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Study Skills


Overview of the IELTS exam (Academic module)


LISTENING (approx. 30 mins)


  Four sections

  • 40 questions (a range of question types)
  • Section 1: a conversation on a social topic, e.g. Someone making a booking
  • Section 2: a monologue about a social topic, e.g. a radio report
  • Section 3: a conversation on a study-based topic, e.g. a discussion between students
  • Section 4: a monologue on a study-based topic, e.g. a lecture.

Students have 10 mins at the end of the test to transfer their answers onto an answer sheet. The recording is heard ONCE.

Test Focus
  • Listen for specific information, main ideas and opinions
  • Task types include completion, matching, labelling, and multiple choice.
  • Each question scores 1 mark; candidates receive a band score from 1 to 9.


READING (1 hour)


Three sections

  • 40 questions
  • A range of question types
  • Section 1: a passage with 13 questions
  • Section 2: a passage divided into paragraphs with 13 questions
  • Section 3: a passage with 14 questions

At least one passage contains arguments and/or views. This is usually Section 3.

Test Focus
  • Respond to questions on familiar and unfamiliar topics and to speak at length
  • Assessment on a 9-band scale for fluency, vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation



WRITING (1 hour)


Two compulsory tasks:

  • Task 1: a 150-word summary of information presented in graphic or diagrammatic form
  • Task 2: a 250-word essay presenting an argument on a given topic

Candidates are advised to spend 20 minutes on Task 1 and 40 minutes on Task 2, which is worth twice as many marks as Task 1.

Test Focus
  • Write a factual summary and a discursive essay
  • Assessment on a 9-band scale for content, coherence, vocabulary, and grammar


SPEAKING (11 – 14 minutes)

  • Three parts
  • One examiner + one candidate
  • Part 1: The examiner asks a number of questions about familiar topics such as the  candidate’s studies/ work, hobbies, interests etc. (4-5 minutes)
  • Part 2: After a minute’s preparation, the candidate speaks for two minutes on a familiar topic provided by the examiner. (3-4 minutes)
  • Part 3: The examiner and the candidate discuss some general questions based on the theme of the Part 2 topic. (4-5 minutes)
Test Focus
  • Respond to questions on familiar and unfamiliar topics and to speak at length
  • Assessment on a 9-band scale for fluency, vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation


All candidates who take the test receive an Overall Band Score between 1 and 9 that is an average of the four scores for each part of the test.

(Source: Cambridge English Complete IELTS – Official Cambridge preparation materials for IELTS)


Useful resources for IELTS preparation


  • The official IELTS exam website with lots of relevant information on exam format, how to register, where to find an IELTS test centre, sample IELTS questions, sample candidate responses with examiners’ comments, and tips on preparing for the exam.
  • Video lessons on Youtube by English teacher and IELTS examiner, Liz Ferguson - useful for candidates preferring a visual approach to learning. The lessons cover all four IELTS parts and are very informative.
  • A useful website that focuses on vocabulary and grammar besides the main skills and relevant techniques. It gives academic wordlists and grammatical structures required in the writing tasks.
Online Preparation Course

Road to IELTS: a well-designed online preparation course by British Council IELTS experts. It has over 300 interactive activities and several tutorial videos that give sound advice on preparing and performing in the test (both academic and general training modules). Find out more about the course and its subscription charges at

  • Cambridge English Complete IELTS Series (Bands 4-5; 5-6.5; 6.5-7.5): This course covers all parts of the IELTS exam in detail, providing information, advice and practice. Students can choose the level most appropriate to the band they are aiming for: Band 4-5; Bands 5-6.5; Bands 6.5-7.5.
  • The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS: It contains skill-building exercises covering all of the question types in the exam for both the General Training and Academic Modules. Videos of the Speaking test, and all the listening material, can be found on the DVD-ROM available with the book or downloaded via an accompanying app from iTunes or Google Play.
  • Cambridge IELTS 9; 10; 11: Each of these practice test compilations contains four authentic IELTS examination papers from Cambridge English Language Assessment, providing excellent exam practice.