All you need to know about the IELTS
What is the IELTS?
The IELTS is an English test, it stands for International English Language Testing System. The IELTS test is an internationally recognised certificate of English proficiency. By getting a good score on the IELTS you are able to prove to another person, institution or company you are a good user of English.
The test is graded in different 'bands'. The bands you can get are between 1-9. To show you are a good user of English you should be looking to get band 6 and higher.
There are two different types, you can do the IELTS Academic or the IELTS General. The IELTS Academic is for studying abroad, and the General is used for emigration.
What is in the IELTS test?
The IELTS test is in 4 sections: Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing. You do one part at a time. Some tests are split into two different days. One day you do the speaking and the other day you do the listening, reading and writing. Some tests you do all 4 sections on the same day.
The Speaking Section
The speaking section is in three parts. You sit in a room with an examiner who asks you questions or gives you instructions on what to talk about.
Part 1: questions and answers 3-4 minutes
Part 2: only the candidate speaks, 2 minutes
Part 3: questions and answers 4-5 minutes
IELTS Speaking Part 1
In part 1 the candidate needs to answer the examiner’s questions. The questions are related to everyday life, for instance, about travel, work, hobbies, the environment, the weather, free time activities, etc. Part 1 lasts 3-4 minutes.
Example of IELTS Speaking Part 1
Do you work or study?
Can you describe how your first day at your job was?
What do you enjoy about your job?
What are some common leisure activities in your country?
What leisure activities do you do?
Why is free time important?
IELTS Speaking Part 2
In part 2 the candidate is given a piece of paper with prompts on what to talk about. These prompts are only a guide - the candidate can talk about things that are not on the prompt. The candidate should speak for about 2 minutes, the examiner won't ask any questions during this time. After the candidate finishes, the IELTS examiner will usually ask a follow-up question which relates to what the candidate talked about.
Example of IELTS Speaking Part 2
Talk about an event that you attended recently.
You should talk about:
Where the event was
Who was there
What you did there
Whether or not you enjoyed the event and why.
Were you the last to leave?
IELTS Speaking Part 3
In part 3 the candidate has to answer the examiner's questions. The conversation lasts about 4-5 minutes. In this part of the test the questions are more in-depth.
Example of IELTS speaking part 3
What festivals are celebrated in your country?
Do you think festivals are becoming more commercial? How do you feel about this?
How do you celebrate Christmas in your country?
Do you prefer to give or receive presents? Why?
Who do you think enjoys to receive presents more children or adults? Why?
Overall, the whole speaking section should last around 15 minutes.
IELTS Reading Section
The candidate has 1 hour to complete the reading section. There are 3 texts and a total of 40 questions. The texts become more and more difficult. This means text 3 will usually be harder than text 1 and 2. The texts are normally about something that will be unfamiliar to the candidate. The topics of the readings might be something scientific, for example, the behaviour of a certain animal or a text about space. They may also be to do with a specific custom or ritual of a different culture. In general, they could be about anything.
There are a range of different types of questions in the reading section. Here are some examples.
Are the following statements true, false or the text doesn't say.
Complete the sentences with one word.
Match the headings to the paragraphs.
Multiple choice questions
From my experience candidates usually have more trouble with the ‘match the headings to the paragraphs’ type of question, it is definitely something you should take time to practice.
IELTS Listening Section
You are able to read the questions before you listen to the IELTS listening audio.
Part 1 usually involves spelling someone's name correctly, writing an address, writing a phone number, and checking basic information like what the speaker wants to do.
Examples of IELTS Listening part 1
Listen to a phone call where someone makes inquiries about a gym membership.
Listen to a phone call between a customer and a car rental shop.
The listenings will also become harder and harder. So part 4 should be more difficult than part 1, 2 and 3.The listenings will either be a conversation between two people or a type of monologue where only one person talks, for example, a lecture or presentation.
There are a range of different questions. Here are some examples:
fill in the gaps with one or two words.
Fill in the gaps with a number.
Match the headings to the items.
Are the following statements True, False or the text Doesn't Say?
IELTS Writing Section
1 hour total
In the writing section the candidate has 1 hour to write 2 academic essays.
IELTS Writing Essay 1
150 words minimum
For essay 1 the candidate must highlight and compare information from a graph, table, map, diagram or flow chart. The essay must be a minimum of 150 words.
IELTS Writing Essay 2
250 words minimum
For essay 2 the candidate must develop a detailed answer to the essay question.
Common question types:
What are the advantages and disadvantages of...
To what extent do you agree with the statement.
What are the causes of the problem and what are some potential solutions
Discuss both opinions on this subject
Example of IELTS Writing Essay 2
Some people say that social networking sites are having more negative effects on individuals than positive ones.
To what extent do you agree? Give examples.
How long should I study before taking the IELTS?
If you want to get a band 6 or higher you should be at least an intermediate speaker of English before you decide to do your IELTS test.
If you are studying twice a week with a private teacher, I recommend studying solely on the IELTS for about 4-6 months.
If you are studying every day, I recommend 2-3 months.
If you are not an intermediate speaker, I recommend studying general English, which is not specifically related to the IELTS, until you are at an intermediate level. Especially if you want to get a band 6.5 or higher.
Remember everyone is different, so these recommendations are only rough estimations.
What do I need to study?
Unfortunately, a lot. The possibilities of questions and subjects that could be in your test are enormous.
This means you need to practice each section of the test individually, focusing on different question types and on different topics.
For example, in the reading section it's important to know the best way to do a "match the headings to the paragraphs" question.
But you also need to become familiar with speaking, listening, writing and reading about different subjects. Meaning you need to know vocabulary to do with the environment, business, describing a person, describing a place, sports, travel, architecture, cinema, healthy food and so on and so on.
The best way to do this is by doing practice tests with someone correcting you.
Where can I study for the IELTS?
The good news is there are many places you can study. I have a fantastic IELTS prep program where we practice each part of the test, I help you use more natural sounding words and we do intensive writing preparation because this is usually the section students struggle the most with. Just send me a message and we can schedule your classes today!
However, you can also read explanations online, watch YouTube videos, do mock tests online (simulados) or buy a book on how to do the IELTS as well as joining an English course and doing their IELTS prep classes.
Great places to do mock tests for free are
Great places for explanations and guides are
Do I need to take the IELTS?
Usually, you need to do the IELTS if you plan to study abroad. The IELTS is not the only internationally recognised certificate of English, another popular test is TOEFL. Normally, universities and institutions in the United States will ask for a TOEFL, while institutions in Europe will ask for the IELTS. However, most universities around the world will usually accept both, you must check what the university you are applying to requires.
Do I need to do the IELTS if I want to work abroad?
Usually, no. Normally, the company you want to work for will have a meeting with you in English to assess your English level. However, having a good score on the IELTS on your CV will always be seen as very positive.
To sum up, if you want to study abroad I’m sure you will need to do either the IELTS or the TOEFL. And if you want to work abroad, in most cases you don’t need it, but if you do have it, it won’t hurt your chances!