The IELTS Test: Structure & Scoring

Instructor: Bill Sands
The IELTS, or International English Language Testing System is an English language proficiency test given to students and professionals who wish to work or study in an English-speaking country. Learn more about this exam, as well as how it is structured and scored.

IELTS Academic Test

The IELTS Academic test is divided into four domains, each of which tests a student's mastery of four unique components of the English Language.


This part of the exam tests a candidate's reading comprehension skills. Students will be given three long texts taken from various sources such as newspapers, books, journals, and magazines. Students will have an hour to complete this section, which includes 40 questions in a variety of formats including multiple-choice, matching, and sentence completion.


In this section, test-takers will hear four different recordings and must then answer questions about each one. The recordings represent samples taken from different contexts, and can include social conversations, monologues, and academic lectures.

Each recording comes with 10 questions, adding up to a total of 40 questions. As with the reading section, questions may be multiple-choice, sentence completion, matching, or other forms. Candidates will have 30 minutes to complete the entire Listening portion of the exam.


This section of the IELTS Academic consists of two different tasks. In the first assignment, students will be presented with a visual image such as a table, graph, or chart. They will then need to elaborate on the information that the image contains. If, for example, the image explains a scientific process, students will need to write out how the process is supposed to work.

The second task involves a fair deal of critical thinking. Students will be exposed to a piece of writing that expresses a certain opinion or sentiment. Students will then be required to express their own opinion and why they agree or disagree with the original topics.

The first task must be at least 150 words, while the second is slightly longer and must have 250 words. Students will have one hour to complete this section, and the IELTS recommends spending 20 minutes on part one and 40 minutes on the second prompt.


Clocking in at 11-14 minutes, this is the shortest part of the IELTS Academic. In this section, students will need to demonstrate their oratory skills in a variety of settings. First, they will be asked general questions about work, home life, and family in an interview setting. Then, the setting shifts to a monologue, as students are asked to respond with their own thoughts on a selected topic. The final task is essentially a discussion between the examiner and candidate. The candidate will be expected to engage in a dialogue and respond to thoughts offered by the examiner.

Scoring the IELTS Academic Test

The IELTS uses a band scoring system to calculate a student's final score. A student receives a unique grade on a scale of 0-9 for each of the four parts of the test. These scores are then added together and divided, with the average score serving as the student's final grade.

For example, say a student receives scores of 4,9,7, and 7 on each section. The average score would be 6.75. For scores that end in .75 or .25, the score is rounded up to the next half or whole band, so the student's final score would be a 7.

The band system is based on a scale of 0-9, although a score of 0 is only awarded to an incomplete test. The lowest grade a student who completes the test can receive is a 1, meaning the student has almost no command of the language. Meanwhile, students who score a 9 are classified as experts.

IELTS Preparation

If you're planning on taking the IELTS Academic test, you'll need to be prepared. This IELTS Academic Practice & Study Guide course is a convenient and entertaining way to practice your skills and get ready for the exam. These Vocabulary Flashcards can also assist you with learning new words. You can also strengthen your use of English grammar with this Grammar Resources for English Language Learners course.

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