The International English Language Testing System is a British-based English proficiency exam, created and administered by British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge English Language Assessment. The test covers the four language skill areas (listening, reading, writing, and speaking) and analyzes scores to predict one’s competence with the language for use in academia, or for immigration purposes. The scores range from a 0 band to a 9 band and are valid for a period of two years. An overall 7.5 band will gain a student entry into most university graduate programs. A 6 will give a student access to some colleges.

The IELTS is roughly three hours long and is provided in two formats: the Academic and the General. The former is used by institutions of higher education as a tool to gauge a potential student’s ability to navigate in an academic territory, which is demanding even for native users of English. The General test is less formal and is used to gauge an immigration candidate’s ability to utilize the language sufficiently to thrive in an English-speaking environment.

Both formats follow a similar structure in terms of skills:


  • This section is the same for Academic and General tests
  • Approximately 40 minutes, four parts, forty questions
  • Different accents (UK, Australia/New Zealand, North America)
  • Part I: Dialogue, everyday situation (getting info, booking a hotel room, buying a car, etc.)
  • Part II: Monologue, everyday context (guided tour, radio program, voicemail message, etc.)
  • Part III: Conversation, academic discussion (project results, advice on research, etc.)
  • Part IV: Monologue, lecture on academic topic (science, history, geography, etc.)
  • Test takers must answer the questions as the recording progresses. There is no playback. Answers may be written in the exam booklet, but only those written on the official answer sheet will be scored. At the end of the listening section, test takers are given 10 minutes to transfer answers.
  • Spelling counts. Misspelled words are marked as incorrect. This includes missed capital letters, dashes, compound words, etc.
  • Illegible writing receives a score of zero.
  • Parts I, II & III are broken up into smaller parts. Part IV plays straight through.
  • Time is given before the recording begins to look ahead at the questions.
  • There is a variety of question types.
  • Some reading is required (especially for multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank question types).


  • This section has different versions for the Academic and General tests.
  • Three parts, 60 minutes to complete, 40 questions
  • Academic: three formal essays that increase in length and difficulty from section 1 to 3.
  • General: 2 everyday reading passages, one formal essay
  • There is a variety of question types.
  • Good range of vocabulary is crucial to success in this section.
  • Spelling counts, though answers are spelled in passages.
  • Requires strong skills in: skimming and scanning, time management, paraphrasing


  • Two tasks: task 1(20 minutes), task 2 (40 minutes)
  • Academic task 1: look at a visual presentation of data (graph, chart, diagram, etc.) and summarize the information in a structured report (3 paragraphs, 150+ words).
  • Academic task 2: respond to a prompt using a formal academic essay structure (4–5 paragraphs, 250+ words).
  • General task 1: write a letter based on information provided. Choose style and content accordingly (150+ words).
  • General task 2: respond to a question in a structured essay.


  • The speaking section follows the same format for both tests.
  • Those taking the Academic test are graded on a different scale.
  • Three parts, 12–14 minutes, conducted with a live interviewer.
  • Part 1: Question about the interviewee (hobbies, favourites, customs, etc.).
  • Part 2: Monologue: test taker given a card with a prompt. Must prepare answer (1 minute) then deliver the answer in 1–2 minutes.
  • Part 3: Interview questions based on the general topic provided in Part 2.
  • Interviewer will record the test on a portable recorder.
  • Speaking test follows the paper test. Wait time between the paper test and speaking test can be anywhere from 10 minutes to several hours or even the next day at some test centers. Wait time is based on a random computer selection of names.

For more information about the IELTS exam, visit the official site at Here you can find a testing center, test dates and times, fees, requirements, and all other relevant information. You can also find some practice material and other useful documents to help you prepare.

Follow these links for more detailed information about each section of the test, specifically strategies to employ in each as well as how to practice and prepare yourself for success:

General Strategies