IELTS Test Format & Question Types – Simplified Guide for Beginners

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IELTS Test Format - speaking, listening, reading & writing

The IELTS test is one measurement of a candidate’s level of the English language and its score is accepted by 10,000+ institutions in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and many others, including some in the United States as well. Apart from these, professional registration bodies, employers, and governments also accept the IELTS score for overseas jobs and immigration purposes.

There is a choice of two versions of the IELTS exam:

  • IELTS Academic exam
  • IELTS General Training exam.

IELTS Test Format for Academic & General Training

The IELTS test modules are divided into the below sections.

  • Listening: four sections with 40 questions. Time: 30 minutes.
  • Academic Reading: three passages with 40 questions. Time: one hour.
  • Academic Writing: two tasks. Time: one hour.
  • Speaking: three parts. Time: 11 to 14 minutes.
  • General Training Reading: three passages with 40 questions. Time: one hour.
  • General Training Writing: two tasks. Time: one hour.

Note: As can be seen above, the Reading and Writing Sections of the IELTS Academic test are different to the IELTS General Training test.

IELTS Listening Section (30 minutes, 40 questions)

In the IELTS Listening test, the candidates listen to four recordings, monologues and conversations by a range of native speakers, and write their answers to 40 questions of various types. These include questions which test the ability to understand main ideas in the recording, and detailed information, ability to understand the purpose of what is said, ability to understand the opinions and attitudes of speakers, and ability to follow the development of ideas. Recordings with different type of voices and native-speaker accents is used and candidates will get to hear each section only one time.

The IELTS Listening section test is divided in four parts:

  • IELTS Listening Part 1: This recording will be a conversation between two people set in an everyday social context, for e.g. a conversation in a placement agency.
  • IELTS Listening Part 2:This recording will be a monologue set in an everyday social context, e.g. a speech about local sanitation facilities.
  • IELTS Listening Part 3:This recording will be a conversation between up to four people set in an educational or training context, e.g. a university tutor and a student discussing a project.
  • IELTS Listening Part 4:This recording will be a monologue on an academic subject, e.g. a university lecture on some subject.

IELTS Reading Section (60 minutes, 40 questions)

The IELTS Reading section consists of 40 questions which have o be answered in one hour duration. Various type of questions are asked in this section to test a wide range of reading skills. These skills include understanding the main ideas in the passage, reading for detail, skimming, understanding logical argument, recognizing writers’ opinions, attitudes and purpose.

  • IELTS Reading – Academic Version: The Academic version of IELTS includes three long passages which range from the descriptive and factual to the discursive and analytical. The texts are authentic and are taken from books, journals, magazines and newspapers.
  • IELTS Reading – General Training Version: The reading passages in this version of the IELTS are likely encountered on a daily basis in an English-speaking environment. The General Training version of IELTS requires candidates to read extracts from books, magazines, newspapers, notices, advertisements, company handbooks and guidelines.

IELTS Writing Section (60 minutes, 2 tasks)

  • IELTS Writing – Academic Version: The IELTS Writing section of the Academic version includes two tasks:
    • IELTS Academic Writing Task 1: Candidates will be presented with a graph, table, chart or diagram and are asked to describe, summarize or explain the information in their own words.
    • IELTS Academic Writing Task 2: Candidates will be asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem. Responses to both tasks must be written in a formal style.

The topics are mostly of general academic interest and suitable for anyone entering undergraduate or postgraduate studies or seeking professional registration.

  • IELTS Writing – General Training Version: The IELTS Writing section of the General Training version includes two tasks:
    • IELTS General Training Writing Task 1: Candidates will be presented with a situation and asked to write a letter requesting information or explaining the situation. The letter may be personal, semi-formal or formal in style.
    • IELTS General Training Task 2: Candidates will be asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem. The essay can be slightly more personal in style than the Academic Writing Task 2 essay.

The topics in IELTS Writing General Training can be based on topics of general interest.

IELTS Speaking Section (11 to 14 minutes, 3 parts)

The IELTS Speaking section test seeks to assess the use of spoken English. Its duration ranges between 11 and 14 minutes. Every test is recorded and later examined by the examiner.

  • IELTS Speaking Part 1: Candidates will be asked to answer general questions about themselves, and a range of familiar topics, such as their home, family, work, school/college studies and interests. This part usually lasts between 4 – 5 minutes.
  • IELTS Speaking Part 2: One minute is given to the candidates to prepare their thoughts on an assigned topic. The candidate has to then speak for up to two minutes on this topic. The examiner will then ask a few (one or two) questions on the same topic to finish this part of the IELTS speaking test.
  • IELTS Speaking Part 3: Candidates will be asked further questions related to the topic in IELTS Speaking Part 2. These questions will provide an opportunity to discuss more abstract issues and ideas. This part usually lasts between four to five minutes.

The Speaking component is delivered in such a way that it does not allow the candidates to rehearse any set responses prior to their test.

The IELTS test is taken in the above order. Scoring is done as an overall score and is also scored by individual section.

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