Comparison of the IELTS Academic and General Training Tests

The IELTS Academic and General Training Tests: Similarities

The IELTS academic and general training tests have far more similarities than they have differences. The timing and structure for both tests are the same (four sections that evaluate speaking, reading, writing, and listening over a total of two hours and 45 minutes). In both cases, students must take the IELTS writing, reading, and listening assessments on the same day, while the speaking paper may be taken up to seven days before or afterwards. The registration procedure (online or submission of forms in hard copy) is identical for the academic and general training tests, and most test centers will offer either version.

The IELTS Academic and General Training Tests: Differences

There are two main differences between the IELTS academic and general training tests: the content of some sections and the purposes for which the exam is used. The IELTS academic reading and writing papers are designed for those pursuing postsecondary degrees, while general training reading and writing feature content more appropriate for the workplace. Undergraduate or graduate university applicants take the academic test, while the general training test is most often used for the assessment of skilled workers. Academic institutions will generally accept the academic test only, and the general training test is often required by immigration agencies for certain types of applicants. However, it should not be assumed that the general training test is always taken for all non-academic purposes. Some private companies that use the IELTS to evaluate their job applicants, for example, prefer the academic test over the general training test. The IELTS website includes a database of the test versions and test scores expected by a large number of academic and non-academic organizations.

IELTS Scoring Data for the Academic and General Training Tests

According to IELTS, the academic test is chosen by approximately 80% of test-takers, with the remaining 20% opting for the general training test. The average total band score for all test-takers is about 5.9 for the academic assessment and 6.2 for the general training exam. Based on overall test-taker performance, it seems that the writing paper is the academic test's most difficult section, with an average band score of 5.5. With an average score slightly above 6.0, the reading paper appears to be the easiest academic test section. On the general training test, the lowest and highest average paper scores are also writing and reading (about 5.95 and 6.35 respectively). In terms of the geographic distribution of average scores, academic test-takers from Germany (mean total score of 7.3) and Greece (6.9) were the highest, while the lowest average academic test scores were received by students from Oman and Qatar (both 5.2).

Raw Score and Band Score Comparisons for the Reading Paper on the IELTS Academic and General Training Tests

IELTS scoring concordance tables show that general training test-takers must answer a larger number of reading paper questions correctly to receive the same band score as an academic test-taker. This is because the reading passages on the academic test are more complex in terms of vocabulary and style. On the academic test, band scores of 5, 6, 7, and 8 are associated with respective correct reading paper answers of 15, 23, 30, and 35 (out of 40 total questions). The same number of correct answers on the general training test's reading paper would mostly result in a band score that is one full point lower, as follows: 15 correct answers = a band score of 4, 23 = 5, 30 = 6, and 34 = 7. The academic and general training tests use the same raw score table for the listening section (band scores of 5, 6, 7, and 8 equal raw scores of 16, 23, 30, and 35, respectively). These types of raw scores are not relevant to the assessment of the IELTS speaking and writing papers, which are graded by IELTS examiners according to abstract criteria. The conversions indicated above are only averages, and an individual test-taker's score may be adjusted slightly upward or downward based on test difficulty.

The IELTS and the Common European Framework

IELTS has established rough equivalencies between test scores and the Council of Europe's Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). The CEFR has six categories of language ability: C1 and C2 (proficient users), B1 and B2 (independent users), and A1 and A2 (basic users). Test-takers with IELTS total band scores of 8.5 or higher are classified as C2, while the C1 range is approximately 6.5 to 8.0. Students with IELTS scores between 5.5 and 6.5 are likely to be classified as B2, and the B1 level is about 4.0 to 5.5. IELTS scores below 4.0 are classified at the A level, but IELTS does not distinguish between A1 and A2. These approximate alignments, which result from more than 20 years of research, apply to both the IELTS academic test and the general training test.

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