IELTS Exam – eligibility, syllabus, pattern, formats, fees, dates, scoring

Table of Contents

What is IELTS?

IELTS is an international standardised test of English language proficiency for non-native speakers. Its full form is ‘International English Language Testing System.’ Cambridge English Language Assessment, the British Council and IDP Education Pvt Ltd manage the exam world-wide. In simple words, IELTS tests your ability to sustain in an English-speaking environment. So, it tests you four essential skills in the English language.

  1. Listening
  2. Speaking
  3. Reading
  4. Writing

IELTS Exam dates

IELTS exam dates are available throughout the year. In most of the countries, it is conducted at least once every month. You can check the available dates for IELTS in your respective countries on official websites of the British Council or IDP.

IELTS Fees

The current IELTS fees are INR 14,000 in India. You may find IELTS exam fee in your own country by either visiting the British Council or IDP Australia website.

Can I appear for IELTS? / Eligibility

There are two types of students who appear for IELTS.

  1. Many students apply to educational institutions in which language of instruction is English to pursue their bachelors or higher education. They must prove their capability to communicate in English. So, they appear for IELTS Academic module.
  2. Also, many working professionals who wish to settle in English speaking country appear for IELTS General Training module.

The details of each module are discussed later in the same article.

IELTS Format

Currently, both IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training are offered in two formats.

  1. IELTS computer-delivered
  2. IELTS paper-based

Similarities in IELTS computer-delivered and IELTS paper-based

Total time: 2 hours 45 minutes*

*In reality, this is the time only for Listening, Reading and Writing sections since the Speaking section is conducted separately. Speaking test is 11 to 14 minutes of the interview.

We will discuss the difference in IELTS computer-delivered and paper-based tests at appropriate places.

IELTS Syllabus

IELTS wishes to check your ability to use English in daily life. It tests how you communicate with others. In short, it tests your English language skills. So, in the traditional sense, IELTS does not have any fixed syllabus. There is no fixed list of topics or information that you need to study. It has a predictable pattern of testing.

IELTS Scoring

There is no cut-off score to pass the test. You receive scores on a scale of 0 to 9 bands. “Band 1” (“non-user”) to “Band 9” (“expert user”) “Band 0” score is allotted for those who did not attempt the test. In theory, native English speakers must score 9.0 bands.

IELTS Pattern | Section-wise details

Here we will discuss each IELTS section in detail one by one.

If you wish to know more about IELTS, check out our new video.

IELTS Listening section

The listening module comprises of 4 sections or parts in which you will hear four different recordings.

  1. In part 1 you will hear a conversation between two individuals set in an everyday social setting.
  2. In part 2, you will listen to a monologue set in a regular social context. It could be a speech about local facilities.
  3. Part 3 usually has a conversation between up to four individuals set in an educational environment, such as a university tutor and a student discussing an assignment.
  4. Lastly, Part 4 contains a monologue on an academic subject—for example, a university lecture.

Each part begins with a brief introduction about the situation and the speakers. Then students get some time to look through the questions.

Listening test paper

Number of questions = 40

On the IELTS Listening section, you will encounter the following types of questions.

  1. Multiple-choice questions
  2. Multiple response questions
  3. Matching features
  4. Label a plan or map or diagram
  5. Complete a form or note or table or flow-chart or summary
  6. Sentence completion

Timing for the Listening section

30 minutes are allotted to listen to audios and solve questions.

Computer-delivered tests: additional 2 minutes to check your answers

Paper-based tests: additional 10 minutes to transfer your answers to answer-sheets and check them

Scoring in the Listening section

Each correct answer earns 1 mark. The summation of all marks is your raw score on the IELTS Listening section. The following table elaborates how the number of correct answers corresponds to bands.

No. of correct answers

39-40

37-38

35-36

32-34

30-31

26-29

23-25

18-22

16-17

Bands

9

8.5

8

7.5

7

6.5

6

5.5

5

IELTS Listening Lessons

These lessons give insights into IELTS Listening section. Learn about the questions types and strategies to score 8+ bands.

IELTS Reading section

book_reading

The reading test comprises of 3 sections or parts overall. There are a few similarities and differences in the Reading section of academic and general training modules.

Similarities in the Reading section of IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training module

Reading test papers

Number of questions = 40

Types of questions asked on the IELTS Reading section are as follows:

  1. multiple-choice,
  2. True / False / Not given – identifying information
  3. Yes / No / Not given – identifying the writer’s views/claims,
  4. matching information,
  5. matching headings,
  6. matching features,
  7. matching sentence endings,
  8. sentence completion,
  9. summary completion,
  10. note completion,
  11. table completion,
  12. flow-chart completion,
  13. diagram label completion and
  14. short-answer questions

Timing for the Reading section

You are given 60 minutes to read the passages, find the answers to the questions asked and then transfer the answers to the answer sheet.

The difference in the Reading section of IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training module

Now let us discuss the difference between the two modules.

IELTS Reading Academic module

You will read one long passage in each part which is usually followed by 13 or 14 questions.

Topics covered in the IELTS Reading Academic module

Each topic is carefully chosen from academic subjects. The difficulty level of each passage is such that students who wish to pursue bachelors and masters can understand and analyse the content. Since IELTS is a skill-based exam, knowing any topic in advance does not offer any advantage.

Scoring in IELTS Reading Academic module

Each correct answer earns 1 mark. The summation of all marks is your raw score on the IELTS Reading section in IELTS Academic module. The following table elaborates how the number of correct answers corresponds to bands.

No. of correct answers

40-39

38-37

36-35

34-33

32-30

29-27

26-23

22-19

18-15

Bands

9

8.5

8

7.5

7

6.5

6

5.5

5

IELTS Reading General Training module

You will read two short passages in the first two sections/parts and 1 long passage in the third section/parts.

Topics covered in the IELTS Reading Academic module

Part 1: Social Survival

The first part or section contains texts related to basic language survival in English. It has tasks mainly about finding and providing general factual information from general sources such as notices, advertisements and timetables. So, Cambridge names it ‘Social survival’.

Part 2: Workplace survival

The second part or section focuses on workplace situations, for example, job descriptions, contracts and staff development and training materials. Hence, this is called‘ Workplace survival.’

Part 3: General Reading

The third part or section involves extended text with a more complex structure. Here, you will read descriptive and informative texts. These passages will be relevant to the sources you are involved in, such as newspapers, magazines and fictional and non-fictional book extracts.

Scoring in IELTS Reading General Training module

Each correct answer earns 1 mark. The summation of all marks is your raw score on the IELTS Reading section in IELTS General Training module. The following table elaborates how the number of correct answers corresponds to bands.

No. of correct answers

40

39

37-38

36

34-35

32-33

30-31

27-29

23-26

Bands

9

8.5

8

7.5

7

6.5

6

5.5

5

IELTS Reading Lessons

These lessons will take you through the question types and strategies to solve them.

IELTS Writing section

studying

On IELTS Writing section, you will face two writing tasks.

Similarities in the Writing section of IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training module

Writing test papers

Types of tasks asked on IELTS Reading section are as follows:

  1. IELTS Writing task 1 (This task is different for the Academic and General Training modules and will be discussed later.)
  2. IELTS Writing Task 2

IELTS Writing Task 2 or Essay writing

In Writing Task 2 or essay writing, you are given a topic to author an essay. Your answers should consider relevant aspects of the issue in detail. For example, if the topic is a particular characteristic of people’s health such as junk food then, you should focus on that aspect only. You should not merely write about people’s health in general.

You are asked to write at least 250 words. You will be penalised if their answer is too short but not for writing more than 250 words, it is not a great idea to write a very long essay as you may not have time for checking and correcting at the end.

You must write their answers on the answer booklet.

Timing for the Writing section

You are given 60 minutes to write both the tasks on IELTS Writing. However, IELTS advises that you spend about 20 minutes on Writing Task1 and 40 minutes on Writing Task 2.

Scoring IELTS Writing section

IELTS Writing examiners evaluate your writing based on 4 criteria.

Task Achievement (TA) in the case of Writing Task 1 / Task response (TR) in the case of Writing Task 2

The examiner wishes to know your position the topic offered to discuss. Your ideas should be supported by evidence and examples. Your response must be at least 150 words in length in case of writing task 1, whereas it should not exceed 250 words in length in case of writing task 2.

Coherence and cohesion (CC)

Coherence refers to the linking of ideas through logical sequencing. Cohesion refers to the varied and appropriate use of cohesive devices (for example, logical connectors, pronouns and conjunctions). Cohesion assists in making the conceptual and referential relationships between and within sentences clear. It assesses the overall clarity and fluency of the essay: how the response organises and links information, ideas and language.

Lexical resource (LR)

This criterion refers to the range of vocabulary used and its accuracy and appropriacy in terms of the specific task.

Grammatical range and accuracy (GRA)

This assesses the range and proper use of grammar, as manifested in their test takers’ writing at the sentence level.

In case you don’t write anything, or your text is completely irrelevant, your piece of writing will be allotted a score of 0 bands. On the other hand, if your response in writing section satisfies all the above criteria, your essay will be assigned nine-band.

Now when calculating the final score on writing section, the individual scores on Writing Task 1 and Task 2 are not averaged. Instead, two-third weightage is given to writing task 2 or essay writing. And, so it is a particularly important task on IELTS.

IELTS Essay Writing Lessons

Read the basic lessons to score 7 bands on IELTS essays.

Differences in the Writing section of IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training module

Now let us discuss the difference between the two modules. As already discussed, Writing Task 2 in both modules is the same, whereas Writing Task 1 is different.

Writing Task 1 on Academic module is Report writing, whereas that on General Training module is Letter writing.

IELTS Writing task 1 on Academic module / Report Writing

In Writing Task 1 on Academic module, you are asked to describe facts or figures presented in one or more graphs, charts or tables on a related topic. You may also be given a diagram of a machine, a device or a process and asked to explain how it works. They should include the most important and the most relevant points in the diagram. You must spend about 20 minutes on this task.

IELTS WT1 Academic lessons

Learn how to write reports on IELTS Academic and score 7 bands.

IELTS Writing Task 1 on General Training module / Letter Writing

In Writing Task 1 on General Training, you are presented with a situation from everyday life. You must write a personal response in the form of an informal, semi-formal or formal letter of at least 150 words in the answer booklet provided. You are provided with what kind of information you must include in your letter. On this task as well, you must spend about 20 minutes.

IELTS WT 1 General Training

Learn how to write IELTS Letters to score more than 7 bands on actual IELTS.

Here is our recent live session on IELTS Writing Task 2

IELTS Speaking section

interview

In general, for the paper-based test, when you book a test date for IELTS, keep in mind, on that day, only three skills or sections are tested namely, Listening, Reading and Writing. So, the question is “when is exactly speaking section is conducted?” Speaking test is conducted on a day within a week prior or later of the main appointment but never on the same day.

For the computer-delivered test, the speaking may be conducted on the same day as well. Also, recently it is announced that on some select centres in the world, IELTS Speaking section is offered through a video call.

Speaking Test format

Speaking test has a total of three parts.

Speaking Part 1

The first part of the speaking test aims to make the candidate comfortable with the environment. Hence, most of the questions in this part would be concerned with the student.

If you look at this part of the speaking test, you will find that it is divided into two subparts. The first sub-part is a personal interview, in the sense that the interviewer will ask you questions based on your life and past experiences. Second sub-part can be considered as an extension of the previous one as it will consist of questions about your surroundings, your preferences and your pastimes. In general, both sub-parts have about four questions and hence part one of the speaking tests, usually, will have about eight questions.

Speaking Part 2

The second part is called as “cue card”. You will be given a card printed with a situation along with related 4 questions. These four questions assist you in elaborating on the situation well and hence acting as a cue or a clue. You will be given 1 minute to think on the cue card, and in this 1 minute, you may make notes on the blank sheet if you wish. For writing, you will be provided with a sheet of paper and pencil in advance. Since you won’t be carrying any wristwatch or mobile phone the examiner will let you know once a minute is over. After 1 minute of preparation, you must speak on the given topic for about 1 to 2 minutes using the four questions.

Speaking Part 3

And part three is remarkably similar to Part one in structure but quite different in terms of the topics discussed. Like Part one, there are two subparts: First sub-part is called follow-up and the second is known as a general opinion. Subpart one or follow-up has about three questions which are strictly related to the topic of discussion in Part two. While in subpart two, the examiner asks your opinion about topics remotely related to cue card. In total, you should expect about six questions in part 3.

I hope you have grasped the structure of the IELTS speaking test. In the next lecture, you will see a sample conversation. We will use this conversation to understand the format of the IELTS speaking section better.

Time for Speaking section

The Speaking section is conducted in the form of an interview of 11 to 14 minutes.

Scoring in Speaking section

The IELTS interviewer is going to examine your performance on four essential criteria.

Fluency and coherence

This simply refers to converting your ideas into sentences comfortable and in such a way that the listener understands your message. The essential features of this criterion are logical sequencing of sentences, an apparent change of topic in a discussion, description or argument, and the use of cohesive devices within and between sentences.

Lexical resource

This criterion refers to the range of words used and precision in their usage. You should be able to use features of which are used by native speakers such as typical phrases and idioms.

Grammatical range and accuracy

The essential features of the grammatical range are the length and intricacy of the spoken sentences, the appropriate use of subordinate clauses, and the range of sentence constructions. At the same time, you should be able to use grammatically correct sentences without compromising the intended meaning.

Pronunciation

This norm refers to the ability to produce an understandable speech to satisfy the Speaking test requirements. The essential thing to remember in pronunciation is that your speech should not be tiring to the native speaker.

IELTS Speaking Lessons

These IELTS Speaking lessons would help you to generate precise ideas on the Speaking interview.

Watch here a sample Speaking interview

Summary of IELTS exam

All our discussion can be summed up in the following table as well.

Section

Content

Questions

Duration

Listening

4 conversations or lectures

40 Questions

30 minutes*

Reading

Academic: 3 passages

General: 5 passages

40 Questions

60 minutes

Writing

General: Task 1 – Letter Writing

Academic: Task 1 – Report Writing 

Both: Essay Writing

2 tasks

60 minutes

Speaking

3 Parts

16 to 18 Questions

11 – 14 minutes’ interview

We hope this information was helpful to you. If you face any issues further, you can always contact us.

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