The basics
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International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

Read our guide to the IELTS test for international students including fees, how to prepare, the exam structure and everything candidates need to know.

Listening test IELTS

When you apply to study abroad for a programme taught in English, you may need to complete a language proficiency test to prove your English is of an acceptable standard. Whilst different universities may require you to meet specific entrance requirements, your International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test score will be commonly accepted at institutions in the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Ireland.


Read our overview of IELTS for everything you need to know about the exam including fees, test structure and study tips to best help you prepare.



What is IELTS?

The IELTS test is used to measure your English language proficiency for educational, immigration and professional purposes. The exam is recognized by over 9,000 organizations worldwide, and can be taken within over 900 test centres across 130 countries.  If English is not your native language, you will most likely need to submit your IELTS exam score as part of your application to study an English-taught study programme abroad.  IELTS will test the standard of your English across all four language skill areas: listening, reading, speaking and writing.


Click here to check if your institution accepts IELTS





How do I register for IELTS?

You will need to register for the IELTS exam and fill in an application form before you can sit it.


You’ll need to first check available exam dates with your nearest IELTS centre, and take note of any registration deadlines. Once you’ve found a date that works for you, you’ll need to check with your institution which type of IELTS test you’ll need to take: an Academic or General Training test.


You’ll then need to print out the IELTS application form, fill it out and take it into your nearest IELTS centre along with the exam fee. You can download the application form from the IELTS website, or ask your nearest centre to send one to you in the mail.  Some centres will accept applications and fees sent by mail. Once you’ve lodged your application, the centre will let you know you’ve been registered, and confirm the exam date, time and venue with you. 



What type of IELTS test do I need to take?

There are two types of IELTS tests: Academic or General Training. Which test you need to take depends on the type of organization you’re applying to, or which country you’re applying for a programme in. Your host institution will be clear about which test you’ll need to take. Both tests have the same listening and speaking components.  



Most international students will be required to take the Academic IELTS test. This test is required of those applying for a study or training programme at an English-speaking university or higher education institute. Admission into programmes at both undergraduate and postgraduate level will depend on the results of this test. Some professional institutions may also require you to sit this exam.


General Training

In cases where international students are applying for work experience and selected training programmes, they may need to sit the General Training IELTS test. Any student applying to study abroad in Australia, Canada and New Zealand must also sit the General Training exam.



On the exam day...

On the day of your exam, you will need to bring in the same passport and/or national identity card whose details you entered on the IELTS application form. The IELTS exam takes 2 hours and 40 minutes in total with no breaks, so make sure you have something to eat and drink beforehand. You’ll only be allowed to take a transparent water bottle into the exam room with you. Some locations will also require that a photo be taken of you on the test day that will appear on your results form.


The test will be in four sections: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking.



Exam Structure


The first component of the exam is 30 minutes long, within which you’ll listen to four recorded texts, monologues and conversations by native English speakers. Speakers will have a range of English-speaking accents such as British, North American and Australian. You will need to write down answers to questions that test how well you’ve understood the main ideas expressed in the recordings, as well as identify specific facts mentioned, tone and opinions of the speakers. You will only hear each section once.


Section one will be an excerpt from an everyday conversation between two people, section two a monologue set in an everyday social context and section three a conversation between up to four people in an educational or training context, i.e. between a professor and students. Section four will be a monologue about an academic subject, i.e. an excerpt from a university lecture.




The reading IELTS component is 60 minutes long and is comprised of 40 questions. These questions will test how well you’re able to understand the ideas, progression, specific language and register of a written text. The Academic reading test is made up of three long texts that may vary from descriptive to analytical in style, and have been lifted from books, journals, magazines and newspapers. The General Training test is also made up of authentic texts from books, magazines, newspapers, notices, advertisements, company handbooks and guidelines, but contains more general content you’ll be more likely to encounter on a day-to-day basis.




The writing test is made up of two sections, and is 60 minutes long in total. The Academic version requires candidates to first summarize or explain information presented in a graph, table, chart or diagram. You might need to explain the data presented, offer a short analysis of it or describe the processes outlined. You’ll then need to write a short essay in response to a prompt offering a point of view, argument or language style.


Students taking the General Training test will first be presented with a situation and asked to write a letter either explaining it or requesting information about it. The tone and required style of the letter may range from personal to formal. Then, as with the Academic version of the test, you’ll need to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem, but it may be more informal.




This component of the test can be up to a week before the test date, or a week after. It may also be after a break on the same day as the other three components, depending on your test centre. This will be confirmed once you’ve successfully registered for the exam.


The speaking test is in three parts and is approximately 11-14 minutes long in total. All speaking tests are recorded. In part one, students will need to answer general questions about themselves and partake in general conversation about work, studies, interests, family, home etc. This part is about four-five minutes long. Next, you’ll be given a card that will give you a more specific topic you’ll need to speak about for up to two minutes. After you get the card, you’ll have one minute to prepare, and will need to answer a few questions on the same topic after you’ve finished speaking. In part three, you will be asked more questions about the topic covered in part two, but your examiner will focus on generating discussion and prompting you to contribute your own ideas and commentary. This final component takes about four-five minutes.





How much is the IELTS test?

Each exam fee is set by its IELTS exam centre.


Click here to check you IELTS exam fee in your local currency



How is an IELTS test scored?

Your IELTS exam will be graded using a Band Scale that will place your overall score within a band ranked from 1-9, with 1 being the lowest and 9 the highest. Your overall score will be an average of your results from all four of the exam’s separate components, and is rounded to the nearest half-band. Each component of the exam is equally weighted.


When you get your results, you will receive both your overall test score and your scores for each component.  Test score requirements may differ across institutions but most will typically require you to score at least 6 overall.


Your results will be sent to you in the mail 13 days after you sit the exam. You can also arrange for your IELTS centre to automatically send your results to up for five institutions, free of charge. Your results will be valid for a period of two years.


Learn more about band levels



IELTS tips

The IELTS exam is designed to test your language proficiency, and so the best way to study is by exposing yourself to as many native English-speaking resources as possible. Watch English speaking movies and television, read newspapers, books, websites and magazines. The exam will test how well you’re able to engage with English across different registers and situations, as so the wider your berth of understanding of English used in different contexts, the better. Try to practice speaking as much as possible: even if it’s in front of the mirror by yourself.


If you’re sitting the Academic version of the IELTS test then try to see if you can download some public lectures that are academic in content. Many universities, such as the University of California, Berkeley have downloadable podcasts and lectures that are free of charge. Even if the topic is a little out of your depth, try to familiarise yourself with the tone and conventions of academic language use: you’ll be surprised just how quickly you’ll pick it up.


You can also download a number of practice exams from IELTS study aid and information websites, or read our study guides to help prepare you for each separate test component:

Top tips for the IELTS writing exam

Get ready for the IELTS listening test

Prepare for the IELTS speaking test

Top tips for the IELTS reading test






Not sure about IELTS? Have you considered TOEFL? Read our guide comparing the two tests.



Now that you know what the IELTS test is all about, why not start browsing undergraduate, postgraduate, vocational or doctorate courses abroad? 



Read more:

Application checklist: Essential documents

Spotlight: IELTS language test

Official IELTS website

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About Author

Listening test IELTS

Monica Karpinski received her BA (Media and Communications) and Diploma in Modern Languages (French) from the University of Melbourne, Australia. An art and culture aficionado, in her spare time Monica enjoys film, reading and writing about art.

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