IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is a high-stakes test for the assessment of English language proficiency. Candidates are mainly prospective undergraduate or postgraduate students who plan to study in English-medium institutions, or individuals who are interested in gaining admission to secondary schools and vocational or training programmes. Two testing options are available to candidates, the Academic and the General Training. Both testing options comprise four components - Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. All candidates take the same Listening and Speaking components of the test but different Reading and Writing components according to the testing option they have chosen. The total test time is approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes.
The Listening component consists of four recorded texts, monologues and conversations by interlocutors who are native speakers with a range of accents. The topics deal with situations from everyday life and academic environments. There are four sections each containing 10 questions featuring a variety of multiple choice, matching, plan/map/diagram labelling type of tasks. The candidates listen to the recording only once and the approximate time for the completion of this component is 30 minutes with an additional 10 minutes to transfer answers to the answer sheet.
In the Academic Reading component, the candidates are presented with three reading passages with 40 questions from a variety of task types such as multiple choice, identifying information, identifying writer’s views/claims, matching information, matching headings, matching features, matching sentence endings, sentence completion, summary completion, note completion, table completion, flow-chart completion, diagram label completion, short-answer questions. The time allowed for the completion of this component is 60 minutes.
The Academic Writing component consists of two compulsory tasks and the candidates must demonstrate ability to present visual information (graph, chart, table or diagram) and to respond to an opinion, point of view or problem. The time allowed for the completion of this component is 60 minutes.
Lastly, the Speaking component consists of three parts: a) a general conversation between the candidate and the examiner, b) the candidate’s response to a topic by way of a monologue and c) a discussion between the examiner and the candidate on the same topic. The approximate time for the completion of this component is 11-14 minutes.
How the test measures language ability
The test is designed to place candidates’ language proficiency on a one to nine band scale (1-9), thus candidates are not assessed on a pass or fail basis. The Academic and General Training papers are graded to the same scale. The candidate’s average score is the product of the mean score of the candidate’s scores in the four test components – Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. The score for each component is equally weighed and a candidate can achieve whole (6.0, 7.0, 8.0) or half bands (6.5, 7.5, 8.5) in each test component.
The IELTS band scores are aligned to the Common European Framework of reference for language learning, teaching and assessment (CEFR) scale of levels for the measurement of language proficiency. A candidate who has achieved a score between 6.5 and 7.5 (C1) or a score between 8.0 and 9.0 (C2) is considered a proficient user of English.