What is IELTS?
Globalization has undoubtedly brought people from different corners of the world together. Things which we could not even think to exist in the past, are today an indispensable part of our lives. Facilities like calling on video through the internet, texting, or as the trend is nowadays for ‘snapchatting’, everything is just at our fingertips.
Well, all these things are nothing else but the blessing of some techies who have brains capable enough to develop such services for us, aren’t they? I know, I know you might be wondering what I’m trying to make out from this little (or rather not so little!) dialogue of mine, but believe me once you establish the link, you’ll salute my creativity!
Actually, since times immemorial, man has always been interested in knowing new things and has had a passion to find out new ways and things that aid in making his life better. For instance, the invention of fire!
Now I technically think that the fire was invented just because the stone age man wanted something much useful to come out of the ‘regular’ stone he used or had in his control. And guess what? He discovered fire, (Lit dude, I must say!). Or we can also take the example of the early travelogues, which were written by the courtsmen who travelled to different regions for knowing how the natives lived there.
By reading them, we realize that human beings have always been smart enough to understand that the good of others has to be accepted and the bad has to be taken as a lesson – a lesson of what needs to be avoided.
As time went by and man became smarter, he understood that he cannot survive alone or he cannot strive on only his own principles. We co-exist i. e. depend on each other to exist.
Thus, he started travelling new places, expanding his region, making new friends and inventing new gadgets which ultimately led to globalization. However, even if his tendency to learn more didn’t change, the number of his contemporaries did (I mean population), his need for security and requirement for the ‘best of all’ did change.
Security purposes led to the formation of the requirement of proper visa application and acceptance, and obviously this ‘visa’ was only given to some selected individuals – to those who were better than the rest. Now everyone (at least in the visa embassy) realised that grades cannot determine one’s complete efficiency, but something else can do that. And that ‘something’ is nothing else but ‘Language Proficiency’.
Different tests started being developed once the need for them was realised. For further convenience, the tests were divided in different sections so that all the aspects of language capability of a candidate can be assessed.
One such assessment test is IELTS. ‘International English Language Testing System’ which is popularly known by its abbreviation IELTS was a English Language Proficiency Test developed somewhere in the early 1980s which was practically implemented in the year 1989.
There is no surprise that IELTS has been around for more than 40 years now, but the popularity of this test does not seem to be decreasing at all. Infact, until now it has been the most popular and reliable English Language Proficiency test for those who intend to move abroad either for studies or for migration purposes.
If you wonder who were the powerful minds that developed this test, so its answer is that the test has been developed collectively by the expert personnels from University of Cambridge, British Council and IDP: IELTS Australia and these three bodies even today are the administrators of the test.
Another interesting fact is that this test is conducted upto 48 times a year which means around 4 times per month. In most of the countries the latter two bodies i. e. British Council and IDP conduct the test and the study material is mostly that of Cambridge.
However, as is quite obvious, not every candidate gives the test for the same purpose and hence, there’s no question for the expectation of the same score or the same pattern. However, to avoid things from messing up, the test is separated into two different forms: Academic and General Training.
As the names suggest, the academic test is for those who wish to prove their mettle in English for getting admission in any tertiary educational institute, whereas the other one is for the ones who want to use it for a visa regarding work or any other similar purpose.
But one thing that needs to be specified here is that every country has its own set of rules which ought to be checked by the candidate before making any decision about choosing a test type.
Nonetheless, the time duration and method of test conduction is the same for both of them. To be precise, both the tests comprise of four modules each and are for a duration of approximately three hours. (Don’t worry! I shall be describing that too…keep reading).
Apart from this, the cost of these tests is also similar for most of the countries. Again, the exact price varies according to the nation you live or want to give the test in. To check, you can go to the official website of your preferred test taker or can visit an authorized agency that books the test.
For booking the test, you need to have one original identity proof of yours which you’ll also need to carry with you to the test center along with a self-signed declaration form in which the terms and conditions of the test are mentioned there.
Another question I always come across is that around how much time before the test date should an aspiring candidate book the exam.
Now, honestly writing, the venue and time for both the parts of the test (LRW and Speaking) are informed to the candidate almost a week before the test which is why one must book it at least two weeks before the date selected (Yes, you can select your own test date!).
While booking the exam, you’ll also have the liberty to choose whether your test has to be paper-based or delivered on a computer. Specifically, the former is known as ‘Paper-based IELTS’ and the latter is referred to as Computer Delivered or ‘CD-IELTS’.
Again, the pattern of both these tests is mostly the same, and it solely depends on the preference and efficiency of the candidate, that which test is suitable for him. However, if you are unsure about the test type right for you, understand Why opt for CD-IELTS? and understand the difference in the tests.
(Talking about the exam pattern in detail will take a long time, so why not read this interesting fact about English language before moving further! – More than 78% of the jobs around the world are based on English Language and due to more population and less jobs in most countries, people with better communication skills in English are given the jobs. To prove this efficiency around 63% of the potential candidates give this test at least once in their lives, while some give it casually to check their level in this language).
Without any further adieu, we shall now have a look at the pattern of IELTS. Both the types of the test have four modules each, which are Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking.
Generally, three out of these four modules (all except ‘Speaking’) are conducted on the same day while the date for Speaking and venue for all the tests is selected by your preferred test taker. In case of CD-IELTS, the speaking test may or may not be conducted on the same day (you’ll for sure be notified beforehand).
Similarly, a minor difference is also present in the two types of IELTS because the ‘Reading’ and the ‘Writing’ section of Academic and General Training IELTS are different. However, speaking in every case is exactly the same in pattern, though there are a variety of different questions asked to each candidate in this person to person test.
Moreover, the IELTS test is valid for two years from the date of declaration of the result which is also clearly mentioned on the test. This means the Test Report Form (TRF) can also be used by a candidate as many times as he wants.
Now while we are talking about the results let us also talk about the scoring of IELTS. Though again a candidate does not require a fixed score to be considered pass or fail, the country or college where the candidate intends to apply must be thoroughly checked.
The scores are given on a zero to nine band scale with an increment of 0.5 for each module and overall: for instance 6.0, 6.5, 7.0 and so on.
For better understanding of the result you can have a look at the marking descriptors. These are the public versions that can help you a lot in understanding what IELTS actually requires from you or in other words what things you need to keep in mind for scoring high.
But understanding the scoring criteria would not be beneficial unless you know what this test basically consists of. Now, as I have already mentioned about the time duration for the test which is approximately three hours, we shall now see how this time is divided into the different parts of the test for each module.
Before we begin, I think it’s my responsibility to remind you of the total time which is approximately three hours, and the four modules out of which two (Listening, Speaking) are same and other two (Reading, Writing) are different for Academic and General Training. Continue reading further to understand what each part of the test is made of.
Listening according to me is the most scoring section of this test. I have hardly met any person who has complained about the presence of this section in the test. In fact, most of the students find it to be extremely interesting and encouraging (encouraging because you can score more!).
All you need for this section is concentration and little knowledge of parts of speech. Capability of identifying the different parts of speech makes it easier to interpret which word form is required in a particular blank.
Otherwise, even if you don’t exactly know what grammar rules are or how they are used, listening carefully can make a lot of difference. However, knowing correct spellings and grammar rules come handy as in questions where you need to write or type your answer, if any of these is incorrect, you lose your marks. So, let us first understand the pattern of this module.
The IELTS Listening test has 4 Parts of 10 questions each, which means in total there are 40 questions in this section. For each part a different audio is played, but you need to be very careful as the recording cannot be played a second time.
Before and after every part you will get a 30 seconds time to check the next questions and previously written answers. While in the paper-based test, each and every answer has to be written separately on an answer sheet provided during the examination, in the case of CD-IELTS, some answers are typed while others are selected.
Another important point is that while the first three parts are divided into two, the last one plays continuously. Also the Part I and Part II are audios based on routine or in other words, on social life like applying for a gym membership or complaining about a product and attending a tour or visiting a museum, those played in Part III and Part IV are more related to some academic information, where the third part is usually a dialogue between two university students or a student and a professor; the fourth one is a monologue about a specific academic topic.
The link for practicing this module is here. The next point is of the types of questions in IELTS Listening. Basically, the listening question types can be divided into six categories, the details of which are given below:
Multiple Choice Questions with Single Correct Answer: In these types of questions, there will be a group of four to five questions with three to four options each. By listening to the audio, select one option that you think is correct.
Multiple Choice Questions with Multiple Correct Answers: This part has questions with five to six options each out of which you have to select more than one option. By listening to the audio, select as many options as directed.
Matching: As the name suggests, you have to match a set of information with another, both of which are based on the listening that you’ll hear.
Map Labelling: You’ll be presented with a layout in this kind of question. Only in the sequence of the numbering of questions in this part, you will hear the recording and will either have to write the names of the places or the alphabets available in the key.
Notes, summary and table completion: While some details in the questions will be given, some will have to be filled in by you as per the instructions provided i.e. in a fixed combination of words.
Answering in short: Give answers to simple W-H questions based on audio in that part. Be careful about the maximum word limit and whether numbers are to be mentioned or not.
Always read the instructions before attempting every part and be quite specific while answering. The answers are usually rounded and need to be spotted instantaneously because mismanaging with the pace may lose you some questions.
While answering, write the answers on the question booklet if you want as you will be getting exactly ten minutes to transfer your answers, but only in paper-based test, this time reduces to two minutes in case of CD-IELTS because there the answers are usually typed simultaneously.
Kindly note that some changes were introduced in the listening section in January 2020 when the example question was removed and the earlier Sections of listening were not addressed as parts. Refer to the official website for timely update and some common faqs of the test.
Undoubtedly, reading is the trickiest part for many candidates who either have appeared or are preparing for the test. New vocabulary, limited time, and lengthy passages may on one hand initially sound like demotivating factors to many, but one thing which no one can deny is the amount of information received through these passages.
To those who are new to this test I would like to tell that though the questions types, number of questions (40) and time limit are the same for both Academic and General Training IELTS, the number of passages and their types are distinct.
For reading, whether paper-based or computer delivered the candidate gets one hour i.e. 60 minutes with no extra time for transferring the answers. Yes, in this part too, the candidates are required to transfer the answers on a separate answer booklet.
Before discussing the types of passages, I would like to tell you about the question types you would come across in your reading.
Multiple Choice Questions: Choose Single Answers
From the several options for one question, choose an appropriate answer after reading the passage.
Multiple Choice Questions: Choose Multiple Answers
Each question has several options to choose from. The number of options to be selected are clearly mentioned in the instructions. Based on your understanding of the passage, select the options you think are appropriate.
True / False / Not Given
In this part, few sentences based on the passage would be presented before you. You have to identify the sentences in the passage and tell whether the information mentioned there is true, false or is not at all given but only according to the passage.
Yes / No / Not Given
Though it’s almost similar to the question type mentioned above, the only difference is that these questions are to be answered on the basis of opinion of the writer. And those with true or false are factual based.
Note: Completion and Sentence Completion:
Some sentences would be rewritten (with the same meaning though) from the passage as questions and you will have to complete those sentences and notes only after thoroughly checking the instructions.
Summary Completion (Without key) and Summary Completion (With key)
A small extract would be taken out from the passage and would be rephrased, which means some of the words would be replaced by their synonyms. Your task is to complete that summary or extract by selecting words from the passage, if no key is given.
However, in case when you have a set of words to choose from, you would be spotting the word from the passage and then from the given key, you have to pick out a word which relates to it the most . Remember! you may not know the exact meaning of all the words, but you will have to infer the meaning and context for finding the answer.
Flowchart Completion and labelling diagrams
On the basis of the passage, you will see that a flowchart or a diagram is drawn as a question. In it, while some parts may be complete, the others would be left for you to complete or label.
As each passage contains several paragraphs, it also has a plethora of information in it. From a list of headings, choose the appropriate one for each paragraph after reading the passage.
The list is usually denoted by some Roman numerals which you have to write against columns of respective paragraphs as labelled in the question booklet.
Matching sentence endings
As in the case of sentence completion, some incomplete sentences would also be given to you in this question type. However, this time you will also get a list of rephrased endings for those sentences.
Classification of the information
Certain passages contain the research or opinions of various different researchers. While others may have some information about different years or categories according to the passage. The task to be performed by you here is classifying the particular group in which that information falls and write it in the column as directed in the instructions.
Academic Reading contains 3 passages of around 900 words each based on different genres: Science, Business, History, Technology and other themes of academic importance. As the complete listening contains 40 questions, the number of questions in each passage are 13, with 1 extra question in any one passage.
It is usually instructed to divide the given time into three different units of 20 minutes each, though the exact time may vary according to the capability of the candidate.
General Training Reading
Because a general training visa is usually applied by those who intend to settle or work abroad, the reading is also prepared in such a way which would be beneficial for their future.
Set mostly in the general manner, the first four to five passages are small like posters and advertisements written in a brochure with about six to seven questions for each passage. The last passage is a lengthier and detailed academic passage similar to a reading passage.
As all these parts are divided into three sections, you are recommended to spend 20 minutes on each section which may comprise more than one passage.
1. Task 1: For academic students, task 1 of writing is a report writing. An image containing genuine academic information would be given to you and you have to write in your own words what you can make out from the image in at least 150 words with no exact upper limit.
The figures in this respect could be bar graph, line graph, pie-chart, table, flowchart, process chart, map, layout etc. which may or may not contain statistical data. You are suggested to spend not more than 20 minutes on this task because of its weightage in the marking.
General Training Writing
2. Task 1
Similar to academic writing in terms of time to be allotted which is not more than 20 minutes and 150 words at least, the task one of writing for general training candidates is still different. It is a letter writing on a given topic.
Depending on the receiver, the letters are divided into three types: Formal (Written to individual higher in authority than us), Semi-formal (For those individuals who have some authority but not over us, or those who are general acquaintance), and Informal (People whom I know and can address casually).
On the basis of the letter type, the tone has to vary and only the proper tone of the letter can help us get the targeted score.
Task II (Writing) for both Academic as well as General training candidates
As for the complete writing the time which we get is one hour which means after completing the task one, the candidates have a time of around 40 minutes for finishing the task two which is the same for both Academic and General Training IELTS.
Essay writing has to be done on a particular topic given to you which has to be answered as per your understanding, but only in a formal tone.
Till now, you would have got a fair idea of what basically IELTS is and how it is conducted. Now I’m going to present before you information about my personal favourite module which is nothing else but speaking. Generally, the speaking test is of 11-14 minutes and comprises of 3 parts, namely:
- Introduction and Interview (for 4-5 minutes)
- Individual Long Turn (for 3-4 minutes)
- Discussion (again for 4-5 minutes)
Unlike the rest of the parts, speaking is conducted directly by an individual to give you the setting of a real-life situation, when we talk to someone, but the only medium of conversation is English.
Part I is a short round of simple question answer session which involves some general details of the candidate and his opinion on different things like pollution, animals, his likes and dislike etc.
Whereas, in the next part, he needs to give a short speech on a topic presented before him and the last part follows a general but detailed discussion about the topic covered in Part II.
Listen to a sample speaking for more clarity in this context and don’t forget to check out how and where to make notes during the IELTS test, as the speaking section here contains many tips that may come handy to you while your preparation as well as your final test date.
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