IELTS is a test of all four language skills – Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. You will take the Listening, Reading and Writing tests all on the same day, one after the other, with no breaks in between. Depending on your test centre, your Speaking test may be on the same day as the other three tests, or up to seven days before or after that. The total test time is under three hours.
Why is the IELTS format fairer?
You deserve a fair chance to do your best. That’s why, unlike other tests, IELTS gives you a quiet room for the Speaking test with no distractions or interruptions. IELTS also recognises that candidates have different approaches to answering questions. For example, with IELTS you can answer questions in the order that suits you and you can make changes to your Reading answers and Writing responses at any time during the Reading and Writing sections.
What can you expect in each section of IELTS?
Both versions of IELTS (Academic and General Training) cover all four language skills: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. Each section of the test is outlined below.
For a full description please ensure you also read the Information for Candidates booklet.
Four test sections: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking
(Duration: 30 minutes)
You will listen to four recorded texts – monologues and conversations by a range of native speakers – and write the answers to a series of questions. These include questions that test your ability to understand main ideas and detailed factual information, ability to understand the opinions and attitudes of speakers, ability to understand the purpose of what is said and ability to follow the development of ideas. A variety of voices and native-speaker accents is used and you will hear each section only once.
Please note: The Listening component is the same for both Academic and General Training versions.
A conversation between two people set in an everyday social context, e.g. a conversation in an accommodation agency.
A monologue set in an everyday social context, e.g. a speech about local facilities.
A conversation between up to four people set in an educational or training context, e.g. a university tutor and a student discussing an assignment.
A monologue on an academic subject, e.g. a university lecture.
(Duration: 60 minutes)
The Reading component comprises 40 questions. A variety of question types is used in order to test a wide range of reading skills. These include reading for gist, reading for main ideas, reading for detail, skimming, understanding logical argument and recognising writers’ opinions, attitudes and purpose.
Reading - Academic version
The Academic version includes three long texts, 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. These have been selected for a non-specialist audience but are recognisably appropriate for anyone entering undergraduate or postgraduate courses or seeking professional registration.
Reading - General Training version
The General Training version requires you to read extracts from books, magazines, newspapers, notices, advertisements, company handbooks and guidelines. These are materials you are likely to encounter on a daily basis in an English-speaking environment.
( Duration: 60 minutes)
Writing - Academic version
The Writing component of the Academic version includes two tasks. Topics are of general interest to, and suitable for, anyone entering undergraduate or postgraduate studies or seeking professional registration.
You will be presented with a graph, table, chart or diagram and are asked to describe, summarise or explain the information in your own words. You may be asked to describe and explain data, describe the stages of a process, how something works or describe an object or event.
You 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.
Writing - General Training version
The Writing component of the General Training version includes two tasks, which are based on topics of general interest.
You 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.
You 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.
(Duration: 11 to 14 minutes)
The Speaking component assesses your use of spoken English and takes between 11 and 14 minutes to complete. Every test is recorded.
Please note: The Speaking component is the same for both Academic and General Training versions.
You will be asked to answer general questions about yourself and a range of familiar topics, such as your home, family, work, studies and interests. This part lasts between four and five minutes.
You will be given a card that asks you to talk about a particular topic. You will have one minute to prepare before speaking for up to two minutes. The examiner then asks you one or two questions on the same topic to finish this part of the test.
You will be asked further questions connected to the topic in Part 2. These questions give you an opportunity to discuss more abstract issues and ideas. This part lasts between four and five minutes.
The Speaking component is delivered in such a way that does not allow you to rehearse set responses beforehand.
Sample test questions
For sample test questions, download our free IELTS Essentials preparation pack.