What does the IELTS exam involve?

A student is studying at their desk in front of a laptop and is holding an open notebook and a pencil

An IELTS (International English Language Testing System) qualification can act as your passport to working in, studying in or even moving permanently to an English-speaking country.

Different governments around the world require you to achieve different scores, and within these the required score will vary depending on your purpose for visiting. To make sure you score as high a score as possible and that your options are kept wide open, you need to be fully prepared for your IELTS exam.

As you may know, there are two versions of the IELTS exam, namely IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training. Should you wish to use your IELTS to study in an English-speaking country, you should opt for the Academic exam. If you are moving to an English-speaking country to work or live, however, the General Training route is appropriate for you.

Both of these share the same Speaking section and the same Listening section. Where they differ is in their Reading and Writing sections.

You will take the Listening, Reading and Writing sections of your test all on the same day, but your Speaking section can be taken up to a week before these or up to a week afterwards.

Here is what your exam will look like and how you can successfully tackle each section.


To test your English speaking ability, you will sit with an assessor who will ask you questions. This section will last between 11 and 14 minutes. The Speaking section is broken up into three parts;

  • Part 1. You will answer questions about yourself and about topics you have covered in your classes. You may be asked about your family, homelife, occupation, education and hobbies.

  • Part 2. You will get given a card with a topic written on it and will speak on this topic for up to two minutes. You will have one minute to prepare what you are going to say. Your assessor will then ask you a couple of questions on the topic and your speech.

  • Part 3. You will be asked further questions about this same topic, and you can use this opportunity to present any other ideas you have and show off your speaking skills. This third stage will last between four and five minutes.


For this 30-minute section, you will listen to four recordings of native English speakers. You will need to be able to demonstrate that you can understand the themes of the recordings, and that you have picked up on factual information and speakers’ opinions. These recordings consist of:

  • Two people conversing within an everyday social context.