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What Is the IELTS Academic Test?

Instructor: Bill Sands
The IELTS is an exam that tests English language proficiency in non-native speakers. Learn more about this exam, how it is scored, and how you can prepare for it.

IELTS Overview

IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. The test gauges the English language proficiency of people who are looking for academic and employment opportunities in locations where English is the primary language. For most test-takers, this means Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., Canada, and the U.S.

The IELTS has two versions. The Academic test is for individuals seeking admittance to a postsecondary degree program or professional registration, while the General Training test is for those who wish to migrate to an English-speaking country.

Academic Test Sections

The Academic version of the IELTS consists of four sections, each one devoted to a different language skill.

Listening

In this section, test-takers listen to four different audio recordings. Each one involves native English speakers in various social contexts, with examples including:

  • A conversation between two people in a common social context
  • A monologue taking place in a common social context
  • A conversation between multiple people, discussing a topic in an educational context
  • A monologue in an educational context (such as a lecture from a professor)

Students will need to answer 10 questions about each of the recordings, for a total of 40 questions. Questions can be multiple-choice, matching, sentence completion, or another form. Students have 30 minutes for the entire section.

Reading

This portion requires students to demonstrate their reading comprehension skills as well as their ability to analyze a writer's purpose and main argument. Students taking the Academic test will encounter three long reading passages taken from books, magazines, newspapers, and journals, followed by a series of questions for each one.

Like the listening component, students will need to answer 40 questions total that come in various forms, but they will be allotted 60 minutes to complete this task.

Writing

The writing section of the Academic test includes a pair of tasks. In the first assignment, students will be presented with visual data, such as a graph or chart, and will be asked to explain the information being conveyed.

In the second task, students will be presented with a particular argument or opinion. They will need to compose a reply in which they agree or disagree and explain their reasoning.

The first task must be at least 150 words, while the second must have 250. Both responses must be in paragraph form. Students will have one hour to complete this section.

Speaking

This is the shortest section of the test and consists of three subsections:

  • In Part 1, students answer general questions posed by an examiner about their life, work, and interests.
  • Part 2 requires students to deliver a monologue on a particular topic. Students are given a brief preparation period, and then must deliver their speech. They must also answer questions from an evaluator.
  • Part 3 is a continuation of Part 2. In this section, students are encouraged to speak more freely on less concrete ideas when responding to examiner questions about their topic.

In total, this part of the exam should take between 11 and 14 minutes.

Scoring the IELTS Academic Test

Students are graded on a scale of 1-9 for each section, with 9 being the highest (an expert, essentially fluent language user) and 1 the lowest (no grasp of the language outside of a few words). A score of 0 is only administered if a student does not answer the questions. Upon completing these sections, the sum of the scores is divided by 4, which provides students with their final score.

For example, if a student scored a 6,7,8, and 6 on each section, their average would be 6.75. Scores are then rounded up or down to the closest half point increment, so the final score would be a 7.

Acceptable minimum scores vary by institution, though they typically range between 6 and 7.5, with graduate and professional programs in fields like law or medicine requiring higher scores than undergraduate programs.

Preparing for the IELTS

To help students get ready, the IELTS website has plenty of review materials. The official practice guide could prove to be an enormous help, as could the sample test questions and preparation courses.

You can also find help from other companies. For example, this IELTS Practice & Study Guide contains short lessons and quizzes to help students prepare for each section of the exam, while these ESL Writing Prompts & Exercises could provide students with extra practice for the writing portion of the test.

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