As well as getting enough practice, understanding IELTS test format is vital for getting high marks in the exam. This is why I put together a collection of online tests covering the details of the test format to help with the exam preparation. The tests can be used to quickly check if you understand the structure of the exam and detect the problem areas.
Use Contents below to quickly jump to what you are interested in.
- General Training and Academic Modules
- Computer-delivered IELTS
- The Exam Procedure
- The Parts of the Exam
- Appeal or Enquiry on Results
- IELTS-specific Terms and Phrases
General Training and Academic Modules
There are two versions of IELTS exam which are taken for different purposes.
- The Academic version is for those who want to enroll in universities and other institutions of higher education or for professionals such as medical doctors and nurses who want to register in an English-speaking country.
- The General Training version is for ones who want to work, train, study at a school or migrate to an English-speaking country.
Recently, some exam locations started to conduct a new version of the exam, where test takers input their answers in Listening, Reading and Writing parts using a computer. The computer-delivered version is similar to "classic", paper-based one with several minor differences which will be mentioned in relevant sections. Speaking part is the same for both versions. Computer-based test is usually available more often and the results come faster, in 5-7 days as opposed to the usual 13 days. As Writing is typed with keyboard in the IELTS version, ones who type faster then write by hand might consider it a better option. There is a number of pros and contras for taking the test in this format. Make sure to practice the Listening section here, as it differs the most. A decent unofficial analysis can be found here.
The Exam Procedure
To book a test, you will need to register for a specific date in a certified test center. It is usually done online, but "paper" registration option is still available. If you choose computer-based test, you might be able to book exact time when Speaking will take place. Upon completing the registration, the test center representative will give you instructions on what to do next. Please note that the address of the exam location might be different to the address where you registered for the test. On the exam date, you'll be required to check in and take a photo for the Test Report Form sometimes called IELTS Certificate. Depending on country, you might also be required to submit fingerprints. It is recommended to arrive early. Those who arrive late might not be allowed to participate. Bring the ID with photo that you used to register for the test.
After, you'll be asked to turn off your mobile and any other electronic devices. These will be kept outside of the test room along with other personal belongings.
You will be given a number. This is Candidate number which determines where you will sit during the test and which is used to retrieve your test results.
At some moment they will ask you to sit to a place with your Candidate number on it.
It's prohibited to bring food or drinks with you except water. Water must be in a transparent bottle without any stickers.
Only the following is allowed on the test taker's table:
- pen, pencil and eraser without labels;
- reading glasses (but not the case);
- passport / ID document;
- a transparent bottle with water.
If you don't have pen or pencil of your own, the test center will provide you with a pencil. Some test centers even prohibit using personal pens and pencils.
Following items are prohibited during the test:
- cell phones or other electronic devices;
- cologne, perfume or other scented products (because of possible allergic reactions);
- (at some test centers) all kinds of watches.
If you have special needs, the exam organizers will do their best to accommodate them, but you will need to inform the test center well in advance. Read more here.
After you sit on your place, you'll wait till the exam starts. Next, you'll do Listening, Reading and Writing parts in one sit without breaks. The parts will take roughly 2h 40m.
To go to toilet, you need to draw the invigilator's attention raising your hand. Please note that although you can do this during any part of the exam, extra time is not given for toilet breaks. As Listening is a non-stop activity, and Writing time and word limits are challenging, it's considered practical for most test takers, if at all, to only go to toilet during Reading.
If you cannot hear the recording clearly during the Listening part, raise you hand and inform the invigilator about this as soon as possible.
In the end of the test, stay seated until the invigilator signals that you can leave the test room. If there were factors that could impact your test results, tell the invigilator about them immediately.
If you have objections about the test procedure, you need to fill a special Complaint Form and handle it to the test center administrator or Test Day Supervisor (this is a special role) on the same day before you leave the test center. In any case, complaints related to the delivery of the test cannot be processed after the results are released.
Please be advised that breaking the exam rules might result in you being expelled or even banned from the exam.
The results are available after 13 days starting from the date of the three parts for "usual" paper-based exam and after 5-7 days for the computer-delivered version.
The Parts of the Exam
The exam consists of four parts.
Each of the parts is scored from 1 to 9. 0 is given in case of no-show; 1 corresponds to the language non-user, and 9 is an expert.
All parts require following specific rules and have strict time limits. There are formal assessment criteria for each part, describing how concrete marks are assigned.
The Listening part is common for Academic and General Training modules. Historically, its duration was 30 minutes + 10 minutes to transfer answers to answer sheet, 40 minutes total. Some of the 10 minutes "transfer time" could be used to check and correct your answers. Please be aware that computer-based test is different in that answers are typed during the recording playback, and you are only given 2 minutes to check the answers instead of the 10 minutes that were given in paper-based exam version for both answers transfer and correction.
During the 30 minutes as the recording is played, test takers need to complete 4 sections with 10 questions in each section.
The recording is played once only.
The recording is played once only.
Sections 1 and 2 are about everyday situations whereas Sections 3 and 4 are about educational and training situations.
- Section 1 has a conversation between two speakers. It usually involves spelling addresses, phone numbers, and prices.
- Section 2 is a monologue, for instance, an orientation about objects of interest nearby.
- Section 3 is a conversation between two main speakers, for example, a discussion between two university students, perhaps guided by a tutor.
- Section 4 has one person speaking about an academic subject and is usually a lecture.
Each section begins with a short introduction telling the test taker about the situation and the speakers. There are several breaks to read questions and familiarise yourself with what is coming. While bigger breaks always happen before each of the 4 sections, a few shorter ones are encountered inside the sections and come before groups of questions. Later sections have fewer breaks inside sections.
Even though different parts of recording might appear relevant for answering a given question, to avoid ambiguity, it is crucial to remember that the answers to questions always come in the order of questions on the exam paper. That is, the answer to the first question will be before the answer to the second question, and so on. The only exception from this rule would be question groups where you basically answer one more complex question split into multiple partial questions.
At the end of the test, students are given 10 minutes to transfer their answers to an answer sheet. Test takers will lose marks for incorrect spelling and grammar. It is permitted to write answers in ALL CAPS.