Table of Contents Hide
- Overview of the IELTS Exam
- IELTS Exam Format
- Tips for Preparing for the IELTS Exam
- Registering for the IELTS Exam
- What to Bring on IELTS Exam Day
- Receiving Your IELTS Scores
- Submitting IELTS Scores for University/College Applications
- Frequently Asked Questions
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS Exam) is a standardized test that measures English language proficiency across listening, reading, writing and speaking skills. It is one of the most widely accepted English proficiency exams for admission into universities, colleges and other educational institutions in English-speaking countries like the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
Taking the IELTS exam can be quite daunting for international students who are not native English speakers. Proper preparation and knowing what to expect can help you maximize your IELTS score and improve your chances of admission into your desired program and university. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know as an international student about taking the IELTS exam.
Overview of the IELTS Exam
IELTS is jointly managed by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge Assessment English. There are two main versions of the IELTS exam:
IELTS Academic – for those applying for higher education or professional registration in an English-speaking country
IELTS General Training – for those migrating to an English-speaking country like Australia, Canada or the UK, or for secondary education, training programs or work experience in an English-speaking country
Both versions have four sub-sections – listening, reading, writing and speaking. The listening, reading and writing sections are completed on the same day with no break in between. The speaking section may be taken up to 7 days before or after the other three sections.
The IELTS exam is scored on a 9-band scale with each band corresponding to a level of English competence. Most universities and colleges require an overall IELTS score of 6 or 7. Some specific programs may require a minimum score in each subsection as well.
IELTS Exam Format
Listening (30 minutes) – You will listen to four recordings of native English speakers and then write your answers to a series of questions. Recordings include conversations about everyday social situations and lectures or talks on academic subjects.
Reading (60 minutes) – You will read 3 passages on topics of general interest and respond to questions testing analysis, understanding and identifying opinions or claims made by the author.
Writing (60 minutes) – There are two tasks:
- Task 1 – You will analyze some visual data (chart/table/graph) and summarize or describe the main points in 150 words.
- Task 2 – You will respond to a point of view, argument or problem by stating your opinion in 250 words.
Speaking (11-15 minutes) – The speaking section is a face-to-face interview with an IELTS examiner. It is divided into three parts:
- Part 1: General questions about yourself and familiar topics like home, family, work, studies and interests (4-5 minutes)
- Part 2: You will be given a topic card and asked to speak about it for 1-2 minutes. You will have 1 minute to prepare your response.
- Part 3: The examiner will ask further questions related to the topic in Part 2 (4-5 minutes).
Tips for Preparing for the IELTS Exam
Here are some key tips to guide your preparation for taking the IELTS exam:
Get familiar with the format
- Review the format of the exam sections and time limits. Being familiar with the flow of the test will prevent surprises on exam day.
- Practice doing timed exam papers so you get comfortable completing each section within the allotted time.
Improve your English
- Read English books, newspapers and magazines to improve vocabulary and grammar. Listen to English media like news broadcasts and podcasts.
- Learn idioms, phrasal verbs and common expressions used in everyday English conversations.
- Speak English regularly with language partners or tutors to improve fluency.
Master exam strategies
- Learn and practice strategies for skimming and scanning texts in the reading section.
- Take notes and improve listening skills for lectures and conversations.
- Outline ideas before writing responses for speaking and writing sections. Manage time carefully.
- Learn how to describe data and write summaries for Task 1 of the writing section.
Practice with real exam samples
- Take practice tests regularly under timed conditions. Identify areas of weakness.
- Practice speaking with sample responses and get feedback from tutors.
- Write responses to sample essay topics and tasks within the time limits.
- Review model responses to see what high scoring answers look like.
Keep stress under control
- Manage test anxiety through breathing techniques and staying organized for exam day.
- Eat well and get adequate sleep in the weeks before your test date.
- Stay confident by reviewing preparation progress and keeping a positive attitude.
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Registering for the IELTS Exam
You can register for the IELTS exam online or in person through any of the official IELTS test centers run by the British Council or IDP: IELTS Australia. Only official test centers are authorized to administer the exam.
When picking a test date, make sure it falls within your program’s enrollment deadline and allows sufficient time for visa processing after receiving your results. IELTS scores are valid for two years.
You will need to create an account and provide the following information when registering:
- Personal and contact details
- Nationality, first language, country of birth
- Test module (Academic or General Training)
- Preferred test center, test date and time
- Payment details
Register as soon as possible as test centers can fill up. You will receive a confirmation email once registered successfully for the test. Make sure to print out your booking confirmation.
What to Bring on IELTS Exam Day
You must bring the following on your IELTS exam day:
- Printed booking confirmation
- Valid ID document (passport or national identity card)
- Two pens – black ink/ballpoint
- Pencils and eraser
- Water in a clear plastic bottle
Do not bring food, watches, bags, stationery (rulers, paper), electronic devices like phones into the exam room. Leave these in lockers provided at the test center.
Reach the test center at least 30 minutes before your scheduled exam time for check-in and ID verification. Follow all instructions given by the test invigilators.
Receiving Your IELTS Scores
You will receive two IELTS scores – an overall band score (average of all four skills) and individual band scores for listening, reading, writing and speaking.
Results are issued 13 days after your test. You will receive an email from the test center when your results are ready to view online through your account. Download and save a copy.
Your Test Report Form will also be mailed to you within five weeks of your test date. This is the official document accepted by institutions. Contact the test center if you do not receive the TRF within this timeline.
Review your scores and identify areas of improvement for future test retakes if your overall or subsection scores are below your target. Most test takers require multiple attempts to achieve their desired IELTS band score.
Submitting IELTS Scores for University/College Applications
When submitting university or college applications, follow instructions provided on their admission websites about uploading and sending IELTS scores. Many institutions allow you to submit your TRF online through your account.
If institutions want physical copies sent, you can order additional TRFs through British Council or IDP: IELTS Australia for a fee. Make these requests well before application deadlines to ensure timely delivery.
Compare English proficiency requirements across your desired programs and institutions when shortlisting options to apply to. An insufficient IELTS score can get your application rejected even if other components of your profile are strong.
The key to successfully taking the IELTS exam as an international student is giving yourself adequate preparation time, being thoroughly familiar with the test format, practising with authentic exam samples, and having a strategic approach. Manage stress levels and keep up your confidence. With focussed preparation and test-taking strategies, you can achieve your target IELTS band score.
Frequently Asked Questions
How is the IELTS exam scored?
The IELTS exam is marked on a 9-band scale. You will receive an overall band score (average of all four skills) and individual band scores for listening, reading, writing and speaking. The descriptors for each band score indicate the level of English competence.
When should I register for an IELTS exam date?
Register for the IELTS exam well ahead of admission deadlines for your target programs to allow sufficient time for taking the test, receiving your scores, and visa processing. Test centers can run out of slots closer to deadlines.
How can I prepare for my IELTS exam in a short time?
To prepare for IELTS in a short duration, focus on improving English skills through practice tests, mock exams and tutoring in areas of weakness. Learn strategies for managing time and stress during the test. Review previous model responses and vocabulary lists.
What ID documents can I take to the IELTS exam?
You must bring a valid and original passport or national identity card issued by the government. Make sure your ID document matches the details used for exam registration. Temporary or provisional ID documents are not accepted.
Should I retake the IELTS exam if I don’t get my desired scores?
It is quite common to take the IELTS exam more than once to achieve your target band scores. Analyze areas where you lost points and put together a preparation plan for your retest. Most test takers improve their scores significantly in the second attempt.
What should I do if I miss my scheduled IELTS exam?
Contact your test center immediately if you miss your test date. You may qualify for a partial refund of the exam fee depending on the circumstances and the center’s cancellation policies. Schedule a new test date as soon as feasible.