Not sure what to expect? Not sure if you want to, or need to do the IELTS exam? This article will tell you what you need to know – I promise not to make it confusing!
IELTS (pronounced “eye-yelts”) stands for International English Language Testing System is an exam that is internationally recognised by universities, immigration departments, professional organisations and a large number of businesses. While there are other well-known English Exams (FCE, CAE, CPE, TOEFL, TOEIC), IELTS remains the most widely recognised and therefore a very good choice for you if you want certification of your English level.
What’s in the exam?
Below is an overview of what exams you will do, and what you can expect to find in the papers:
The Listening paper is in 4 parts, and lasts 30 minutes. At the end, you have 10 minutes to write your answers on an answer sheet (see example here)
You will only hear each recording once, but you will have some time to look at the questions before you listen, and then to check your answers after listening. Spelling is very important – even a single letter wrong will mean that the answer is marked wrong. Have a look at my spelling article for the listening paper here: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-ov
- Part 1 is a conversation between two people. You will have to listen for personal details – names (which will be spelt), numbers, dates, addresses etc. This is the easiest part of the exam.
- Part 2 is somebody talking to a group of people, giving information semi-formally. This could be directions, dates, a map, a table to complete or some multiple choice questions.
- Part 3 is a conversation involving three people – usually some university students with a tutor. The subject will be academic. you can expect multiple choice and sentence completion here.
- Part 4 is the most difficult part, and is part of a lecture about something academic. You will need to complete lecture notes, flow diagrams and sentences with words you here.
The reading paper is in three parts. Usually, the third text is the most difficult. Each text is about 800 words and the exam lasts one hour. The answer sheet is very similar, but unlike the listening you do not get extra time to transfer your answers.
For more information on what to expect, have a look at my reading article here: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-1P
REMEMBER: If the exam paper asks you to write “True, False, or Not Given”, then write exactly that. T, F and NG are not acceptable. Similarly, if you asked to write A-G instead of words, make sure you do this! Spelling is important again.
The writing paper is in two parts.
This part is 20 minutes and 150 words long. You will need to report the most important numbers and percentages from one of the following:
- A bar graph
- A line graph
- A pie chart
- A table
There is also a chance you will get a paper asking you to describe a process of how something works or is done.
In part 1, you are only reporting facts. This means you don’t put your opinion, and you don’t write a conclusion
In part 2, you are given 40 minutes to write 250 words about an academic topic, giving your opinion. You could be asked to write about advantages and disadvantages, agreeing or disagreeing, benefits and drawbacks or problems and solutions. For each of these, you must write:
- An introduction
- Two or three body paragraphs
- A conclusion
With both parts of the writing, the word count is very important. If you write less than 150 / 250 words, you will lose marks. The examiners will mark you in the following areas:
- Did you answer all parts of the question?
- Did you reach the word limit?
- Is your paragraphing clear?
Coherence / Cohesion
- Do your sentences and paragraphs connect together logically?
- Do you use linking words and ideas?
- Are the words in your sentences in the correct order?
Lexical (Vocabulary) Resource
- Have you used a good range of vocabulary without repeating yourself?
- Is the vocabulary related to the topic and the task?
- Is your spelling good?
Grammatical Range and Accuracy
- Is your grammar correct?
- Have you used a range of different grammatical structures?
Remember to put your opinion at the end of part 2. For more information see my articles on writing: Introductions: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-4J Body paragraphs: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-4P Conclusions: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-5f
The speaking test is the final part of the exam. It can happen any time within seven days of the other papers. It is split in to three parts, and lasts a total of 11-14 minutes.
This is like an introduction. You will be asked some general questions about your life, studies, interests etc. Make your answers as full and friendly as you can!
In this section, you are given a topic and one minute to prepare. You then need to speak for two minutes. The subject will always be something related to your experience. For some examples, look here: http://www.goodluckielts.com/IELTS-speaking-topics-2.html
For each topic, it is important to answer every part of the question. You must speak for a minimum of one minute – of course, two minutes is better.
This part is a discussion. The examiner will ask you some more questions related to the topic from part 2. This time, the questions will be more global, and they may engage you in a conversation. Look at the follow-up questions here (the first parts are examples of part 2): http://www.ielts-exam.net/ielts_speaking_samples/386/ Again, try to give full answers and include reasons for your answers.
In the speaking, the examiners are marking you on the following:
Fluency / Coherence
- Can you speak without much hesitation?
- Do your sentences make sense?
- Do you have a natural rhythm?
Lexical (Vocabulary) Resource
- Do you have a wide range of vocabulary?
- Can you use topic-specific vocabulary in a number of situations?
- Can you explain yourself if you don’t know a word?
Grammatical Range and Accuracy
- Can you use grammar accurately?
- Can you make the right choices in order to communicate the meaning you want?
- Can you use a wide range of different grammatical structures?
- Can you pronounce words correctly?
- Do you use connected speech and natural contractions?
- Do you have a natural tone and range of pitches?
- Do you sound “English”?
Take a look here for some advice: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-1v (fluency) and here http://wp.me/p2RmnE-5l (Questions)
What are the possible marks?
IELTS is marked from 0.0 to 9.0, with marks going up in stages of 0.5. If you want to do the following, these are often needed:
Foundation course – 4.5-5.0
Undergraduate course – 5.0-6.0
Masters Course – 6.0-7.0
PhD – 7.0-8.0
If you want to see how these match (approximately) to the CEFR scale, have a look below:
In your language classes, A1 = Elementary, A2 = Pre-Intermediate, B1 – Intermediate, B2 = Upper Intermediate, C1 = Advanced and C2 = proficient.
When should I take IELTS classes?
Before you start studying for the exam, you need to have a good level of general English. Because of this, it isn’t a good idea to have IELTS classes until you have finished / nearly finished Intermediate level.
When you are ready, it is important to have these classes. You need to practise specific techniques and use real exams before you will be ready to sit the exam.
I hope this information has helped you. For information about booking and sitting the exam, have a look here: http://www.ielts.org/test_centre_search/search_results.aspx