Format of the IELTS

Overview of IELTS Tests, Sections, and Purposes

The IELTS has been a widely accepted test since it was first offered in 1980, and the annual number of test-takers now exceeds 2.4 million. Over half of these people take the IELTS to begin university study in an English-speaking country, but the exam is also used to qualify for immigration visas (primarily in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). The IELTS has a four-section structure that assesses reading, listening, writing, and speaking skills. University applicants take the IELTS academic module, while the general training module is typically taken for other purposes. The listening and speaking sections are the same for both modules, but there are distinct reading and writing sections for each version of the test.

IELTS Listening

The IELTS listening assessment consists of four different types of exercises. The first is a two-person conversation on a general topic, the purpose of which is to convey information. The second exercise is a monologue, also on a general topic. The third and fourth exercises are conversations and monologues respectively, but in academic contexts. Test-takers must answer 10 questions for each exercise, and question types include fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, and completion of charts. The exercises are delivered via audio-recording, and each recording will be played only once. Students are, however, told the context of each exercise beforehand. The timing for IELTS listening is 30 minutes, plus an additional 10 minutes for transferral of responses to an answer sheet. All listening questions are weighted equally in the section score.

IELTS Speaking

The IELTS speaking assessment is an in-person interview with an examiner. There are three exercises on this portion of the IELTS. On the first, the test-taker answers a series of examiner questions on a familiar topic, such as hobbies or preferences. The latter two exercises are based on a booklet that includes a general topic. Students must discuss the topic, and then answer detailed questions. Total section timing is 11-14 minutes, with separate timing for each exercise (4-5 minutes for part 1, 3-4 minutes for part 2, and 4-5 minutes for part 3).

IELTS Reading (Academic Test)

On the IELTS academic reading assessment, students must complete a variety of exercises based on three reading passages of varying difficulty. The reading passages can be either descriptive or argumentative, and the topics are academic but intended for non-specialists. Test-takers must answer a total of 40 questions, and each passage will include between 12 and 14 questions. There are 11 question types on the reading section: multiple choice, identifying information, identifying writer claims, matching information, matching headings, matching features, matching sentence endings, sentence completion, chart completion, labelling diagrams, and short-answer. Students are given one hour to complete the IELTS academic reading section. Answers must be transferred to an answer sheet, but no additional time is allotted for this purpose. All questions contribute equally to the section score.

IELTS Writing (Academic Test)

The IELTS academic writing assessment includes two separately timed writing tasks. On task 1, students are expected to complete a 150-word essay that describes a chart, graph, diagram, or some other visual representation of information, for which they are given 20 minutes. Writing task 2 involves composing a 250-word essay that may propose a solution to an indicated problem, compare and contrast given ideas, or challenge views raised by the essay prompt. The timing for task 2 is 40 minutes. The section score is weighted toward the second essay, which counts for twice as much as the first.

IELTS Reading (General Training Test)

The reading section on the IELTS general training examination differs from the academic test primarily in the subject matter of the reading passages, which on the former are more about work-related topics or issues of general interest. Section timing (one hour), the total number of questions (40), and the weighting of questions (equal) are the same for both tests, but the general test has a 12th question type (multiple matching). The general training reading section has an assigned rather than variable number of questions for each reading passage (14 questions for the first passage and 13 questions each for passages 2 and 3).

IELTS Writing (General Training Test)

The IELTS writing assessment on the general test has the same structure and timing as the academic test (two separately timed essays of 20 minutes and 40 minutes). The first writing task on the general training test is a letter written in response to a given situation. The second task is a "discursive essay" of the same type discussed in connection with IELTS academic writing, and this second essay is worth twice as much as the first.

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