IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. There are two types of exam: Academic and General Training. You'll need to take the Academic exam if you want to study at undergraduate or postgraduate levels, or are looking for professional registration. The General Training exam is often a visa requirement for people who want to migrate to Australia, the UK, Canada or New Zealand, and is also for people who want to train or study below degree level.
The exam has four sections:
Listening - 30 minutes plus 10 minutes to transfer answers
The format in the listening test is the same for both Academic and General Training IELTS. There are 4 sections:
1) A conversation between two people in an everyday social context
2) A monologue set in an everyday social context
3) Conversation between up to four people in an educational/training context
4) A monologue on an academic subject
There are a variety of question types, such as multiple choice, sentence completion and diagram/map labelling. The questions are in the order of the recording, and the test becomes more difficult as it progresses. You can write your answers on the question paper while you're listening, and you will then have 10 minutes to transfer your answers to the answer sheet. You should be very careful with spelling!
Reading - 60 minutes
The Academic reading test contains 3 passages with a variety of questions including matching headings, sentence completion and short-answer questions. Texts are taken from books, journals, magazines and newspapers, and are intended to be of general interest to students at undergraduate or postgraduate level.
In the General Training reading test, there are three sections of increasing difficulty. Section 1 could contain two or three short texts, or several shorter texts. Section 2 has two texts and in Section 3, there is one long text. Section 1 deals with everyday topics, Section 2 is focussed on work and Section 3 contains a topic of general interest. As with the Academic test, there are a variety of question types.
You have to transfer your answers to the answer sheet within the 60 minutes.
Writing - 60 minutes
The Academic and General Training tests both have 2 writing questions, both of which must be completed within the time limit. In Task 1 of the Academic test, you will be asked to summarise some visual information in your own words. This could be a graph, table, chart or diagram and you need to write at least 150 words in about 20 minutes. In Task 2, you need to write an essay with a minimum of 250 words. You should do this in about 40 minutes.
Task 1 in the General Training exam asks you to write a letter of at least 150 words in about 20 minutes, while Task 2 is similar to the one in the Academic test.
Speaking - 11-14 minutes
The format of the speaking test is the same for both Academic and General Training, and takes the form of an interview between the candidate and one examiner. The speaking test has three sections:
Part 1 - Introduction and interview: General questions on familiar topics (4-5 minutes)
Part 2 - Long turn: The examiner gives you a card with a topic which asks you to talk about particular points. You have one minute to prepare, then have to speak for 1-2 minutes.
Part 3 - Discussion: You and the examiner discuss the topic from part 3 in more detail and in a more general and abstract way.
You can find out more about the structure of the exam, as well as lots more information about IELTS, here.
I have been teaching IELTS preparation classes for three years, and offer private lessons for both the Academic and General Training tests. Please contact me here for more information.