All About IELTS

The decision about whether or not to take the IELTS exam can be a daunting one. This article aims to clear any confusion regarding the IELTS exam and help you make informed decisions regarding your enrollment and preparation. It's basically an All in One Guide to IELTS.

In this article you you learn about: 

  • What is IELTS?
  • Who should take the test?
  • How the test is scored?
  • How to book a test
  • The four test components
  • Methods of preparation for the exam 

Here's a detailed look at what this article contains:

Table of Contents

1. What is IELTS?

IELTS is the International English Language Testing System.  It is the world’s most popular English language proficiency test for higher education and global migration purposes.

It is a standardized English language test designed for foreign speakers, who wish to study, work and live in an English-speaking environment. IELTS is designed to assess the language ability of candidates who need to study or work where English is used as the language of communication. It is required for entry to university in the UK and other English speaking countries like Canada, the USA and New Zealand.

Who Manages the IELTS Exam?

IELTS is jointly owned and managed by the British Council, University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations (Cambridge ESOL) and IDP Education Australia. 

IELTS testing materials are written by international teams of writers from different English-speaking countries, so that the content reflects real-life situations.

Where can IELTS Take You?

It is by far the most widely accepted and trusted English language test. IELTS is accepted by more than 10.000 organizations worldwide in over 140 countries. These include universities, schools, immigration authorities, government agencies, professional bodies and multinational companies.

It is accepted by the key immigration authorities in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK for migration purposes and visa applications In short, IELTS can help you move around the world, get the job you've always wanted or just demonstrate that you have improved your English.

Why is the IELTS Exam so Popular?

  • Fairness: IELTS test content is developed by an international team of experts and undergoes extensive research to ensure the test remains fair and unbiased for any candidate regardless of nationality, background, gender, lifestyle or location.
  • It's Accurate: The IELTS test assesses candidates on listening, speaking, reading and writing and due to the test’s strict nature, you can be assured that your results are a true reflection of your English language abilities.
  •  It uses Both American and British English: The IELTS test covers both American and British English. So no matter what environment you use your English in, the English you learn for your IELTS test will be relevant.

IELTS Test Format

The IELTS test consists of four sections in the following order:

  • Listening 
  • Reading
  • Writing 
  • Speaking

The listening, reading and writing parts of the test occur first and on the same day, with no breaks in between. The speaking test is usually taken in the afternoon of the test day.

Here is a short summary of the IELTS Exam Format:

2. Who Should Take the Test

To take the IELTS Exam, your minimum age should be at least 16 years and you must have a valid passport.

You will be eligible to take the exam if you fall into one of these categories:

  • Planning to study in UK/Australia/Canada/New Zealand/USA.
  • Being a medical professional, planning to work or study further in UK/Australia/USA.
  • Planning to emigrate to Canada/Australia/New Zealand.

The Different Types of IELTS Tests

There are different types of IELTS tests you can take. The test you should choose depends on what you want to do. Its important to have a clear idea about which test you need to take before booking your test.

Here are some of the common forms of the IELTS test:

'IELTS for UKVI' is a UK government approved Secure English Language Test (SELT). This means that IELTS can be used to prove your English language abilities in support of a UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) application.

If you are not an EU citizen or EFTA citizen (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein), and you are applying for a visa to move to or remain in the UK, then you should apply for the UKVI IELTS Test
Academic Module
The IELTS Academic test is for people applying for higher education or professional registration in an English - speaking environment.

It reflects some of the features of academic language and assesses whether you are ready to begin studying or training.

General Training Module
The IELTS General Training test is for those who are going to English speaking countries for secondary education, work experience or training programs.

The test focuses on basic survival skills in broad social and workplace contexts.

Key Differences between the Academic and General Training Modules

The IELTS Writing and Reading tests are different in the Academic and General Training tests.

  • The General Training reading tests contain 3 sections with up to 2 texts, while the academic test has 1   reading passage per section
  • The General Training Reading passages are usually much easier than the Academic passages
  • The first Writing Task for the Academic Module is a Formal Report
  • The first Writing Task for the General Training Module is a letter, which can be formal, semi-formal or informal

The Difference between the Paper Based and Computer Based IELTS Test

In addition to the above mentioned tests, there is one further important distinction within the IELTS Exam and that is the Paper Based IELTS exam and the Computer Delivered IELTS Exam. There isn’t much difference between the two tests. To put it simply, during the Computer Delivered test the candidate uses a keyboard, while in the Paper Based Test test takers write their answers in either pen or HB-pencils. 

Both tests have the same level of difficulty, question types, and marking criteria

Key Differences between the Paper Based and Computer Delivered Test

Computer Delivered Listening Test:

  • You will hear the audio via headphones instead of a speaker which reduces the issue of clarity.
  • You must be able to type as you listen.
  • You will only be given a few minutes  to recheck your work as opposed to the ten minutes that paper based test takers are given to  transfer answers.

Computer Delivered Writing Test

  • A manual word count is not needed
  • Its easier to restructure and edit your work

Overall Differences:

  • The computer Delivered tests results are available after 4 to 5 days, while the Paper Based Test results arrive after 2 weeks

3. How is the IELTS Test Scored?

So now that you know which test to take, you need to understand what score you need to get. This can vary depending on the reasons for which you are taking the IELTS Exam as well as some other factors. 

The band score you need will depend on:

  • The requirements of the institution where you plan to study
  • The organization you want to work for
  • The visa requirements of the country you want to work, study or live in

What are the Band Scores?

The IELTS exam results are graded from 1 - 9,  with 1 being the lowest score you can get and 9 the highest. Each component of the test – Writing, Speaking, Reading and Listening – is given an individual score, so your overall exam result will be made up of a score for each component and an overall band score. The overall band score is the average of the four individual scores.

In cases where the test takers average of the four individual scores ends in 0.25 Or 0.75 then the overall IELTS score will be rounded off to the nearest half band.

For Example:

What do the Band Scores mean?

The IELTS results are designed to be easily understandable and fairly simple. Each band score corresponds to a particular level of English proficiency

Which Band Score do you need?

The band score you need depends greatly on the reason for which you are taking the exam.  In some cases both the individual scores and the overall band score are important.

Universities generally require a score of 6 or 7. Please note that they may also require a minimum score for each section. For example, a university might require an overall IELTS band score of 6.5 with no component less than 5.5.

If you are taking IELTS for a university application, be aware that requirements differ between universities and even between different courses at the same university. Always check what score is required.

3. How do I Book a Test?

You can either book your test online or visit an IELTS official center in your country.

Online Booking

If you are booking your test online you will need to pick you country, location, a test date and a time slot and you will have to fill in your personal information. Make sure you also provide a scanned copy of your passport and national ID along with your personal details.

Who Should you book with?

The test is the same and irrelevant of whether you book with IDP or the British Council as the level of test difficulty and marking methods  are the identical. The examiners from both of these organizations are trained in exactly the same way.

Singapore IELTS Test Dates

In Singapore the IELTS Paper Based tests are offered  up to four times a month. The General Training test occurs about 24 times a year while the Academic test occurs on  48 pre-determined dates. These are usually on a Saturday or a Thursday. Saturday test dates are more frequent than Thursday ones, but any given month will have at least one Thursday IELTS date. The Computer Based tests are available 3 times a day for the entire year, except public holidays. Places are available on a first-come first-served basis.

The speaking test can be booked on the same afternoon or within a 7 day window. The decision on whether to take the speaking test on the same day as the other 3 components depends on your circumstances and preferences. Some students travel great distances to get to a test center, so its not vey practical to schedule the speaking test on another day. However, if this is not the case, then I would strongly advise taking the speaking test on a separate day. This is because during the IELTS Exam you will be under pressure for around 2 hours and 40 minutes, and this can be exhausting. It would be better to get some rest and then take your speaking test interview on a day when you are more composed and better prepared.

When is the Best Time to Book Your Test?

There are many factors to consider when booking your test

Firstly, it's important to take into consideration your application dates and deadlines. keep in mind that it takes up to two weeks to receive your results, but it can also take up to two weeks for universities and other organizations to actually receive those results.

One needs to plan for the worst case scenario. If you do not obtain the required band scores on your first attempt of the IELTS Test, then you would need sufficient time to prepare and take a second test.  Obviously this depends heavily on your individual circumstances and levels but in my opinion an extra month would suffice.

You should also take into account your personal schedule. Whether you are a student or a working professional, we all have certain times of the year that are more busy than others. 

Another common mistake that test takers make is booking the exam before they have started preparation. They book tests under false assumptions about the test's difficulty and their actual levels of English Language proficiency and realize, all too late, that they have made a great error in judgement about the time they need to prepare. It's much better to prepare first and then book your test. Use the time between your preparation and booked test date to continually improve your skills through practice with official IELTS Tests. 

How Much does the IELTS exam cost?

There is not that much variation between IELTS Exam costs between centers. However, prices vary depending on the type of IELTS exam you wish to take. You can pay online using a debit or credit card or in person at an Official IELTS Test center.

Once you have booked your exam you will receive an email confirmation and information about your test location and timings.

4. The Four Components of the IELTS Exam

a. Listening

The Listening Component of the exam tests your listening comprehension skills. You will have to answer different types of questions based on four different recordings. The recordings include a variety of Native English accents as well a different types of situations.

This is mainly because the Listening Test is designed to the reflect real world listening situations that you might encounter when studying in or moving to an English-speaking country. It also checks your understanding of English as spoken with different accents (American, British, Australian).
The Listening test Format:
  • It lasts for 30 to 40 minutes.
  • It consists of 40 questions, each worth one mark each.
  • There are 4 parts, having 10 questions each.
  • Part 1: A conversation between two speakers in social or semi-official context.

    Part 2: A talk by a single speaker in a non-academic situation.

    Part 3: A conversation with up to 4 speakers based on academic topics or course related situations.

    Part 4: A university style lecture or talk.

Listening Question Types:
  • Multiple choice
  • Matching questions
  • Summary, Note, Form, Flowchart completion
  • Map/Plan/Diagram labelling
  • Sentence Completion
  • Short Answer 
Important Things to Note About the Listening Test
  • You only hear the recordings once.
  • It’s important to stay focused on listening out for the correct answers.
  • There are pauses between recordings.
  • Use this time wisely to understand the next set of questions.
  • The difficulty of questions increase progressively.

b. Reading 

The Reading Component of the exam tests your reading comprehension skills. You will have to answer different types of questions based on different reading texts / passages. The texts are all authentic and taken from trustworthy sources.

The texts encountered in the IELTS exams are chosen to reflect the type of content you might naturally come across as a student or resident of an English speaking country
The Reading Test Format
  • The reading task is one hour long.
  • It has three parts for both the Academic and the General Training modules.
  • It follows the listening task.
  • There are a total of 40 questions.
  • You will have 20 min to answer each task with no extra time for transferring answers
The Difference between Academic Reading and General Training Reading Tests

The Academic module contains three reading passages.

  • Most of the texts are related to academics.
  • Sourced from books, textbooks and journals, etc.

The General Training module contains three sections.

  • Each section might have one or two passages.
  • The passages in the first usually relate to everyday English life situations
  • The passages from the first part are usually sourced from magazines, flyers and advertisements
  • The second section relates to work issues.
  • These texts are sourced from actual company handbooks or policies
  • The third section is about general interest issues.
Reading Question Types
  • Multiple choice questions
  • Matching Headings
  • Matching Features
  • Matching Information
  • Matching Sentence Endings
  • True/False/Not Given questions and Yes/No/Not Given questions
  • Summary, Table, Note, Flowchart Completion
  • Diagram Labelling
Important Things to Note About the Reading Test
  • It's really a vocabulary test , which depends on your understanding of words and phrases
  • Different questions require different types of answers, so make sure you read the instructions carefully
  • For example some questions require answers in the form of words while others require letters
  • Incorrect spelling can reduce your score
  • Not all questions follow the order of the passage
  • There is no extra time at the end of the test to transfer your answer, so time management is crucial

c. Writing

The IELTS writing test is usually considered the most difficult part of the IELTS Exam. It consists of two tasks. Students have one hour to write an essay and a graph (Academic module) or a letter (General Training module).

IELTS Writing Task 1 Academic

In this task you will be given  some graphic or pictorial information. This could be in the form of a graph, a chart, a table or a map. You will have to write a descriptive formal report of at least 150 words based on the information provided.

IELTS Writing Task 1 General Training

In this task you will  have to write a letter of at least 150 words based on information provided. The letter could be a formal, semi-formal or formal letter.

IELTS Writing Task 2

The second task is more demanding. You are expected to produce a written essay on a given topic. You will have to write at least 250 words

Important Things to Note About the Writing Test

In each case it's important to organize your answer clearly, and support and justify your points with proper some examples and explanations. Also since Task 2 is longer than Task 1, it is advised to spend approximately 40 minutes on this task and 20 minutes on the first task.

You will have to write continually for up to an hour and, if you’re not used to writing for this amount of time, it can cause a strain to your hand that will distract you from demonstrating your best English. Make sure you practice under exam conditions at length before you actually take the test.

d. Speaking

The IELTS Speaking test  consists of three parts. and lasts for about 11 – 13 minutes. Just the candidate and the examiner are present during the interview. It's important to note that there are no separate marks for each part and you will be graded as a whole based on your performance for the entire test. The speaking test is the same for both the Academic module and the General Training module. There is also no difference between the paper based and the computer-based tests.

Speaking Score Criteria
There are four criteria on which your Speaking scores are calculated:
  • Fluency (25 %)
  • Vocabulary (25%)
  • Grammar (25%)
  • Pronunciation (25 %)
The Speaking Test Format

Part 1

  • This part of the test lasts for about 4 – 5 minutes.
  • The examiner will ask questions based on personal information and everyday topics.
  •  For example: your hometown, the area you live in, travelling

Part 2

  • You will be given a task card, with a topic and questions related to the topic.
  • You will have one minute to think about the topic.
  • You are required to talk continuously for about 2 minutes on the topic mentioned in the cue card.

Part 3

  • The examiner will take into account the topic in the previous Part 2.
  • You will be asked to answer questions related to that topic but on a broader aspect.
  • They will be more abstract or general questions.

Important things to note about the Speaking Test

You will be tested on whether you can:

  • Communicate opinions and information on everyday topics and common experiences.
  • Speak at length on a given topic using appropriate language.
  • Organize your ideas coherently.
  • Express and justify your opinions.
  • Analyse, discuss and speculate about issues.

You will not be tested on:

  • The content of what you say.
  • Your knowledge or intelligence.

In short, you will be tested purely on your English language proficiency and you are not expected to be an expert on the subjects that you are asked about.

5. Preparing for the IELTS Exam

Unfortunately there are plenty of would-be test takers who underestimate the difficulty and effort in involved in successfully taking the IELTS Exam. Luckily, you've already started on your  IELTS Preparation journey just by reading this article and getting a better understanding of the exam.  As you might have guessed the first step is always know what to expect.

Actual Level vs Perceived Level 

Another misconception often made by students is that they are unaware of their actual level of English proficiency. They misguidedly assume that the IELTS test is not that difficult and fail to note the finer details and skills that are needed to pass. This is often a costly mistake!

What you know about IELTS and what you think you need to know is usually JUST THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG!

One of best ways to overcome this initial hurdle is by practicing using only official IELTS Practice tests, from trusted sources, to gauge your current level. Using practice tests from reliable sources like the Cambridge Practice Tests or the IDP and British Council Websites, is important because there far too many fake tests and practice materials which can give an incorrect impression of your actual level of preparedness for the  IELTS test. Try taking a test under exam conditions or better yet, get feedback from an IELTS tutor or lecturer. However, it's important to note that simply taking practice tests will not help you improve in any way. This is merely the first step determining the correct direction to move forward in regarding your IELTS preparation.

Why Memorization never works

The IELTS Exam is a skills based exam and not a knowledge based one. Remember that the examiners are assessing your ability to communicate in English in a natural manner. Your scores are based on your ability to provide sufficient evidence that you do have the required English Language skills. This means that any form of rote learning or memorization will not really help you get the band score that you want. It's all about appearing as natural as possible in all four components.

Does Practice really Make Perfect?

A common thing which I hear students say is I’ve been practicing for ---- months. I’ve been going over past papers, but I’m still stuck at this band score!' If you don’t know what skills you need to master and haven’t actually mastered those skills, practice will never help you improve! This is why you need guidance about how to move forward with your preparation.

Why it's Important to Consider Enrolling in a Course

If you find your English Language skills lacking in any particular area, then it would be best to consider enrolling in a course. This is because having an experienced teacher will significantly impact the time it takes for you to prepare. It’s the fastest way to identify the areas of your English language skills that are holding you back from the result you need. It's also crucial to gain access to good and authentic IELTS Resources and I don’t just mean practice tests. It's necessary to use good well-formulated material to help you master each skill before you even begin practicing.

6. Tips for the Exam Day

Unfortunately, even the most talented test takers can get a score lower than expected due being unaware of certain valuable test day information

Here are some useful test day tips that might come in handy:

  1. 1
    Make sure to double check your test location and get there early. Latecomers will not be allowed to take the test.
  2. 2
    You need to bring your ID / identification document or a passport if you are a foreign national, a pencil and a pen (a pencil will be needed for Listening and Reading), an eraser and a transparent bottle of water. These are the only items that are allowed into the test room. 
  3. 3
    Wrist watches are also not allowed, but there are wall clocks placed inside every test room. Electronic devices must also be left outside the test room along with all other personal belongings.
  4. 4
    Remember to read the instructions carefully, and do not rush into answering. This might sound like common sense, but there are far too many students who have lost valuable marks for simply not understanding what what required of them in certain questions.
  5. 5
    You won’t perform to the best of your abilities if you are stressed and tired, so you must eat and sleep well before your test. Remember the initial test lasts for 2 hours and 40 minutes and you need to be mentally prepared to sit for that amount of time. 
  6. 6
    Above all, it's important to stay calm and collected. Go into the exam with a good attitude and be confident in your aims and techniques for the exam.


a. How long are my test results valid for?

IELTS Test scores are valid for two years only. The reason for this is that English proficiency tends to diminish with time if not practiced and maintained for long periods of time.

b. How many times can I take an IELTS test for?

You are allowed to take the test as many times as you want to. For example if you are not happy with your score you can book another test to improve your score. Remember that you will have to pay for each test separately and it can get quite costly! So, its much easier to avoid the risk by preparing well the first time.

c.  When will IELTS Test results be available?

For paper based tests, results are available online only after 13 days and a paper copy of the results will be mailed to you after 13 days. Computer delivered test results are viewable online after 3 to 5 days from the test date and a paper copy of the results will also be mailed to you after 3 to 5 days.