What is the IELTS Exam?

The IELTS, or the International English Language Testing System, is a series of tests tailored to assess the English language ability of a student. It is managed and run by both Cambridge ESOL Examinations and IDP Education Australia. As one of the most acknowledged English language tests out there, it’s no wonder that UK universities use it as a benchmark to judge the English speaking ability of an applicant, and it will have to be taken if you are applying for an academic course at a university in the UK. The test comes in two formats, the General Training test and the Academic test.


The actual IELTS test itself is made up of four parts: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. The four parts will be covered in more detail below. The entire exam lasts around two hours and forty-five minutes.
  • Listening

    In this thirty minute section, you will have to listen to a range of monologues and conversations in different accents from around the world. As you progress through the section, the difficulty will start to increase. You will have the final 10 minutes to complete the answer sheet.

  • Reading

    In this section applicants will have an hour to complete 3 sections, which will test your ability to read, and assess your logical thinking, vocabulary, and comprehension. The sections get increasingly difficult as you progress.

  • Writing

    The writing exam is divided into two sections. The first section, which is 20 minutes long, is based around writing a 150 word paragraph describing a table or diagram. The second section, which is 40 minutes long, is focused on writing an argumentative piece on a topic, about 250 words long.

  • Speaking

    The speaking test is divided into 3 sections. The first section is devoted to introducing yourself, and talking about topics that are familiar to you, for example home, family, or what you do in your free time. The first section will usually last 4-5 minutes. The second section consists of the test taker receiving a task card with a particular topic. They will have a minute to write notes on it, then will be expected to talk about the topic for 2 minutes. The third and final section will involve a discussion between the test taker and the examiner, usually on questions related to the previous topic in Section 2. Examiners at this point will try and determine the linguistic ceiling of the candidate.


The IELTS scoring is based on a number system from 0 to 9, with 9 being an expert user of the English language. Because the IELTS tests place a big weight on communication skills instead of vocabulary memorisation, it is therefore encouraged to study for the IELTS with a qualified teacher instead of doing it on your own. 

Still have questions? Please contact your local UKEAS office to get the most up-to-date professional advice. Remember, its free!