The IELTS Exam: Overview & Tips


•  What is the IELTS exam?


There are two versions of the IELTS exam: ‘Academic' and ‘General Training'. Academic IELTS, which we focus on here, can be compared with the TOEFL or Cambridge Proficiency and is now the standard English as a Second Language qualification required for entry into universities in Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

•  There are four papers: Writing, Reading, Listening and Speaking.

•  Scores range from 1 to 9, with most universities requiring between 5.5 and 7.5 (depending on the particular institution and course).

•  There are many opportunities during the year to take the exam, results are given usually after 2 or 3 weeks, and candidates may re-take the exam when they wish.

•  Note, however, that the exam is only valid for two years.

•  For details of local exam centres, and fully up-to-date information on all aspects of the exam, visit the official IELTS web site .



•  The Writing Paper


The Writing paper takes one hour and consists of two questions.


The first question requires you to describe a graph, chart, table or diagram.

•  You must write at least 150 words, and should allow about 20 minutes.

•  Usually some kind of statistical information is represented in graphic form, and you must translate this into a readable text.

•  Occasionally candidates will be asked to describe a process which is illustrated by a labelled diagram (such as the process of making cheese, or how a central-heating system works).


The second question requires you to write a short essay of at least 250 words.

•  You should allow about 40 minutes for this task.

•  Subjects vary widely, but could relate to:

environmental issues, health, law and order, technology and its social implications, parenting, etc.



•  Make sure you understand the two questions types well before you do the exam; referring to a ‘practice tests' book can help (see our list of Useful Books).

•  Get plenty of writing practice before doing the exam. Make sure your writing is corrected by someone with good English who understands the exam. The more writing practice you get, the better your result will be!

•  Find out more about the IELTS exam, get your writing corrected, and get feedback on improving your written English by taking the ClearpointEnglish IELTS Writing Course .


Click here for further information on the services offered by




•  The Reading Paper


The paper lasts one hour, there are three texts and a total of 38-40 questions.

•  Texts are typically about subjects such as: technology, health, medicine, the environment, history, culture, architecture, engineering, education, psychology, etc.

•  Question-types include: multiple-choice, summary, true/false/not-given, sentence completion, etc.



A good approach to each text is:

1 - Skim the text (read for general meaning (1 or 2 minutes)).

2 - Read the questions . Underline key words.

3 - Re-read the text in more detail and answer the questions .



Increase your knowledge of academic vocabulary, and your reading speed:

1 - Reading magazine, newspaper and internet articles on the kinds of subjects

mentioned above.

2 - Get a ‘practice tests' book to familiarise yourself with the typical question types (see our list of Useful Books).



•  The Listening Paper


The paper lasts about 40 minutes: 30 minutes listening, and ten minutes to ‘transfer your answers.

•  There are four ‘listenings' (or ‘listening texts'), usually based around academic themes.

•  Listenings typically include examples of: dialogues between students at the university, tutorials interviews between lecturers and students, lectures, and radio interviews on academic subjects.



You will hear each listening text once only! Listenings are usually split into two sections;

try to read the questions and underline key words before you listen to each section. This

can help you to predict possible answers.



Before the exam, try to improve your listening fluency. Check web-sites with English language downloads (see our links). Try to watch English-language DVDs, listen to English-language music, etc.


•  The Speaking Test


The Speaking test is in three parts, and lasts a total of 12 - 15 minutes. There is one candidate and one examiner. The parts are:


1 Introducing yourself . The examiner asks you some general questions on topics such as: where you are from; your town or country; your interests, etc.


2 The ‘Long Turn' . You are required to speak uninterrupted for 1 or 2 minutes on a particular subject. The examiner will give you a card indicating this subject, and indicating three or four specific points you must discuss.


3 Discussion . The examiner will try to engage you in a discussion on an abstract / academic subject, typically related to the topic in Part 2.


TIP - Make sure you talk about all of the points required in Part 2 – otherwise you will

lose marks. Part 2 is not a discussion – you have to talk uninterrupted.


TIP - This is a speaking exam. Do not answer questions simply with ‘Yes', ‘No', or ‘I

don't know'! Expand your replies to show how well you can speak.


[Disclaimer: ClearpointEnglish can take no responsibility for any loss, financial or otherwise, incurred as a result of referring to the information and advice in this site. All information included is correct to our knowledge as of September 2006.]


© ClearpointEnglish 2006

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