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Step-by-Step Guideline for the IELTS

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Step-by-Step Guideline for the IELTS

Jul 22, 2022Date Published
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If you’re looking into studying abroad, there’s a high chance you’ve run into IELTS test score requirements. After all, over 10,000 organisations and institutions around the world recognise this test as proof of your English language ability. These organisations include a large majority of universities in popular study abroad destinations. In fact, you might need to prove your English proficiency to get a student visa to travel to these countries in the first place. Since this is such a critical component of your study abroad endeavours, check out our step-by-step guideline for the IELTS to find out everything you need to know!

What is the IELTS Exam?

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is one of the most popular, accessible, and widely-recognised English proficiency exams in the world! If your goal is to study or work abroad in a major English-speaking country, chances are you’ll be asked for your IELTS test scores. In 2018 alone, there were 3.5 million tests held. And to give you an idea of its widespread accessibility – over 1,600 test centres in 140 countries administer the IELTS. Here’s a breakdown of some of the other major institutions heavily involved in your study abroad efforts that recognise the IELTS:


  • UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)
  • Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)
  • Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection
  • Immigration New Zealand


Plus, the IELTS is a recognised test by every single UK and Australian university. Over 3,400 institutions in the USA, more than 350 in Canada, and over 1,000 in Australia recognise the test as well!


What’s the Purpose of the IELTS Test?

Simply put, it highlights the ability of a non-native speaker in the commonly-spoken language of major English-speaking countries. These test scores give immigration bodies, universities, and employers an idea of your ability in English in both academic and professional settings, as well as daily life. Since the goings-on in popular study abroad locations like the UK, Canada, Australia, etc. are almost entirely in English, this test score might be what makes or breaks your study abroad application.


Which Test Should I Sit For?

Now that we’ve established the importance of the IELTS, the next step is figuring out the right test for you. The exams fall under two main types: 

  • IELTS Academic – this is what you’ll be sitting if you’re aiming to study abroad. The test assesses whether you’re ready to be a part of the academic environment of your study abroad destination at your current English language level
  • IELTS General Training – if you’re aiming to work and seek residency abroad, this is the test you’ll sit for. This version evaluates your ability in English in practical and social contexts, in the workplace, and everyday social scenarios


If you’re applying to study or work in the UK, you’ll need to register for the IELTS for UKVI Academic or IELTS for UKVI General Training options respectively.

What Does the IELTS Cover?

How exactly does the IELTS test your English language ability? For both the Academic and General Training version, the test covers four main skills:

  • Speaking
  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Writing 

You’ll sit the Listening, Reading, and Writing sections together, in one session. The Speaking session happens separately. After you book your test, you might get to sit both sessions on the same day. In some cases, though, your Speaking test might be on a different day. Here’s what each of the sections will comprise of: 

IELTS Section
Test Components
A face-to-face component where you will sit with an IELTS examiner. The examiner asks you questions or gives you prompts, and you elaborate your thoughts and opinions through informal discussion. 

Components: 3 parts

Duration: 11-14 minutes

Candidates listen to recorded audio and answer corresponding questions. Of the four sections, the first two cover social situations, and the second two cover academic/training contexts. 

Components: 4 sections, 10 questions each

Duration: Approximately 30 minutes

Academic test

Candidates read 3 long passages of text (which may be excerpts from books, periodicals, journals, etc.) and answer questions based on these 

Components: 3 long passages, 40 questions

Duration: 60 minutes 

General Training test

Candidates read both short and lengthy texts, taken from notices, advertisements, official and company documents, etc. and answer corresponding questions 

Components: 3 sections (Section 1 – several short texts; Section 2 – two texts; Section 3 – one long text)

Duration: 60 minutes

Academic test 

Components: 2 tasks 

Task 1

150-word write-up describing and analysing a chart, diagram, graph, table, etc. 

Task 2

250-word essay built on the prompt given 

Duration: 60 minutes 

General Training test 

Components: 2 tasks 

Task 1

A 150-word letter 

Task 2

A 250-word essay 

Duration: 60 minutes


How Do I Take the IELTS Test?


Depending on your test centre, you can take the IELTS test in one of two ways. The computer-delivered test involves doing the Listening, Reading, and Writing sections on a computer. You could also choose to take the test for these sections through the paper-based option

The content of all these tests is the same – it’s just the delivery system that’s different. You get the computer-delivered version results within 3-5 days. The paper-based test results take a little longer – generally, 13 days after sitting the test. 

Looking at all this, you may be fretting “Is the IELTS difficult?” Remember, the test only evaluates your ability in English. You’re not graded on your knowledge of the passages and excerpts you’ll come across. Language specialists around the world structure this test to make sure it’s fair and objective for test-takers of all backgrounds. The topics you’ll come across in all the sections will be general and familiar. It’s your answers, displaying your understanding of English and your ability to communicate said understanding, that you’re scored on. 

Speaking of which –


Understanding IELTS Scores

The IELTS score requirements can vary depending on the institution in question. Even within the same university, the score requirements may be different across different programs and levels of study. So, be sure you’re looking into the specific target scores for things like your visa, university, and program, for the Academic version! 

To know how to prepare for the IELTS, you need to understand the score breakdowns. IELTS scores fall between a scale of 1 to 9, with 0.5 point increments. The overall band score is the average of your scores in the four sections and reflects your level of proficiency with the language. 

IELTS Score Band
Skill Level
What This Means
Expert user
Fully proficient in English. You use the language accurately, fluently, and appropriately and with thorough understanding
Very good user
Fully proficient in English, with only occasional inaccurate or inappropriate applications, generally in unfamiliar situations. Nonetheless, you can handle complex and detailed argumentation well
Good user
A functional grasp of the language with occasional inaccurate or inappropriate applications. Generally, you can handle complex language and understand detailed arguments well
Competent user
Effective grasp of the language with some inaccurate and inappropriate applications and misunderstandings. You can use and understand moderately complex language, especially in familiar situations
Modest user
Partial grasp of the language; likely to grasp meaning in most situations, although more prone to mistakes and misunderstandings. You can handle basic conversation in familiar situations within your field
Limited user
Basic grasp of language, limited to familiar situations. You frequently experience difficulties in understanding meaning and expression, particularly with complex language
Extremely limited user
Grasp of language limited only to general meaning in very familiar situations, prone to breakdowns in communication in the language
Intermittent user
Understanding and expressing oneself in English is very difficult
No ability in the language with the exception of a few words
Did not attempt the test
Did not attempt the test


The higher the band score, the more proficient you are in the language. Universities can set their band scores anywhere between 5.0 and 9.0, in general. Again, it’s important to look into what the particular requirements of your chosen university and program are. Some schools break down the score requirements of each section as well. This is because your scores for the different sections display your ability in different types of English skills. Take a look at what the score bands mean, for example, for the Speaking and Writing sections:



Fluency and Coherence: how easily, naturally, accurately, and clearly you understand and express yourself in English 

Lexical Resource: how rich your vocabulary is, including how well you understand and use figurative language with native-speaker proficiency and apply it in the right contexts 

Grammatical Range and Accuracy: the ability to structure sentences appropriately, accurately, and naturally based on the rules of English grammar 

Pronunciation: able to clearly, coherently, and accurately express yourself verbally in English 


Task Achievement: whether or not you met the requirements of the task you are completing 

Cohesion and Coherence: your ability to present your ideas in an organised, natural, and easy-to-understand manner 

Lexical Resource: how rich your vocabulary is, including how well you understand and use figurative language with native-speaker proficiency and apply it in the right contexts 

Grammatical Range and Accuracy: the ability to structure sentences appropriately, accurately, and naturally based on the rules of English grammar

How Can I Prepare for the IELTS?

Now that you’re all caught up on what exactly the IELTS test is and how it takes place, this is the next big question. Even if you’re completely confident in your English ability, we strongly recommend exploring prep options. The IELTS has a very specific format. And if you’re not familiar with this format, the structure and instructions could take you off-guard when you’re in the test room. Every minute is valuable, and you might miss out on the chance to score as much as you can if you go in blind. 

If you’re not as confident in your English ability, your prep work can be crucial in helping you level up your score. The more you practice, the better your chances of meeting your target scores. So what options are out there?

Road to IELTS

Once you register for the test, you get this free Last Minute Course to help you prepare! The kit has nine tutorial videos, 75 interactive activities, and six practice tests to get you used to the format and develop scoring strategies.

IELTS WordReady

This is a personalised online resource that helps you expand your vocabulary for the IELTS Academic test.

IELTS Preparation Books

You can order prep books full of sample quizzes, practice questions, and test-taking tips from your test centre or from official test administrators. These resources are great for self-study, with a variety of options available. Whether you're looking for a comprehensive beginner's guide walking you through the whole test or targeted practice for different sections, official IELTS preparation books are great for independent learning.

IELTS Prep App

The free IELTS Prep App is an easy and on-the-go option to practice for the test on your mobile device. You’ll have access to practice tests, sample quizzes for each of the four sections, vocabulary practice activities, tips, and more at your fingertips. The app also helps you track your progress, so you have a better idea of your English ability against the score criteria for the IELTS.

Workshops and Other Resources

From eLearning courses and ebooks to live workshops, both online and offline, UniSearch offers a range of options for students preparing to sit for their IELTS.

How Can I Register for the IELTS?

The date, location, and delivery type of your test depend on your location. You can find the location nearest to you through With over 1,600 centres around the world, you’ll most likely find one conveniently close by. Your chosen test centre would depend on whether the date and time work for you, as well as whether they offer the delivery option you’re comfortable with. Note that there’s a registration fee, and this will vary depending on your location and your currency.


Concluding Thoughts on Sitting Your IELTS

Now that you’ve looked through our complete IELTS exam guidelines, we hope you’ve found the answers to your pressing questions. The next step is to figure out when and where to sit for your test, and how to prepare! It may seem like a lot to absorb at a glance, but the IELTS test is a crucial component of your efforts to study abroad. English is the tool that will help you get by in the classroom, workplace, and everyday life in major study abroad destinations. Universities, immigration offices, and so on put great emphasis on these scores when selecting students and professionals from around the world. With the right type and volume of practice, you can boost up your proficiency level to hit your target scores in a single sitting!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do my IELTS results expire after a while?

Yes, they do. Your IELTS scores will be valid for up to two years after you get your results.

How do I get my IELTS results?

You can check your IELTS score through your Test Taker Portal after you’ve sat for the test. You also get an official report of your test results in the mail.

When do I get my IELTS results?

If you sit for the paper-based option, you’ll get your results after 13 days. For the computer-delivered option, you’ll get your scores within 3-5 days.

Can I redo my IELTS test?

Yes! There’s no limit to how many times you can sit for the IELTS test.

What do I do if I think my score isn’t correct?

If you don’t agree with the score you got, you can request an Enquiry of Results. This costs a fee, but if after re-marking your score is higher than what you got originally, you get a refund.


If you are requesting an Enquiry of Results, you have to get in touch with your test centre within six weeks of the date of your test. You can specify which sections you wish to have re-marked.

Can I take the IELTS test?

Anyone of or above 16 years of age can take the IELTS test. If you’re a minor, you’ll need your parent or guardian’s authorization.

Which IELTS test should I take?

When applying to study abroad, the exam you’ll be taking is the IELTS Academic version. For work and immigration purposes – if you’re not taking the study route – you opt for the General Training version.


When applying for the UK specifically, you’ll need to sit for the IELTS for UKVI Academic exam. Alternatively, when applying for a visa to work in the UK, you opt for the IELTS for UKVI General Training exam.