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IELTS Academic vs General Training: What’s the Difference?

There are many things I suggest that test-takers do before taking the IELTS exam, including doing research on the format and content of the exam, talking to others who have taken the exam, taking an online or face-to-face prep course, and more. Another thing to consider is which version of the exam you’ll take – the IELTS Academic or the General Training exam.

As a test-taker, you have the option of choosing either one depending on your personal, educational and professional goals and needs. Another consideration may be the visa requirements for some English-speaking countries.

Below is some information on how to determine which exam to take, and an outline of the similarities and differences between the two.

Which exam to take?

There are several things to consider when determining whether to take the IELTS Academic or General Training exam.

IELTS Academic – This exam is for those planning to study for a higher education (university, college, etc.) or for those who wish to pursue work or training in a professional field such as medicine or engineering. As the name implies, this version assesses a candidate’s readiness for academic studying or training in English.

IELTS General Training – You should consider the General Training exam if you are going to study, work or train in an English-speaking country, or if you are migrating to an English-speaking country, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the UK.  Candidates taking the IELTS General Training exam are tested on everyday use of the language, with content and questions focused on workplace and social situations.  

How are the exams the same/different?

Both the Academic and General Training exam have four parts – listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Listening

  • The total time for the Listening module is 30 minutes for both the IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training exams.
  • There are four recorded listening excerpts on both exams.

Speaking

  • For both exams, there is a face-to-face interview with a certified IELTS Speaking Examiner.
  • The Speaking module is 11-14 minutes for both the IELTS Academic and General Training exam.
  • The Speaking module includes short questions and longer questions where the candidate speaks about a familiar topic. There is also a structured discussion.

Reading

  • The Reading portion is 60 minutes long for both the IELTS Academic and General Training exams.
  • For both exams, there are three readings with questions about each reading.
  • For the IELTS Academic exam, there are a variety of texts to read, such as descriptive, factual, and analytical. The reading module also includes diagrams, graphs or illustrations.
  • There are three sections on reading part of the General Training exam. In the first section, there are two or three short texts. In the second section, there are two short, work-related texts. In the final section, there is one long text about a general interest topic.
  • For both the Academic and General Training exam, the texts are authentic; texts come from books, newspapers, journals, etc. (for the Academic exam), and books, newspapers, company handbooks, etc. (for the General Training exam).

Writing

  • The Writing section is 60 minutes for both the IELTS Academic and General Training exams.
  • Each includes two tasks: Task 1 is a minimum 150 words and Task 2 is a minimum 250 words.
  • For the IELTS Academic exam, Task 1 is writing about a table, graph, chart or diagram. Task 2 is an essay.
  • For the General Training exam, Task 1 is writing a letter, and Task 2 is an essay.


Before you consider your options for which IELTS exam to take, I would suggest you spend some time researching and understanding what you need to help you meet your personal, professional and educational goals. By knowing the requirements for education, training, work, and/or migration, and having a clear plan, you can take the necessary steps towards reaching your goals.

I wish you lots of luck and success!

By Lyla Hage

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