Exam Format

Eliot Friesen-Meyers
Lesson by Eliot Friesen-Meyers
Magoosh Expert
Learn More About Magoosh IELTS
This lesson is an introduction to the format of the academic IELTS exam. So there are four sections on the academic IELTS. Three of the sections are called papers, and those are the reading, writing and listening papers, which are done in one session. You don't get any breaks in between the sections. The fourth section is the speaking test, and that's something that you schedule separately from the paper portion of the exam.

That's gonna be an in person interview. Some test centers allow you to have your interview on the same day as your paper test, other centers allow you to schedule your speaking test up to one week before or after your paper exam. You'll need to check with your own test center to see what you need to do and when you can schedule your speaking test.

The timing of the test, so you have 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete the whole exam. The reading section is one hour long, the writing section is also an hour long long. The listening paper takes 30 minutes, but then they give you an extra 10 minutes to transfer answers. What happens on the listening test is, you need to take down notes and kind of write down answers in your question booklet as you're listening to the speakers talk.

And then when all of that is done, you transfer your answers from the booklet over to your final answer sheet. That is something they give you 10 minutes to do at the end of the 30 minute listening section. Now if you're taking the computer based IELTS, okay so not the paper test but the computer version, you do not get 10 minutes at the end of the section, okay?

So once the last listening passage has played, you get a short amount of time to check spelling on your answers. They usually give about two minutes, I believe, but you certainly do not have ten minutes to revise answers or enter answers to questions you missed. On the computer test, the expectation is you're answering questions as you go, okay?

So there's no answer sheet to write answers on, so they don't give you that ten minutes. Just keep that in mind, If you're taking the computer version, that you will not have this ten minute period at the end of the section. The speaking section lasts about 11 to 15 minutes. The length depends a little bit on how long your answers are and how much you say during the interview.

Now let's look at what's in each section. So the reading paper has three reading passages. They're about the same length and about the same level of difficulty on the academic reading paper. The listening test has four sections. Each section has ten questions each, and they get tougher and tougher as you go.

So the material gets harder, the vocabulary is harder, and the topic's generally a little more difficult to follow as you go from beginning to end of the listening paper. Writing has two tasks, the first task is a short report based on a set of prompts and visuals that they provide you, and then you have to write an essay. The essay will be a normal five paragraph essay, usually responding to a prompt that they provide.

The prompt will ask you to provide your perspective, or your opinion, or some kind of argument to a question that they ask you. The speaking section has three parts, and this section of the test also gets a little tougher as you go. The first section of the speaking test has very kind of personal everyday life kind of questions, asking you about your family, about things you're interested in, things that you like to do.

The second part you have to give a short speech about a topic they provide, and then in the third part you have to answer some questions that require more lengthy answers than especially the first part of the test. So, again, in the speaking section with these three parts things get a little tougher as you go from beginning to end of the exam. One thing that's special to IELTS is that it is a paper and pencil test, okay?

So that's something that does impact what you do and how you take the test. Handwriting and spelling can be very important. If the person grading your exam can't read your answers, especially on the writing section, you're going to lose points because of that. So it's important to practice handwriting responses and also to focus on spelling, okay?.

So in the reading and listening sections you have some short answer questions, really trying to make sure you get spellings correct is important, because if you misspell words, you're going to lose those points. Timing is another important feature, because IELTS is a paper based exam. Do you know how fast you can write by hand in English? Do you write with a pencil and paper faster than you type or is it vice versa, you type a little bit faster than you write?

That's something you'll need to know. And if you're slower, especially with your hand writing, you're going to have to practice writing in English by hand, because timing is important for the writing test. Okay, so these are some of the important things to consider as you are preparing for the test.

Finally then you're going to be using your question sheet a lot, especially in the reading and listening section. There are gonna be ways that you can use notes and to write down little things to help you remember and find answers. Those are all things we cover in the strategies in the listening and reading lessons that you're going to go over, but it's something important to consider.

Your exam booklet, your test booklet is an important tool for you to write things down, to take notes. The only thing you're graded on at the end is your final answer sheet, the thing that you hand in at the end. Although you do have to hand in your test booklet, nothing in there is graded. So you can use it to write down notes and to write down things that you're gonna remember.

So this is another important part of this paper-based exam, using that booklet to your own advantage. Okay, so to review, IELTS consists of three papers taken in one sitting, and then a speaking test that you schedule separately. Sometimes the speaking test occurs the same day as your paper exam, sometimes you'll schedule it at a different time on a different day.

Check with your exam center to find out what your options are. Each part of the test is divided into sections, okay? The writing test has two sections, speaking and reading have three sections, and the listening paper has four sections, okay? And as you study strategies and various approaches to the different parts of the exam, you're going to learn how to approach each of these sections strategically, so that you can do your best on each one.

Lastly then, since IELTS is a paper based exam, things like spelling and handwriting are very important. And another important strategy to really master and practice as you're preparing for the test is to use your exam booklet as a tool, okay? Especially in the reading and the listening sections, you're going to use it to take notes, to remember things, to find answers more easily.

Again, these are all things that you're going to encounter in the lessons for each of the sections as you continue to study. Okay, so this is our overview of the exam format for the academic IELTS exam.

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Introduction to the IELTS