Which IELTS test should I choose?

Taking an IELTS exam could have a great impact on your study opportunities, career success, and the likelihood that you will be permitted to work and settle in Britain or an English-speaking country (e.g. New Zealand, Australia, Canada or the U.S.). Achieving a high IELTS score increases your chances of studying at a top university. This special exam will also make your CV look more appealing, especially if you are looking for a job in a multicultural environment.

Differences between the Academic and the General Training test

  • IELTS Academic is perfect if you want to pursue a Bachelor’s or a postgraduate degree programme, or seek professional registration in the UK. Professional registration means you will gain certified recognition for your profession. You will be entitled to use qualification titles, such as engineer (Eng.) or technician (Tech.).
  • IELTS General Training is probably best for you if you want to study below degree level, or you want to work and/or emigrate to the UK or another English-speaking country.
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Examination format and content

IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training tests feature differences in two out of the four sections of the test: Reading and Writing. The Listening and Speaking parts are the same for both versions.

The Reading section of your IELTS Academic exam requires you to read three longer and more complex texts than the four or five shorter and simpler texts in the General Training test.

In the Writing section of the Academic test you will be given a chart or diagram which you must describe in 150 words. In the General Training test, you will be given a description of a real-life situation which you must then describe in a written letter. IELTS examiners will be looking at three important aspects: structure (the essay must contain at least three paragraphs), vocabulary (it is important to use several ’higher register’ words, as opposed to simple ones used in conversation) and fluency (commonly used phrases).

The Speaking section has three parts and usually lasts for around 11 to 14 minutes. Each individual candidate has a one-to-one conversation with a single examiner and the conversation is recorded.

The Listening section is divided in four parts. You will listen to audio samples of people talking about different topics. You will then be required to answer questions based on what you have heard.

The same four criteria are used to grade both versions of the exam (task response, cohesion and coherence, vocabulary, grammar), ensuring that your English language skills are assessed as accurately as possible.

IELTS Life Skills

The IELTS Life Skills is a new UK Government-approved Secure English Language Test (SELT) version of the IELTS test. It is used to support UK Visa and Immigration applications and is designed for international English speakers who need to meet specific immigration requirements. Candidates are required to demonstrate speaking and listening skills only. Your speaking and listening abilities will be assessed at levels A1 or B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). The IELTS Life Skills test is available at two levels:

  • IELTS Life Skills A1 (16-18 minutes) – You should take this test if your English speaking and listening skills need to be evaluated because you are applying for a family, spouse or partner visa from UK Visas and Immigration.
  • IELTS Life Skills B1 (22 minutes) - Tests your English speaking and listening skills. You should take this test if you are an UK Visa applicant for citizenship/residence. Level B1 of CEFR corresponds to an IELTS band score of 4.0.

At each level, the format of the test is designed to determine whether you can listen and respond to basic conversations in English, make your meaning clear and converse with other people. The tasks in the IELTS Life Skills test are designed to reflect the everyday experience of communicating in an English-speaking country. You will take the test face-to-face with an examiner, and with one other candidate. After the test, you will be awarded a pass/fail result rather than a band score.

Standard and UKVI test versions

The non-UKVI and the UKVI test have exactly the same options: Academic, General Training and IELTS Life Skills. However, they involve different anti-fraud measures at the test location.

The IELTS test for UK visa purposes is designed to meet certain administrative requirements that are specified only for individuals who wish to study, work or live in the United Kingdom. You can still choose between the IELTS Academic, General Training or IELTS Life Skills for UKVI tests, but you must ensure that you sit the exam at a centre authorised by the British Home Office.

Around 10% of the almost 1,000 standard IELTS test locations are UKVI-approved test centres. IELTS tests for UK Visas and Immigration are managed by the IELTS SELT Consortium, which includes the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge English Language Assessment. After you have taken the UKVI test, you will receive an IELTS Test Report Form which shows that you have taken your test in line with the UKVI requirements.

The UKVI test is slightly more expensive than the standard IELTS test. There are also different test dates for the two versions, depending on the SELT testing centres available.

Ask the institution providing the test for detailed information about test dates and exam types.

Test your English language proficiency

Test your English language proficiency

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