IELTS® Academic Test Format

  • Listening Section
  • Reading Section
  • Writing Section
  • Speaking Section

Listening Section

The listening section of the IELTS exam is the same across both Academic and General Training exams. 

  • Timing: 30 minutes (plus 10 minutes transfer time)
  • Number of questions: 40
  • Question/ task types: There are a mixture of question types used in the listening section and can be any of the following: multiple choice, matching, labelling, form/table/flow-chart completion, sentence completion. 

    You will listen to 4 recordings (10 questions each), and you will be able to make notes on your question paper during all sections. You will then have 10 minutes at the end of the exam to transfer your answers to your answer sheet.

    Recordings 1 and 2 are based around social situations and contexts, whereas recordings 3 and 4 are based on academic scenarios. Recordings 1 and 3 will be conversations, whereas 2 and 4 are monologues.

    Examiners will be looking for you to demonstrate that you understand the main ideas and detailed factual content, as well as opinions and attitudes of the speakers and the development of ideas throughout each section.  

  • How it is marked?  Each question is worth one mark - so your overall score is out of 40, but is translated into a banded score from 0-9. All sections are weighted equally and will contribute equally to your overall band score. 
  • IELTS Listening Section Checklist & Tips

    • Write all your answers as you listen on your question paper – remember, you won’t hear the recording a second time.
    • Read the questions and instructions thoroughly - you will have time between sections to look at the next set of questions before the recordings start. 
    • Keep to the word limit - If you are asked for a three-word answer then make sure you only write this many, as you could lose marks if you don't. 
    • Double check spelling and grammar. If an answer is spelt incorrectly it will be marked as incorrect. 
    • Make sure you answer all the questions (even if you have to guess). You will not be deducted marks for an incorrect answer. 
    • Be prepared to hear a range of accents, including British, Australian, New Zealand and North American. 

Reading Section

  • Timing: 60 minutes
  • Number of questions: 40 
  • Question/task types: The question types used in the reading section can be made up of any of the following: multiple choice, identifying information, identifying the writer’s views/opinions, matching tasks, completion (e.g. sentence, table, note completion, etc.) and short-answer questions.

    The reading section of the IELTS consists of three passages from books, journals and articles from magazines or newspapers. These are all written for a non-specialist audience using different styles, e.g. a passage may be written narrative, descriptive or argumentative styles (there will be at least one text containing a logical argument).

    Once this test section has started you will immediately start answering questions directly on to your answer sheet throughout the allotted time. There will be no transfer time, as with the listening section of the test. 

  • How it is marked? Each question is worth one mark, so your overall score is out of 40 but is translated into a banded score from 0-9. All sections are weighted equally and will contribute equally to your overall band score. 

IELTS Reading Section Checklist & Tips

  • There are 40 questions to answer in 60 minutes, so you should aim to spend roughly 20 minutes on each passage and the corresponding questions. 
  • Remember that the questions are given in the order that they appear in the passage, so do not restart reading the passage with each question. 
  • Don’t be afraid to guess an answer. Simply make a mark on the question paper to flag for review. You can then return to the question later if you have time. 
  • Pay attention to the text in titles, subtitles and illustrations, as these will give you an instant idea of what the text is about. 
  • Do not waste time reading the whole passage. Take a quick scan of the questions first before approaching the text, as this will help you locate the key information faster. 
  • Keep to the word limit. If you are asked for ‘NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS’, then do not write more or you will lose marks. 
  • Copy words accurately from the text. Spelling mistakes will mean that you will lose the mark for that question.

Writing Section

  • Timing: 60 minutes
  • Number of questions: 2
  • Question/task types: In the first task you are required to describe or interpret some visual information, such as a graph or diagram in your own words. The second question requires you to respond to an opinion, argument or problem. 

    Task One requires you to write at least 150 words describing information presented in a chart/graph. Alternatively you may be given a diagram of a device or a process and asked to describe how it works. You will need to write in a neutral or academic style, including the most relevant points in the stimuli, leaving out insignificant or minor points. Although in this section you can go over 150 words you should spend no more than 20 minutes on this task, as Task Two is worth more of your overall score. 

    Task Two requires you to write at least 250 words and you will lose marks if your answer does not meet this requirement. You are permitted to go over the word count, although you should bear in mind that only 40 minutes should be spent on this task (including time for checking and correcting your answer). You should also be careful of making your answer too long, as you will be penalized for irrelevance if the response is off-topic or if it is not written in full (bullet points and note form will not be permitted).

    Note that this question is worth twice as much to your final writing band score as task one, so it is important to ensure your answer is relevant and answers the question in full.
  • How it is marked? Both tasks are assessed using four main criteria: 
    • Task achievement/response: Task One is marked on how accurately and appropriately you complete the task set out in the question. Task Two assesses your ability to articulate a position from the question/ statement given and how you support your answer through evidence or examples.
    • Coherence and cohesion: assesses the clarity and fluency of your answers. 
    • Lexical resource: assesses appropriate use and range of vocabulary. 
    • Grammatical range and accuracy: evaluates your use and range of grammar. 

    Your score will be translated into whole and half bands 0-9, which will contribute to your overall banded score. 

    IELTS Writing Section Checklist & Tips

    • Allow approximately 20 minutes for Task One and 40 minutes for Task Two. 
    • Make sure your write at least the minimum word count for each section (150 words for Task One and 250 words for Task Two). 
    • Use your question paper to make a plan before you start to write. This will help you to make sure your answers are clear and accurately answer the question. 
    • Make sure to leave time at the end to go back and check your spelling and grammar. Mistakes in this area will lose you valuable marks. 
    • Avoid repetition of the same words or phrases to help you demonstrate a good range of vocabulary. 
    • Make sure you are clearly answering the question or task with each new point. 
    • Do not use bullet points or any note form. 
    • Do not copy words/phrases from the question paper as this will not gain you marks. 

Speaking Section

  • Timing: 11 - 14 minutes
  • Number of questions: 3
  • Question/task types: The speaking section of the IELTS exam consists of a recorded oral interview, separate to the rest of the paper. The session will start off with introductory topics such as work, family and interests. These questions will be taken from the examiner's script to ensure consistency across candidates. 

    The next part of the interview is where the interviewer will give you a task card, which will ask you to speak about a particular topic and includes a list of points that should be incorporated. You will have a couple of minutes (along with a pencil and paper) to make notes and structure what you would like to say. The examiner will then ask you to talk for 1-2 minutes, after which they will stop you and ask you a couple of questions on the topic. 

    In the final section of the interview, you and the examiner will discuss issues related to the topic in the previous section. It's in this section where you will get to express and justify opinions. This part usually lasts around 4-5 minutes. 
  • How it is marked? Your speaking section will be scored by the trained examiner, who will assess you using the following criteria: 
    • Fluency and coherence: assesses your ability to speak with normal levels of continuity in an easy-to-understand manner. 
    • Lexical resource: assesses appropriate use of vocabulary, as well as how you fill a vocabulary gap without noticeable hesitation. 
    • Grammatical range and accuracy: assesses the length and complexity of your sentences. 
    • Pronunciation: assesses how easy/ difficult it is for the examiner to understand you.  

    IELTS Speaking Section Checklist & Tips

    • Pay close attention to the questions being asked in order to keep your answers relevant.
    • Answer the questions in some detail to make sure you are providing enough material to gain marks.
    • Practice speaking for 2 minutes so you become familiar with how much material is required for the second section of the interview (“The Long Turn”).
    • Do not learn answers off by heart.
    • Do not stray from the topics on the task card, as only these areas will help you improve your score.
    • If you have made a mistake it is perfectly acceptable to correct yourself. Although do not ask the examiner at any point if you have said something correctly.
    • Practice ways that you can delay answers to give yourself more time to think, e.g. “That’s a good question…” or “Let me think. I would say…”

You can test your knowledge on each section by taking a Free IELTS Practice Test.

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