• Mai Duc Nguyen

An Overview of the IELTS Exam

1. What is the IELTS exam?

IELTS, which stands for the International English Language Testing System, is the most popular English exam in the world. There are about two million IELTS papers completed and marked each year on a global scale.

2. Why should I take an IELTS exam?

The IELTS certificate is recognised and accepted by more than 9,000 organisations worldwide. It is seen as a requirement to obtain a work and study Visa in many English-speaking countries such as the UK, the US, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia.

3. Who are IELTS partners and examiners?

There are three organisations which are responsible for designing, checking and marking the IELTS papers, including the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations, the British Council and the Australian educational organisation called IDP. All papers are designed to fit the general ability of educated candidates with no specialist knowledge. IELTS examiners either have their first language as English or achieve the maximum score of 9.0.

4. Who can take the IELTS exam?

As long as your first language is not English, you are eligible for taking the IELTS exam. There are no requirements in terms of age, sex or ethnicity for IELTS candidates.

5. How many test types are there?

The IELTS exam is divided into two modules, including the Academic module and the General Training module. You should take the Academic module when you wish to study or work in English-speaking environments, whereas the General Training module is for candidates who are immigrants or plan to take part in training courses in a foreign country. Differences between these two modules will be discussed later. Please make sure you understand which exam you should sit to fit your future purposes.

6. How to register for an IELTS exam?

Normally, the steps to register for an IELTS exam would go like this: You choose a date, location and method of paying the exam fee. About one week prior to the date of your exam, you will be notified about where you should go to sit it. After you finish the exam for 10 business days, you will be aware of your result. You can ask for a re-mark by paying an extra fee. Please visit: ielts.org to learn more about these procedures.

7. Structure of the IELTS exam:

The IELTS exam is divided into four sections, including Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. You will do the Listening section first, followed by Reading, Writing and Speaking. I will now give you an overview of what these four sections look like.

a. Listening:

In the Listening test, there are 4 recordings and 4 small sections consisting of a total of 40 questions. There will be time for you to read instructions and questions. Before a new recording is played, there is pause so that you can check your answers. When all recordings are played, you will be given 10 minutes to transfer your answers from the question paper to the answer sheet.

b. Reading:

In this test, there are 3 passages consisting of 40 questions. Each passage, which has about 700 to 900 words, is extracted from reliable sources such as a well-known magazine. The total time for the Reading test is 1 hour and you do not have 10 minutes of Transfer Time as you do for the Listening test. Similar to the Listening test, the passages will become more difficult as you read them. When specialist vocabulary is used, academic explanation will be provided.

c. Writing:

The Writing test has 2 sections, including Writing Task 1 and Writing Task 2 and lasts for 1 hour. In Writing Task 1, you have to describe a piece of graphical information, which can be in the form of a line graph, bar chart, pie chart or process. You have to write at least 150 words for this section. In Writing Task 2, you have to write an essay discussing an academic topic, such as global environmental problems. Your Task 2 essay must be longer than 250 words.

d. Speaking:

You will do the Speaking test on a separate day, when a trained IELTS examiner will interview you. The IELTS Speaking test, which is divided into 3 parts (part 1, part 2 and part 3), normally last for 11-14 minutes each and will be recorded. In the fist part, you will be asked questions about yourself and other familiar topics. In the second part, you will have to talk non-stop about a topic for 2 minutes. In the third part, you will answer questions of academic topics such as culture.

8. How is the IELTS exam scored?

Individual assessment criteria for each section of the IELTS exam will be discussed later. Now I would like to show you the 9 band scores for the IELTS exam and description of each. Please keep in mind that there is no such thing as a pass or a fail.

9 - Expert User:

Has full operational command of the language: appropriate, accurate and fluent with complete understanding.

8 - Very Good User:

Has fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriacies. Misunderstandings may occur in unfamiliar situations. Handles complex detailed argumentation well.

7 - Good User:

Has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriateness and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally handles complex language well and understands detailed reasoning.

6 - Competent User:

Has generally effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.

5 - Modest User:

Has partial command of the language, coping with overall meaning in most situations, though is likely to make many mistakes. Should be able to handle basic communication in own field.

4 - Limited User:

Basic competence is limited to familiar situations. Has frequent problems in understanding and expression. Is not able to use complex language.

3 - Extremely Limited User:

Conveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations. Frequent breakdowns in communication occur.

2 - Intermittent User:

No real communication is possible except for the most basic information using isolated words or short formulae in familiar situations and to meet immediate needs. Has great difficulty understanding spoken and written English.

1 - Non User:

Essentially has no ability to use the language beyond possibly a few isolated words.

0 - Did not attempt the test:

No assessable information provided at all.