Timing – 30 minutes (plus 10 minutes to transfer the answers to your answer sheet)

IELTS Test Format – The IETLS test format for Listening is made up of four sections. In each section, you will listen to a recorded text and then answer a series of question on it.

The text will be played only once. Over the course of the test, you will hear a variety of voices and native-speaker accents.

There are 40 questions in the test. You will be asked a variety of different types of questions selected from this list:

  • Matching
  • Multiple choice
  • Note completion
  • Form completion
  • Table completion
  • Sentence completion
  • Summary completion
  • Flow-chart completion
  • Short-answer questions
  • Plan/map/diagram labelling



The 4 Sections

Section 1 – A conversation between two people set in an everyday social context (e.g. booking tickets to the theatre).

Section 2 – A monologue set in an everyday social context (e.g. a welcome talk for new college students).

Section 3 – A conversation between up to four people set in an educational or training context (e.g. a group of students discussing a university assignment).

Section 4 – A monologue on an academic subject (e.g. a lecture on wildlife).

You will have time to look at material relevant to the test before the recordings start and to read the questions that you will be asked.




Skills Assessed

The Listening test is designed to assess your ability to:

  • understand main ideas
  • understand detailed factual information
  • recognise the opinions and attitudes of speakers
  • recognise the purpose of the communication
  • follow the development of ideas or arguments




Marking

Each correct answer is awarded 1 mark. Your score out of 40 is converted to the corresponding IELTS band scale level.




Reading


Timing – 60 minutes

IELTS Test Format – There are two versions of the Reading test – Academic and General Training. The difference is in the length and type of the texts. The IELTS test format for both versions is made up of three parts. I’ll give you more details about each version in a  minute.

There are 40 questions in the test. You will be asked a variety of different types of questions in order to test a wide range of reading skills. The tasks will be selected from this list:

  • multiple choice
  • identifying information 
  • identifying a writer’s  views/claims 
  • matching information
  • matching headings
  • matching features
  • matching sentence endings
  • sentence completion
  • summary completion
  • note completion
  • table completion
  • flow-chart completion,
  • diagram label completion
  • short-answer questions


Academic Reading

The three sections each contain one long text taken from real books, newspapers, magazines or journals. The texts will be of general interest and may contain diagrams, illustrations or graphs. A glossary will be provided if the text contains technical terms.

 

General Training Reading

Section 1 – two or three short factual texts related to everyday life (e.g. hotel evacuation procedure, a series of related advertisements, a course outline).

Section 2 – two short factual texts related to work (e.g. job description, staff training, disciplinary procedures).

Section 3 – one longer text of greater complexity (e.g. general interest texts from books, newspapers, magazines, company brochures or handbooks).




Skills Assessed

The Reading test is designed to assess your ability to:

  • read for gist
  • read for main ideas
  • read for detail
  • understand inferences and implied meaning
  • recognise writer’s opinions, attitudes and purpose
  • follow the development of an argument




Marking

Each correct answer is awarded 1 mark. Your score out of 40 is converted to the corresponding IELTS band scale level.




Speaking


Timing – 11-14 minutes

IELTS Test Format – The IELT test format for Speaking is comprised of three parts.

Part 1 – Introduction and interview (4-5 minutes)

The examiner will ask you general questions about yourself and your life, e.g. your home, family, interests, work /studies.


Part 2 – Individual speaking (3-4 minutes)

The examiner will give you a card with a topic written on it. You will be asked to speak on this topic for 1-2 minutes. The examiner may ask you one or two questions about your topic.

You will be given 1 minute for preparation during which you are allowed to make notes.

It is impossible to predict the type of question you will be asked as the potential range of topics is vast. Here are a few real examples to illustrate this:

  1. Your dream job.
  2. Your favourite subject in school.
  3. An unusual meal you’ve had.
  4. A situation where you had to be polite.
  5. An event or celebration you attended.
  6. An occasion a visitor came to your house.
  7. Work you got positive feedback for.
  8. An activity for healthy living.
  9. An exciting book.
  10. Recent development in your town.
  11. A journey you took recently.
  12. A favourite childhood toy.


Part 3 – Two-way discussion (4-5 minutes)

The examiner will ask you more questions about your Part 2 topic leading to a two-way discussion on the subject. This will give you the opportunity to show a greater range of speaking skills.




Skills Assessed

The Speaking test is designed to assess your ability to:

  • communicate opinions and information on everyday topics and common experiences and situations
  • speak at length on a given topic using appropriate language and organising ideas coherently
  • express and justify opinions and to analyse, discuss and speculate about issues




Marking

The overall assessment criteria for IELTS Speaking, stated on the official website, are:

  • Fluency and Coherence
  • Lexical Resource
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy
  • Pronunciation

Click this links for a PDF download giving detailed descriptions of these criteria.

Speaking Task – Assessment Criteria

The examiner will assess your speaking skills and give you a score on the IELTS band scale. All tests are recorded.


Understanding the IELTS test format is an important part of preparing for your exam. Think about this information as you practice your English skills and plan for your test day.


Want to watch & listen to this information on the IELTS Test Format? Click on this video.


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More Pages About the IELTS Exam:


What is IELTS?

Which IELTS - Academic or General?

IELTS Band Scores

Your IELTS Score

IELTS Exam Dates

Other IELTS Information


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