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IELTS Exam Pattern

How to prepare for the IELTS test

IELTS measures your reading, writing, listening and speaking skills, and assesses your ability to communicate for work, study or life in an English-speaking country.

The first step is to make sure you understand the IELTS test format. You need to know what will be expected of you on test day.

Understand the IELTS test format

  • Study the test format to make sure that you know what to expect.
  • Look carefully at the content of each part of the IELTS test: listening, reading, writing and speaking.
  • Get to know the different types of questions that you may be asked in each part.
    Once you are familiar with the IELTS test format, you will need to undertake a number of focused preparation activities.

Recommended preparation activities

  • Examine our IELTS practice test papers and answers.
  • Take practice tests under timed conditions.
  • Practise with the British Council's IELTS online preparation resources, available free when you book your test with the British Council.
  • Buy IELTS self-study books and materials.
  • Consider taking an IELTS preparation course with the British Council.
  • Review our IELTS test day advice.


Some native English speakers are surprised to find that they score lower grades than non-native English speakers who have only been studying English for a few years. This can happen if you take IELTS unprepared.

If you are a native English speaker and need to take IELTS to emigrate, make sure you prepare for the test!

There are two formats of the test – Academic and General training.

Academic Training – for higher education

The Academic format is meant for those who want to study or train in an English-speaking university or Institutions of Higher and Further Education. Admission to undergraduate and postgraduate courses is based on the results of the Academic test.

General Training – for school, work or migration

The General Training format focuses on basic survival skills in broad social and workplace contexts. It is designed for those who are going to English speaking countries to secondary education, work experience or training programs.

IELTS Test comprise of four modules:

  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking

All the candidates are supposed to take the same Listening and Speaking modules. There is however a choice between Academic and General Training in the Reading and Writing modules.

  • Academic Training – For candidates taking the test for entry to post-graduate studies for professional reasons.
  • General Training – For candidates taking entry to vocational or training programs not at degree level, for admission to secondary schools and for immigration purposes.

The format of the test is as under:

  • Total Test Duration of IELTS Exam is 2hour 45minutes.
  • The first three modules – Listening, Reading and Writing must be completed in one day.
  • The Speaking modules may be taken, at the discretion of the test centre, in the period seven days before or after the other modules.
  • The tests are designed to cover the full range of ability from non-user to expert user.

Listening Section

This is the first section an IELTS aspirant has to deal with. The listening section is divided into four parts, each consisting of 10 questions and each with a higher level of difficulty. The first two sections are concerned with social needs. There is a conversion between two speakers and then a monologue. The other two sections are concerned with situations related to educational or training contexts. There is a conversation between up to four people and then a monologue.

A variety of question types are used, including: multiple choice questions, short questions, sentence completion, notes/chart/table completion, labeling a diagram, classification, matching.

The real issue is that the aspirant is allowed to listen to the cassette only once. In most cases, one is supposed to take down notes in shorthand format (could be a phone number, an address, a name, etc.) on a rough sheet of paper provided by the examination centre. Ten minutes are allowed at the end to transfer answers to the answer sheet.


The Reading section is different for Academic and General Training. However, for both, in the duration of 60 minutes, the IELTS aspirant is required to answer as many as 40 questions.

Academic Training Reading

There are three reading passages, of increasing difficulty, on topics of general interest and a candidate has to answer 40 questions. The passages are taken from magazines, journals, books and newspapers. At the least, one text contains detailed logical argument.

General Training Reading

Candidates have to answer 40 questions. There are three sections of increasing difficulty, containing texts taken from notices, advertisements, leaflets, newspapers, instruction manuals, books and magazines. The first section contains texts, relevant to basic linguistic survival in English, with tasks mainly concerned with providing factual information. The second section focuses on the training context and involves texts of more complex language. The third section involves reading more extended texts, with a more complex structure, but with the emphasis on descriptive and instructive rather than argumentative texts.

In both training formats a variety of question types is used, including: multiple choice, short-answer questions, sentence completion, notes/chart/table completion, labeling a diagram, classification, matching lists / phrases, choosing suitable paragraph headings from a list, identification of writer’s views/attitudes – yes, no, not given, or true, false, not given.


The IELTS does not test one’s knowledge of English in as much as it tests the comprehension skills. It is more a test of time management skills and ability to comprehend within a short time frame. In effect one has to complete two writing tasks in just one hour. The Writing section is different for Academic and General Training

Academic Training Writing

There are two tasks and it is suggested that candidates spend about 20 minutes on Task 1, which requires them to write at least 150 words for 40 minutes on Task 2 – 250 words. The assessment of Task 2 carries more weight in marking than Task 1.

In Task 1 candidates are asked to look at a diagram or table and to present the information in their own words. They are assessed on their ability to organize, present and possibly compare data, describe the stages of a process, describe an object or event, explain how something works.

In Task 2 candidates are presented with a point of view, argument or problem. They are assessed on their ability to present a solution to the problem, present and justify an opinion, compare and contrast evidence and opinions, evaluate and challenge ideas, evidence or arguments.

General Training Writing

There are two tasks (Integrated & Independent) and it is suggested that candidates spend about 20 minutes on Task 1, which requires them to write at least 150 words, and 40 minutes on Task 2 and is required to write at least 250 words. The assessment of Task 2 carries more weight in marking than Task 1.

In Task 1 (Integrated Task) candidates are asked to respond to give problem with a letter requesting information or explaining a situation. They are assessed on their ability to engage in personal correspondence, elicit and provide general factual information, express needs, wants, likes and dislikes, express opinions, complaints, etc.

In Task 2 (Independent Task) candidates are presented with a point of view, argument or problem. They are assessed on their ability to provide general factual information, outline a problem and present a solution, prevent and justify an opinion, evaluate and challenge ideas, evidence or arguments.


This is a 14-minute section, usually a conversation about one’s life, his/her aspirations, studies and native town. One should be ready to talk on these subjects.

In addition, the examiner will show a card with an argument which one has to analyze and comment. It is suggested to use simple words and expressions. This is to test one’s ability to communicate what one thinks. It is important to note that the accent, pronunciation, etc are not all that important, as is wrongly believed. What is more important is the understanding of what the examiner says and the candidate’s ability to communicate effectively. The conversation usually lasts 15-20 minutes and is recorded.

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