Preparing for the IELTS exam: Understanding the four tests 

Many students aspiring to pursue international studies prefer study destinations where English is a primary language. This is especially notable among those who come from predominantly English-speaking countries or speak the language proficiently themselves. This way, they can communicate, connect, and overall build their lives with much more ease. With this reasonable choice comes different steps that need to be taken; one of the most essential ones is proving English language proficiency by taking the IELTS exam.

The IELTS, or the International English Language Testing System, is a globally recognized language proficiency test designed to evaluate an individual’s ability to communicate effectively in English. In this article, we’ll guide you through understanding the test by unpacking the IELTS exam pattern, along with the best strategies on how to efficiently prepare for and take the exam.

Understanding the IELTS exam pattern

To be able to conquer any challenge, it’s crucial for us to inform ourselves about its intricacies to have a better grasp of how to tackle it. One of the best ways to ace this test is by delving into the IELTS exam pattern. Ask helpful questions such as:

  • What does the exam cover?
  • How many and what kinds of questions are there?
  • How much time will I have to complete the test?

In this manner, you will be able to prepare better—studying for the test types, strengthening weak points and overall being able to review with more intention will significantly contribute to your success when taking the exam.

The IELTS exam pattern has four sections that assess key language skills – Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. Both IELTS exam modules, academic and general training, contain the same four parts, with the same content for speaking and listening, but varying in the reading and writing tests.

Here’s a breakdown of the coverage per test section:

Listening – 40 questions, 30 minutes

The IELTS Listening test assesses a candidate’s ability to understand spoken English in various contexts. It has four parts with ten questions each; parts 1-2 are about everyday, social situations, while parts 3-4 are about educational and training situations. The audio clips are only played once each, so focused attention is a must. Test-takers must then use the last 10 minutes of the exam to transfer their answers onto an answer sheet. Question types include multiple-choice, matching, labeling diagrams or maps, completing sentences, and note-taking.

Reading – 40 questions, 60 minutes

The IELTS Reading test consists of three sections of increasing difficulty, each containing a different type of text. The test varies depending on the module (academic vs. general training), but there are a total of 40 questions and one one-hour allotment for both modules. For the academic module, the texts are more complex and are sourced from academic journals, textbooks, and articles. Question types include multiple-choice, matching information, diagram labeling, and identifying writer’s views or claims. The general training module, on the other hand, contains texts that are more focused on daily, workplace, and social contexts. Question types include matching headings, sentence completion, matching features, and identifying information.

Writing – 2 tasks, 60 minutes

The IELTS Writing test consists of two tasks; Task 1 is different per module, while Task 2 is common for both. For Task 1 in the academic module, you need to describe some visual information in your own words (a graph, table, chart or diagram) with at least 150 words in about 20 minutes. For Task 1 in the general training module, you have to respond to a situation by writing a letter, for example, asking for information or explaining a situation, with at least 150 words in about 20 minutes. In Task 2 for both modules, you must discuss in at least 250 words (with a time limit of 40 minutes), the point of view, argument or problem provided.

Speaking – 3 parts, 14 minutes

The IELTS Speaking test is a face-to-face interview conducted by a certified examiner. It’s comprised of three parts, each with a specific focus and format. First is the introduction which takes around five minutes. This is followed by the long turn where the examiner gives you a task card containing pointers and instructions for speaking about a particular topic. The last part is for discussing issues related to the topic in part two. It’s presented in a more general and abstract way and, where appropriate, in greater depth.

Best tips on preparing for each IELTS exam section


Develop active listening skills by engaging with various English accents through podcasts, movies and authentic audio materials. Practice note-taking to retain crucial information during the exam.


Diversify your reading materials, including academic texts, articles, and newspapers. Master skimming and scanning techniques to navigate passages swiftly and extract information effectively.


Hone your writing skills by practicing both Task 1 (report writing) and Task 2 (essay writing). Focus on organization, coherence, and vocabulary to craft compelling and well-structured responses.


Cultivate fluency and coherence in spoken English. Engage in conversations, participate in language exchange programs, and practice responding to a range of topics to build confidence.

Gearing up for the IELTS exam demands meticulous planning and dedicated effort. By understanding what the exam contains, you empower yourself to navigate this challenge successfully.

Get in touch with our business development experts today to learn more about the details you need to know to help your students navigate the IELTS!

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