IELTS stands for the International English Language Testing System. Find out what to expect from this popular English language test by reading our quick guide.
How does it look?
The IELTS test is done on paper and pencil, and it takes two hours and 45 minutes to finish. It is broken up into four parts:
Listening (30 minutes): You’ll hear recordings of native speakers reading four texts, monologues and conversations, on different topics and with different accents. As the test goes on, these recordings get tougher. Then you’ll have time to answer questions about the recordings to show how well you understand them.
Reading (60 minutes): You will be given three long texts, some of which are descriptive and factual and some of which are more analytical and discursive. The texts are real and come from books, journals, magazines, and newspapers. Then you will answer 40 questions about each passage to see how well you understood it.
Writing (60 minutes): There are two tasks in this section. First, you will be given information in the form of a chart, graph, diagram, or table. You will be asked to write a 150-word summary that shows you can understand the information and describe the main points. You may be asked to describe and explain data, to describe the steps of a process or how something works, or to describe an object or event. In the second part, you’ll respond to a statement or question with a short essay of about 250 words that shows you can make and explain a short argument. For both tasks, you must write in a formal way.
Speaking (11–14 minutes): You will have a face-to-face interview with an examiner, during which you will be judged on your ability to answer questions, interact with the examiner, and talk for a long time about familiar topics. In the first task, the examiner will ask you general questions about yourself, your home, your family, your work, your studies, and your interests. In the second task, you will be given a card that tells you what to talk about. You will have one minute to get ready to speak, and then you will have up to two minutes to talk. The part of the test is over when the examiner asks one or two questions about the same topic. In the last part, you will be asked more questions about the topic from Part 2, but this time they will be more general. Each part is four to five minutes long.
Your Speaking test could be after a break on the same day as your other three tests, or it could be up to seven days before or after. This depends on where you take your test.
Listening and speaking tests are the same for everyone, but the IELTS Academic and General Training versions have different reading and writing tests. You will need to take the IELTS Academic if you are taking the test as part of a college application. When you sign up to take the IELTS test, you should keep this in mind, and you should also tell the administrator before the test starts.
How do I register?
Get in touch with the test center closest to you to make a reservation for the next test date that works for you. Then, you can go to the official website and download an application form. This form will give you more information about fees and requirements. Through IELTS Worldwide Search, you can also find out when the test is, how long you have to sign up for it, and how much it costs in your own currency.
How do you score the test?
The IELTS test is graded on a sliding scale from one to nine, with each number corresponding to a classification category (from “non-user”  to “expert user” ). There is no clear grade for “pass” or “fail.” Each school that accepts the test sets its own minimum grade requirement.
Depending on what kind of degree you want to get, the grade you need may be different. Many universities want a grade between 6 (which means “competent user”) and 7 (which means “good user”), but this is just a rough guide. Contact the schools you want to apply to to find out what they need from you.
How do I get ready?
There are many things on the official website to help you study for the test. Start by getting the free “information for candidates” booklet from the government.
You might want to buy the IELTS Official Practise Materials, which come in two volumes with a CD and DVD and have samples of the Reading, Listening, Writing, and Speaking parts. If you live in Australia or the UK, you can order these online, or you can go to a test center near you. Some IELTS centers offer workshops to help you get ready for your test. Talk to the test center near you to find out more. On the IELTS website, you can also find free samples of questions.
What do I need to bring with me?
You’ll need pens, pencils, and erasers, and you’ll need to bring your passport or national identity card to prove who you are.