The IELTS exam

IELTS Exam: get it done!

What is IELTS?

IELTS stands for the International English Language Testing System, which is run by IDP IELTS and the British Council, and was designed to assess English language competency IELTS scores are accepted in 140 countries, for educational as well as immigration purposes, and some 3.8 million people a year sit the IELTS exam. The aim of the IELTS exam is to test your communication skills, and that is why there are four IELTS papers – reading, speaking, writing and listening –  and why 10,000 institutions across the globe accept IELTS results, when assessing applications for undergraduate and graduate programs.

How many different types of exams are there?

The main division in the IELTS exam is between the Academic IELTS and the General Training IELTS (there are two other types, which are not relevant here, one is for people who want to work for Transport for London, the other for family members applying for a visa to an English-speaking country). The Academic IELTS exam is designed for applicants to higher education, or for people who are trying to get their professional registration. The General Training IELTS exam is for applicants to secondary education, work experience or for immigration purposes. Both exams include the same IELTS Speaking and Listening papers, but the Writing and Reading papers are quite different. We will look at the IELTS exam in greater detail, below.

How often and where can I sit?

You will be relieved to hear that you can sit the IELTS exam as often as you want, and that there are more than 800 centres which offer it, found  on every continent. The exam is held 48 times a year and, in order to discover your closest IELTS exam centre, you should contact the British Council or Elab and we will advise you. Remember that sitting the IELTS exam is not free and that you will have to pay fee of around £190 for each attempt – so try to get a good score as soon as you can!

ielts exam course

Is the IELTS exam paper-based or computer- delivered ?

The short answer is: Both.

Note that even if you decide to do the computer-delivered IELTS exam, you will still have to do the Speaking paper face to face with an IELTS examiner -although some centres have decided to offer the speaking test over video link, in view of the covid-19 pandemic. You will need to check this with your test centre or the British Council – or call Elab.

One of the benefits of the computer-delivered test is that you get your results within a week, whereas you will have to wait up to 15 days for your score if you choose the paper-based IELTS exam.

One important point to bear in mind is that, if you are under 18, you will have to ask your parents for their written permission to sit the IELTS exam.

How is the IELTS exam scored?

You will be awarded a score between 1 and 9, including half marks, so for example you could get 6.5. Your overall score is the average for all four papers, and you will notice that some universities ask you for overall scores, while others stipulate that you can’t get less than, say, 6 in each section .It is worth checking the requirements for individual universities to see precisely what they demand. The scores are roughly equivalent to:

  • 9 - expert use of English
  • 8 - very good
  • 7 - good
  • 6 - competent
  • 5 - modest user, with basic communication
  • 4 - limited user
  • 3 - extremely limited
  • 2 - intermittent user
  • 2 - non-user

What scores do universities ask for?

As a rule of thumb, expect UK universities to demand  a score between 6.5 (LSE) and 7.5 (Cambridge). In the Netherlands you will need to score 6-6.5. In Germany most universities require 6.5, while in the US prestigious institutions such as Columbia expect 7-8.5, whereas MIT accepts applicants who have achieved 6 in the IELTS exam. Contact Elab for detailed, up to date information on entry requirements for specific courses and universities.

How do I register to sit the exam?

  1. Create an account with the British Council.
  2. Ensure that you have your passport to hand for ID purposes.
  3. Find your nearest test centre, pay the fee and register. Note down your reference number and make sure the email address you have provided is accurate. You will get an email confirming the date, location and time 5-10 days before the IELTS exam.

Can I reschedule my IELTS exam?


You can change the date of the exam you originally booked to sit as long as the date you want falls within three months of the initial date. If you ask for your test date to be transferred five weeks or more before the exam, you will receive a refund of 75 per cent of the exam fee you have paid. If you change it any later, you will not be refunded the IELTS exam fee.

Will my scores be sent on to the universities I have applied to?

Yes, you can nominate up to five universities and IELTS will send on your scores for free.

Do I sit all the papers in the IELTS exam on the same day?


The Speaking test is normally scheduled a week before or after, the other papers. Reading, Writing and Listening are all  taken on the same day and there is no break between the papers.

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What happens on the day of the IELTS exam?

You will be asked for your ID and may be photographed or have your fingerprint taken – to make sure that the person sitting the exam is actually you!

You will have to leave your mobile phone outside the testing area.

You may not wear a personal watch.

All you can take with you into the IELTS exam is a pencil, an eraser and a pen. If these break, run out of ink etc, ask the invigilator for help by making yourself known – raising your hand.

Food and drink is not allowed, so make sure you have eaten and had  something to drink before arriving.

How long is each paper in the IELTS exam?

  • Listening - 30 minutes - 40 questions
  • Reading - 60 minutes - 40 questions
  • Writing - 60 minutes - 2 tasks
  • Speaking - 11-14 minutes - 3 tasks
  • Overall, then, the IELTS exam lasts for 2 hours and 45 minutes.

The IELTS Exam: Listening Paper


You will listen to four recordings and answer 40 questions. You may hear a number of accents in these recordings: American, Australian, British etc. Each of the four sections starts by setting the scene and introducing you to the speakers you will hear.

The four sections are made up of:

  • an everyday conversation between two people
  • an everyday monologue
  • a conversation between two to four people, set in an educational or training context
  • a monologue on an academic subject (similar to what you might hear in a lecture hall)


You could have to:

  • choose between a  number of answers 
  • label diagrams
  • complete sentences
  • summarise an argument
  • complete notes
  • add information to a map, plan or flowchart.


This paper tests whether you understand information, ideas and arguments. Remember that the answers appear in the order in which they are mentioned in the recordings. You are expected to show that you can link descriptions to visual materials –  like maps – that you understand spatial terms (go right and then straight through the alley…) and that you can follow an argument  and listen for facts.

The IELTS Exam -Reading Paper


This paper is made up of three sections, each with one long text, with the pieces becoming increasingly difficult as you work your way through the section.

It is important to make sure that you divide your time equally and only spend 20 minutes on each section. The texts are taken from books, newspapers or magazines, and therefore use authentic language. They could be analytical, descriptive, factual , and include pictures or tables and diagrams. There are 40 questions to answer.


You could have to:

  • complete sentences
  • answer multiple-choice questions
  • match features
  • match headings
  • complete a summary
  • identify whether something is true/false

If there are any technical terms in the text you are given, then you will be provided with a short glossary to use.

ielts exam course test

IELTS exam - how do I get prepared?

Face IELTS exam in the best way possible with Elab!


This paper tests your ability to synthesise and use information , so that you show that you can read for gist (broad understanding), extract main ideas and find details. You might be required to deduce a writer’s opinions from their arguments, summarise the implications of what they are saying, and reach conclusions on the basis of their statements. Many students have found the reading paper quite challenging, so you would be well advised to look through old papers, so that you get an idea of the types of text that are used in this part of the IELTS exam.

The IELTS Exam-Writing Paper


You will be set two separate tasks in this paper.


  1. A  graph, table or diagram will be provided. You must describe or explain the data, an event or an object. Do not write less than 250 words.
  2. You will be given an opinion, or a problem and asked to respond to them in an essay. Once again, you must try to write 250 words or more.

Remember to keep your style formal in both essays!


To demonstrate your ability to communicate clearly in a coherent, well-organised way, using appropriate vocabulary and ensuring that the sentences you write are grammatically correct. Pay attention to the tone of your writing and make sure you paragraph your essay.

The IELTS Exam – Speaking Paper


IELTS sends experienced examiners to carry out the speaking assessment, which is made up of three parts and, overall, lasts for 11-14 minutes.

Tasks :

In Part 1 the examiner will introduce him or herself and ask you a few general questions, as well as verify your identity. This section lasts 4-5 minutes.

In Part 2   you will be handed a task card, with a question, for example: What is the best holiday you have ever had? Is volunteering a good thing? How can people stay healthy? You will  have a minute to think about the question, and possibly jot down  notes, and then 1-2 minutes to talk about the subject.

In Part 3 the examiner will go back to what you were saying and ask you questions for 4-5 minutes.

How can I prepare for the IELTS exam?

Once you register with the British Council you will be able to access The Road to IELTS, which contains videos and mock tests. It is impossible to over-emphasise the importance of doing mock tests, so that you know exactly what to expect, how to deal with different types of materials and, perhaps most importantly, how to time yourself in each paper in the IELTS exam. If you try out a past paper, you will soon find out exactly where your areas of weakness lie – and do something about it. If you are not confident in the Speaking Paper, you can set aside time every week to pull random topics out of a hat and practise talking about them in front of an audience. If the Writing Paper floors you, then the more essays you write, the better your style, approach and content will become.

Some of us are not born for independent learning, but prefer to have guidance and ongoing feedback. If you are this type of learner, then you should contact Elab and we will find you an experienced mentor to work by your side.

The IELTS exam opens the doors to a brilliant future and an amazing time at the university of your dreams. As noted earlier, millions of young people sit it every year – and do well.  You too can sail through the IELTS exam, given the right preparation and practice, so contact Elab today and let us draw up a study timetable and find you the help you need to maximise your chances of passing IELTS with a high score.