This Handbook gives an overview of IELTS for teachers, administrators and other users, including staff in receiving organisations such as universities, professional registration boards and employers. It outlines the key features and administrative procedures for IELTS. The Handbook does not include complete samples of the test components; these are given in the Official IELTS Practice Materials pack, which can be bought from IELTS test centres, or from Cambridge ESOL or IDP: IELTS Australia (see page 20). Additional information is given on the IELTS website www.ielts.org
Academic and General Training
IELTS is available in two formats – Academic and General Training. The Academic Reading and Writing tests assess whether a candidate is ready to study or train in the medium of English at an undergraduate or postgraduate level. Admission to undergraduate and postgraduate courses is based on the results of these tests. The General Training Reading and Writing tests are not designed to test the full range of formal language skills required for academic purposes, but emphasise basic survival skills in a broad social and educational context.
General Training is suitable for candidates who are going to English-speaking countries to complete their secondary education, to undertake work experience or training programmes not at degree level, or for immigration purposes to Australia, Canada and New Zealand. It is the responsibility of the candidate to inform the test centre whether they wish to take the Academic or General Training Modules. Centres are not responsible for providing this information. The General Training Module is not offered at all test administrations.
What is IELTS?
IELTS, the International English Language Testing System, is designed to assess the language ability of candidates who need to study or work where English is the language of communication. IELTS is jointly managed by the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations (Cambridge ESOL), British Council and IDP: IELTS Australia. IELTS conforms to the highest international standards of language assessment. It covers the four language skills – listening, reading, writing and speaking. IELTS is recognised by universities and employers in many countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the USA. It is also recognised by professional bodies, immigration authorities and other government agencies. IELTS is not recommended for candidates under the age of 16.
IELTS tests are administered at centres throughout the world – there are currently over 300 centres operating in more than 100 countries. Centres supervise the local administration of the test and ensure the provision of qualified and trained examiners. A full list of centres is available on the IELTS website. Test centres run regular test administrations, according to local need and results are available within two weeks. Candidates receive only one copy of their results but additional copies may be sent by the test centre directly to receiving organisations at the request of the candidate. There are no restrictions on candidates re-taking the test.
Candidates are tested in listening, reading, writing and speaking. All candidates take the same Listening and Speaking tests. There is a choice between Academic and General Training in the Reading and Writing tests. The tests are designed to cover the full range of ability from non-user to expert user. The first three tests – Listening, Reading and Writing – must be completed in one day. There is no break between the tests. The Speaking test may be taken, at the discretion of the test centre, in the period seven days before or after the other tests. A computerised version of IELTS Listening, Reading and Writing tests (CB IELTS) is available at selected centres, but all centres will continue to offer paper-based IELTS and candidates will be given the choice of the medium in which they wish to take the test.
Time: approximately 30 minutes Candidates listen to a number of recorded texts. These include a mixture of monologues and conversations and feature a variety of English accents. The recording is heard only once, and candidates are given time to read the questions and write down their answers.
Time: 60 minutes There are three reading passages with tasks. Texts are taken from books, magazines, journals and newspapers, all written for a non-specialist audience. At least one of the texts contains a detailed argument.
General Training Reading
Time: 60 minutes The texts are based on the type of material candidates would be expected to encounter on a daily basis in an English-speaking country. They are taken from sources such as newspapers, advertisements, instruction manuals and books, and test the candidate’s ability to understand and use information. The test includes one longer text, which is descriptive rather than argumentative.
Preparing for the Test
It is not necessary to attend an IELTS preparation course though it is, of course, a good idea to prepare thoroughly for the test. An order form is given at the end of this Handbook for an Official IELTS Practice Materials pack. This includes a full practice test with an answer key and a CD of the Listening test and sample Speaking tests, so that candidates can get some idea of their level and familiarise themselves with the format of the test. There is also a wide range of published preparation materials.
Time: 60 minutes The first task requires candidates to write a description of at least 150 words. This is based on material found in a chart, table, graph or diagram and demonstrates their ability to present information and to summarise the main features of the input. For the second task, candidates write a short essay of at least 250 words in response to a statement or question. They are expected to demonstrate an ability to present a position, construct an argument and discuss abstract issues.
General Training Writing
Time: 60 minutes The first task requires candidates to write a letter of at least 150 words either asking for information, or explaining a situation. For the second task, candidates write a short essay of at least 250 words in response to a statement or question. They are expected to demonstrate an ability to present a position, construct an argument and discuss issues.
Time: 11–14 minutes The test is a face-to-face interview. Candidates are assessed on their use of spoken English to answer short questions, to speak at length on a familiar topic, and also to interact with the examiner.
IELTS Test Results
Marking is carried out at the test centre by trained examiners whose work is closely monitored. This ensures that test results are available without any administrative delay. Results are standardised and usually available within two weeks of the test, and Test Report Forms are sent to the candidates and to the sponsor(s)/receiving institution(s). Test centres are not permitted to give results over the phone, or by fax or email. The completed Test Report Form bears a centre stamp, a validation stamp, the candidate’s photograph and the authorised centre representative’s signature. The authenticity of any Test Report Form can be verified by means of the Test Report Form Verification Service located at https://ielts.ucles.org.uk British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge ESOL reserve the right to cancel any Test Report Form in the event of any attempt to tamper with or misuse the information contained in it.
IELTS provides a profile of a candidate’s ability to use English. Candidates receive scores on a Band Scale from 1 to 9. A score is reported for each test component. The individual test scores are then averaged and rounded to produce an Overall Band Score according to a confidential Band Score conversion table. Overall Band Scores and individual test scores are reported in whole and half bands.
Test Report Form
An example of the Test Report Form is shown on the right. Each test is reported separately as a Band Score, together with an Overall Band Score. A descriptive statement giving a summary of the English of a candidate classified at each band level is provided below and is included on the reverse of the Test Report Form.
Has fully operational command of the language: appropriate, accurate and fluent with complete understanding. 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. Has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally handles complex language well and understands detailed reasoning. Has generally effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.
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. Basic competence is limited to familiar situations. Has frequent problems in understanding and expression. Is not able to use complex language. Conveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations. Frequent breakdowns in communication occur. 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. Essentially has no ability to use the language beyond possibly a few isolated words. No assessable information provided.