The IELTS exam can be important for anyone looking to work, study or move to an English-speaking country. Due to being so important, it’s important that we learn more about this qualification and what it is. One of the most important questions that you might have to do with the IELTS exam is what is actually involved in it, which is exactly what we’ll be looking at in this article.
In short, the IELTS exam consists of 3 main types of exams: the IELTS General Training exam, the IELTS Academic exam and the IELTS Life Skills exam. As well as the IELTS for UKVI exam which is for the specific purpose of getting a visa in the UK. Generally, these exam types all have 4 papers to test English language proficiency: listening, speaking, reading and writing.
Continue reading for more information about what’s involved in the different types of IELTS exam. This article will dive into greater detail about how the format of the different types of IELTS exam compare to each other and what is involved in each paper.
Table of Contents
What is the IELTS exam?
In order to be able to understand what the IELTS exam consists of, it’s important that you properly understand what it is. Look below for a brief introduction to the IELTS exam.
IELTS is an organisation, with the acronym standing for International English Language Testing System. This organisation is run by the British Council, Cambridge Assessment English and IDP Education.
The IELTS exam itself is an English language proficiency test, meaning that it measures a candidate’s ability in using the English language. This exam is internationally recognised and used for a range of different purposes. These include for getting a visa, for work and for studying.
If you want a more in-depth explanation about what the IELTS exam is, check out this Think Student article.
What are the types of IELTS exam?
While the IELTS exam may sound like a single exam, it is actually a range of different ones. The IELTS exams that you can take are as follows.
- IELTS General Training
- IELTS Academic
- IELTS Life Skills
- IELTS for UKVI
For more information about these, check out this page on the British Council website. To get more detailed information about each of these, look at their respective sections below.
What is the IELTS General Training exam?
Out of the 4 different types of IELTS exam, it could be argued that the IELTS General Training exam is the main one. This is particularly as it has the broadest usage, making it pretty much the “standard”.
The IELTS General Training exam is the IELTS exam that particularly tests the candidate’s ability to use English in an everyday, context. This means that with the IELTS General Training exam, candidates are tested for their ability to use the English language in a much more practical way.
This type of IELTS exam was designed to test the candidates’ English proficiency in both work and social situations. Due to this, it is best suited for candidates who are looking to move to or work in an English-speaking country. It can also be for students, if the course they want to do is below degree level.
For more information about this, check out this page on the British Council website.
What is the IELTS Academic exam?
Other than the IELTS General Training exam type, the other main type of IELTS exam is the IELTS Academic exam. Unlike the IELTS General Training exam, its use is much more specified.
The IELTS Academic exam is as the name suggests, it is the test that measures the ability of a candidate to use the English language in an academic environment. This test particularly examines a candidate on their ability to use specific academic language. It also measures if they are ready to begin studying or training in the English language.
Due to this, the primary use of the IELTS Academic exam is for students, who wish to study in an English-speaking country. However, this is only the case for students, who are looking to study at degree level.
Other than students, this exam type can be good for people looking to work in a professional organisation in an English-speaking country. This may be for people, who wish to work as a doctor or a nurse.
For more information about this, check out this page on the Cambridge English website.
What is the IELTS Life Skills exam?
While the IELTS General Training and the IELTS Academic exams are the main types of IELTS exam, there is also the IELTS Life Skills exam. This type of IELTS exam is slightly different to the others, particularly in how it is set up.
The IELTS Life Skills exam is where only the main communication skills are tested. By this, I mean that candidates are only tested on their speaking and listening skills, rather than other aspects as well.
Another thing that makes it different to the other types of IELTS exam is that in the IELTS Life Skills exam, students will need to do the exam at a specific level, rather than being tested generally for their level.
Candidates for the IELTS Life Skills exam will be able to choose between levels A1 and B1 to test their English speaking and listening skills at. Also, candidates in the UK are able to take the exam at A2 level as well.
To learn more about the IELTS Life Skills exam, check out this page on the IELTS website.
What is the IELTS for UKVI exam?
The IELTS for UKVI exam is once again slightly different from the other types of IELTS exam. This is because it’s not entirely a type of IELTS exam on its own, but rather it has much more specific purpose.
The IELTS for UKVI exam is the type of IELTS exam that a candidate will take specifically for the purpose of getting a visa in the UK. However, the actual exam that the candidate takes will be another type of IELTS exam, typically either the IELTS General Training or the IELTS Academic exam. For more information about these, check out this article by the British Council.
What does the IELTS exam consist of?
Having fully established what the IELTS exam is and what the different types are, we can now look at what is actually included in the exam. In this, there are some components that are true for all IELTS exams and some that are specific to one of the types, which you’ll be able to find in the following sections.
All IELTS exams are English language proficiency exams, meaning that they aim to test a candidate’s ability to use the English language. For the most part, these exams will test the 4 main language skills: listening, reading, writing and speaking. However, this might not always be the case.
These 4 skills that are being tested come in the form of 4 separate papers that candidates need to take. While the reading and writing papers are different, the speaking and listening papers will typically be the same among the different types.
Look at the following sections to see more detail about what the different sections and types of the IELTS exam consist of. The following information is sourced from this page by Cambridge English.
What does the IELTS listening paper consist of?
As previously mentioned, the listening paper is one of the components of the IELTS exam that is typically the same. Due to this, it’s an important part of the exam that tells us what a part of each one consists of.
The listening paper will typically be in the form of candidates having to answer questions based off a recording. In this recording, candidates will hear a range of different accents, including British, North American and Australian accents. In this exam, the recording will only be played once.
The listening paper is made up of 4 parts, each one of these parts will be made up of 10 questions. The first 2 parts are focused on every day, social situations and so the recordings will be on features of everyday life. For the first part, there will be 2 speakers but in the second, there will only be 1.
The next two parts are focused on educational and training situations. In the same way as for the first 2 parts, there will be 2 speakers for the third part but only 1 speaker for the fourth part.
What does the IELTS speaking paper consist of?
The other component of the IELTS exam that is typically the same across the different types is the speaking paper.
Unlike the listening paper, the speaking paper is not written. Instead, the candidate will have to go through an interview-style examine with the examiner. This exam will be recorded, and candidates will have to be face-to-face to their examiner.
The speaking paper is also made up of several parts. However, this is only 3 parts, rather than 4 like the listening paper.
Each of these parts will require certain tasks, that will allow for your speaking abilities to be tested in different ways. The first part is where the introduction and interview-style part of the paper is done.
The second part of the paper is where candidates are given a task card and are told to talk about the specific topic on it. Finally, the fire part of the speaking paper is where the candidate and their examiner will have a discussion about the topic spoken about in part 2.
In this paper, candidates are tested on 4 main elements of their speaking. These are their pronunciation, their fluency and coherency, their vocabulary and their grammatical skills.
What does the IELTS General Training exam consist of?
The IELTS General Training exam follows the standard format of the IELTS exam in that it is made up of 4 papers, testing the listening, speaking, reading and writing skills of candidates. The IELTS General Training exam also adheres to the typical listening and speaking papers being the same. Due to this, in this section, we’ll only look at the IELTS General Training exam’s reading and writing specific papers.
The reading paper has 3 sections, that go up in terms of difficulty. The first section will either have 2- 3 short texts or several texts that are shorter than this. These texts will be focused on everyday topics, that candidates would need for everyday life.
The second section will have 2 texts, that will focus on work topics, such as job descriptions and training materials. The third section contains 1 long text, that will typically be very detailed and instructive. These texts will typically be taken from newspapers, magazines and other mediums.
The writing paper for the IELTS General Training exam is made up of 2 tasks that students need to complete. The first task will be writing a letter in a specific context with a minimum of 150 words. The second task will be a viewpoint, an argument or a problem that the candidate needs to write about with a minimum of 250 words.
What does the IELTS Academic exam consist of?
Once again for the reading paper, the IELTS Academic exam has 3 sections. The main difference between the IELTS Academic exam and the IELTS General Training exam for their reading papers is the texts provided.
For the IELTS Academic exam, these will all be of interest to undergraduate and postgraduate students, although these texts will also be made for a non-specialist audience.
Once again, the format of the writing paper for the IELTS Academic exam is very similar to that of the IELTS General Training exam. Candidates will have to complete 2 writing tasks for this paper with one being at least 150 words and the other at least 250 words.
However, instead of a letter for the first section, you’ll need to describe some visual information in your own words, this might be a chart, a diagram or even a graph. Also, unlike for the IELTS General Training writing paper, you’ll always need to be using an academic writing style, rather than it varying based on the scenario they give you.
What does the IELTS Life Skills exam consist of?
As previously mentioned, the IELTS Life Skills exam is unlike the other test types as it only looks at the speaking and listening skills of the candidate rather than all 4 of the main language skills. Due to this, it also has a pretty different set up to the typical IELTS exam.
For the IELTS Life Skills exam, the speaking and listening components are done together, rather than being split up into separate papers, like with the other exam types. This is done in an interview-style with you, one other candidate and the examiner for the exam.
The test itself is done through several short discussion based on everyday topics, including work, health, weather, education/ training and personal experiences. For more information about this, check out this guide by IELTS.
What does the IELTS for UKVI exam consist of?
The IELTS for UKVI exam has the same format as whatever actual type of IELTS exam the candidate is doing for UKVI purposes. For example, if one candidate was doing the IELTS Academic for UKVI, they would still have 4 papers, with both the reading and writing papers having a specific focus on academics.
The only actual different between the typical IELTS exams and the IELTS for UKVI exams is that the Test Report Form that contains your results will be slightly different. This is to show that you have taken your IELTS exam at an approved test centre. For more information about this, check out this guide by the British Council.