Here are some ‘frequently asked questions‘ (FAQ) about IELTS. If you can’t find your question, please put it in the comments or send us a message.

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What is IELTS?

IELTS means ‘The International English Language Testing System’. It’s the world’s most popular English language test and it covers all four skills – Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking.

Why do people take an IELTS test?

It’s a requirement for study, work and migration with more than two million tests taken a year. It’s recognised by more than 10,000 organisations, including universities, employers, and governments, in 135 countries around the world.

You can take the Academic or General Training exam depending on the organisation you are applying to and your plans for the future.

How can I book an IELTS test?

There are over 1000 IELTS test centres in over 140 countries. For more info about booking a test you should visit the official IELTS website.

What is the difference between British Council and IDP?

IELTS is owned by Cambridge English Language Assessment, British Council and IDP. Cambridge writes the test and British Council and IDP deliver the test. All three organisations work together as one company to make sure the test is the same in all countries in both British Council and IDP.

For writing and speaking the examiners have been given exactly the same training, they ask the same questions, they use the same marking criteria and they will be monitored regularly using the same system to make sure they are following the same standards. For the reading and listening exams, local staff mark the same tests following the same answer keys from Cambridge. So, again this is the same for BC and IDP. 

So if anyone tells you that taking your test with IDP or BC is better because you’re get a higher score then they are telling you a porkie. But if you have any real evidence that supports this then please message us.

How is IELTS scored?

IELTS covers all four skills (reading, listening, speaking and writing) and you get a ‘band score’ for each from 9 (expert) to 1 (non-user).

Reading and Listening: For each test you answer 40 questions. Each questions counts equally. Your marks are converted into a band score. e.g. 18/40 in the reading or listening test will result in a 5.5 score in that skill.   

Speaking: You get an overall score based on an average of your fluency, vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation.

Writing: You get an overall score based on on the average of your task achievement (answering the question), coherence and cohesion (organisation), vocabulary and grammar. There are two tasks and task 2 counts twice as much as task 1.

Where can I find a copy of the IELTS band score descriptors?

Here are links to the public versions of the IELTS band descriptors, which are very similar to what real examiners use to mark your speaking and writing. If there is anything you don’t understand, please let us know.

Speaking band score descriptors

Writing Task 1 band score descriptors

Writing Task 2 band score descriptors

How long is the IELTS exam? How many parts are there?

For both the General Training and Academic modules, the length of the IELTS exam is the same. The four sections include:

– Listening (4 sections- 30 minutes + 10 minutes transfer time)

– Reading (3 sections- 60 minutes)

– Writing (2 tasks-60 minutes)

– Speaking (3 sections- 15 minutes)

Do I take all the parts of the test on the same day?

Listening, reading and writing are all carried out together in one 2 hour 40 minute session, and we’re really sorry but you don’t even get a break between sections, so make sure you get a good night sleep and breakfast and or lunch before your test! The speaking test is separate, although it can be on the same day or different day and may take place at a different location to the other three skills.

How are the Academic and General Training exams different?

– For writing, general candidates have to write a letter and an essay, whereas academic candidates have to describe a chart or diagram and an essay. Even though both general and academic candidates have to write an essay in task 2, the question is not the same. In fact the general task 2 is usually less academic and therefore easier than the academic task 2.

– For reading both general and academic candidates have to answer 40 questions, but in the academic exam these are based on three long articles, whereas in the general exam, most of the readings are shorter with only one long passage so it is not as difficult.

– For speaking and listening, academic and general candidates take exactly the same exam.

What happens in the Speaking test?

The IELTS speaking exam is a 11-14 minute face to face interview with an IELTS examiner  which is made up of three parts:

– Part 1 (4-5 mins) – You are asked short questions on three personal, familiar topics e.g. your job, studies, hobbies, music, your childhood etc. You do not see the questions.

– Part 2 – ‘The long turn’ (3-4 mins) – You are asked to talk about a personal topic e.g. ‘Talk about a movie you recently saw’ for 1-2 minutes and you have 1 minute to prepare. You are given a copy of the topic as well as a pencil and paper for making notes.

– Part 3 – You are asked short questions on two academic topics related to the topic in part 2. So for the topic above you might be asked about movie watching habits and the film industry in your country.

What happens in the Writing test?

The IELTS writing exam is 60 minutes and is made up of two parts. It is recommended that you spend around 20 minutes on Task 1 and you must write a minimum of 150 words. Task 2 should take around 40 minutes and the minimum requirement is 250 words. Task 2 is worth twice the marks of Task 1. The tasks themselves are different depending on whether you are taking the Academic or General IELTS exam.

– Task 1 (General): write a letter e.g. a thank you letter or a complaint letter. This might be to a friend, colleague or a stranger.

– Task 1 (Academic): write a report to describe the main trends and key details of a chart, table, process or diagram. There are a range of different task type that should be familiar with.

– Task 2: write an essay. Although the task is the same for both, the topic will be different and often the General Training topic is less academic than the Academic topic.

What happens in the Listening test?

You will listen only once to a series of recordings over four sections. You will have short breaks of around 30 seconds before and after each sections and also in the middle of sections 1-3 to study the questions and prepare to listen. At the end you have 10 minutes to carefully transfer your answers to an answer sheet.

– Section 1: A general English conversation between two people e.g. someone calling to book tickets.

– Section 2: A general English talk by one person e.g. someone talking about the facilities of the local museum.

– Section 3: An academic conversation between two or more people e.g. between two students, or between a student and a teacher discussing a project or a lesson.

– Section 4: An academic presentation e.g. a university lecture.

What happens in the Reading test?

You will have 60 minutes to complete three sections and answer 40 questions. There is no transfer time (unlike in the listening test) so you should write your answers directly onto the question paper.

For the Academic Reading test exam, each section contains one long reading passage of between 700-900 words. These are real articles taken from academic journals, magazines or newspapers and are on academic topics that are of interest to the general public. They might be describe facts or discuss opinions. They may include diagrams, charts or photos.

For the General Training Reading test, the reading texts are taken from adverts and public notices or company training handbooks, books, magazines and newspapers.

– Section 1: contains a number of short reading texts relating to everyday life.

– Section 2: contains two short reading texts relating to the workplace.

– Section 3: contains one longer reading text on general interest topic.

When do I get my result?

You will receive your IELTS scores 13 days after your test. The results are recorded on a test report form but if you can’t wait for the paper copy you can check your results online and some centres even send you your result by text message. There is only one original of the test report form produced so keep it safe as a copy cannot be issued. However your local IELTS office will send a copy to your chosen university free of charge.

Can I use American or Australian English in the speaking and writing test?

Yes you can. It is an international test, so any commonly used accent or vocabulary is acceptable. However due to spelling and pronunciation differences for students aiming for a high band score it is advisable to focus on learning English from one particular country. Also, you should be careful if you use slang which is only used in one particular country. Try to use vocabulary which is used in all the main English speaking countries.

How can I get a high IELTS score?

There are 2 important factors: how high and when. It’s important to know what score you need compared to what you want. IELTS is a test of your English so in order to get a high band score you need very good English. A lot of students think there are shortcuts and tricks to getting a high score, but in fact it takes a long time and a lot of hard work. Once you know what score you need, how long you have, and what your current level is, then send us a message and we can help you to make a study plan that will help you achieve your goals.

How can I improve my IELTS scores?

Start by checking out some of our blog posts – we add new content weekly.

We also suggest that you sign up for our free PDF here.

Am I allowed to bring any personal possessions into the IELTS test?

No, you can’t bring your bag, phone or even a watch with you. You will be scanned thoroughly before entering the rooms to make sure.

Can I write everything in capital letters in the IELTS exam?

In the listening and reading exams, you can write all your answers in capital letters if you want. One benefit of doing this is often the handwriting is clearer so you won’t make mistakes when you copy your answers during the 10 minutes transfer time and it’s easier for the person marking to understand.

In the writing exam, you will not lose marks if you write everything in capital letters. But it’s not a very good idea to do this if you don’t normally write in this way, because it may take longer.

How do IELTS scores compare with CEFR levels?

There is not a direct equivalent between IELTS scores and the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) but here is a rough guide:

– C2: between 8.0 and 8.5

– C1: between 6.5 and 7.0

– B2: between 5.0 and 5.5

– B1: around 4.0

How can I improve my IELTS scores?

Start by checking out some of our blog posts – we add new content weekly.

We also suggest that you sign up for our free PDF here.

What is HowtodoIELTS?

HowtodoIELTS was founded by two very experienced IELTS teachers Dave and Nick. They decided to create the site because a lot of students find it difficult to achieve the scores they need. This is because they don’t fully understand what the examiner is looking for and how to give it to them. We know lots of examiners so we know exactly what they want. Our purpose is twofold: teach you how to do the test and, if your English is not good enough, improve your English to get you a higher score.

How can HowtodoIELTS help?

We will give you the best, clearest advice available anywhere. We will provide study tips, speaking and writing model answers, and practice exercises. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or YouTube. We are working on lots of new content all the time, so if you can’t find what you need, please let us know and we’ll be happy to help.

Can I study with HowtodoIELTS?

Sorry, we can’t teach you at the moment. We currently have a Facebook Group and we will have more online courses available in the future. In the meantime, check out our blog posts and free PDFs – there is a lot of good stuff in those. If you can’t find what you need, please let us know and we’ll be happy to help.

Where is HowtodoIELTS located?

Dave is from the USA and Nick comes from the UK. We are both currently located in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, but we are helping students everywhere through and via our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube pages.

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