What is the IELTS?

The IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is a standardised English exam which is becoming increasingly recognised on an international scale. The IELTS test is used to assess the English level of people who wish to work or pursue their studies in an English-speaking environment. The majority of candidates are students wishing to continue their education abroad and individuals who are looking to begin an international career. Other English test are available, to know which one fits you best, check our articles : IELTS or CELPIP?; IELTS or TOEFL?

Approximately 2.2 million people sit the test each year, according to the British Council France website.

The IELTS involves 2 versions of the test:

  1. The IELTS Academic test is aimed towards students who wish to join higher education institutions abroad
  2. The IELTS General Training test allows professionals who wish to work abroad to certify their level of English

The two tests assess 4 linguistic competencies:

  • The Listening section (oral comprehension) consists of answering 40 diverse questions in the form of multiple choice
  • The Reading section (written comprehension) also consists of answering 40 diverse questions on 3 different texts in the form of multiple choice
  • The Writing section (written expression) takes the form of two essays: one of 150 words and the other of 250 words
  • The Speaking section (oral expression) takes the form of a face-to-face interview with an IELTS examiner. It consists of 3 parts: the examiner poses a personal question to the candidate, then asks the candidate to talk about a random subject, and then finally initiates a larger dialogue stemming from the same subject

The IELTS is scored out of 9 points.

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IELTS Presentation

Section Content Time Note
Listening 40 questions based on audio excerpts 40min – Each section is marked out of 9 points (giving 4 subscores).

– The average of the 4 subscores gives a overall score (called the overall band)

Reading 40 questions based on 3 texts or sections 60min
Speaking Face-to-face interview with an examiner 10 to 15min
Writing 2 essays (150 and 250 words) 60min

Timing (valid for both tests)

  • The Listening section lasts 40min :
    • 30min of listening.
    • 10min to transfer your answers onto the answer
  • The Reading section lasts 60min :
    • 20min per text.
  • The Writing section lasts 60min :
    • 20min for the first essay of 150 words.
    • 40min for the second essay of 250 words
  • The Speaking section lasts between 10 and 15min:
    • 2 to 3min for the first part (personal questions)
    • 4 to 5min for the second part (questions on a randomly-selected subject).
    • 4 to 7min for the third part (general questions).

The IELTS section tests last in total between 2 hrs 50min and 2 hrs 55min.

Differences between IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training

The IELTS General Training test is aimed towards professionals wishing to work within an English-speaking environment. The IELTS Academic test is taken by students wishing to certify their level of English in order to enroll in universities abroad.

The table below summaries the differences between the two in regards to the 4 test sections

Section IELTS Academic IELTS General Training
Listening No difference
Speaking No difference
Reading – 3 text extracts taken from books, newspapers or magazines

– They are descriptive, factual, analytical or discursive

– 3 sections including text extracts:

・1st section: 2 or 3 short factual texts

・2nd section: 2 factual texts with a professional theme

・3rd section: 1 long text which has a general subject

Writing (2 essays) 1st essay: 150 words summarising, describing or explaining a table, graph or diagram

2nd essay: 250 words on a mandatory topic

1st essay: essay of 150 words taking the form of a letter

・2nd essay: 250 words on a mandatory topic

Source: Understand the IELTS test format, British Council

IELTS themes

As the IELTS tests measure candidates’ general level of English, all current themes can be dealt with in any of the 4 sections:

  • Modern society as a whole (globalisation, scientific developments, new technology, health, etc.)
  • Daily life (transport, food, entertainment, etc.)
  • Education (studies, learning foreign languages, university programmes, etc.)
  • Environment (ecology, climate change, endangered species, etc.)
  • Professional world (unemployment, retirement, governmental impact, etc.)

Please note that the IELTS General Training Reading section involves texts more focused on the theme of work, while the IELTS Academic Reading section can focus on any of the themes discussed above.

Where can I sit the IELTS exams?

IELTS exams can only be taken in centres accredited by the British Council. In France, IELTS exam sessions are organised in only 4 cities: Paris, Nantes, Lyon and Marseille. There is an average of two sessions a month in Paris, and one per month in the other cities. The written exam sections take place on Saturday mornings (Reading, Listening and Writing sections), while the Speaking section can take place on Fridays (only in Paris) or Saturday afternoons (in all 4 cities). You can also sit for the IELTS in Canada, in UK, in Ireland, in Germany, in Belgium, in the Netherlands or in Switzerland.

We advise you to register for the IELTS exam at least two months in advance.

GlobalExam’s online training

Many resources are available to train for IELTS, and GlobalExam is one of them. You can practice in real exam conditions thanks to several mock exams and exercises, provided with a correction. You can track your progress and work on your weaknesses thanks to our vocabulary and grammar study sheets available on the blog, along with some tips for your training.

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