Key Facts and Personal Experience about the IELTS English Certificate

IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System and is one of the most popular official exams required to study, live or find a job in a place where speaking the English language is necessary. Let's say that IELTS is a sort of measure of your skills and capabilities to use the language. Therefore, the more prepared you are, the easier it will be.

The Basics

There are 2 kind of exams you can choose from, with the same listening and speaking modules, but different reading and writing modules:

  1. General training - for secondary education, working or training programmes.
  2. Academic - for higher (tertiary) and further education.

The structure of the exam is very well organised. There are 4 parts and each part has to be completed in a specific amount of time:

IELTS English certificate exam


  1. Listening: 30 minutes. Normally, you listen to a conversation and afterwards answer some related questions. You also have to state if some given statements are true or false. You'll need good listening skills, while trying to understand what two or more persons are talking about and get the main points of their conversation.
  2. Reading: 60 minutes. You get to read a series of three texts and answer 40 related questions. It's all about scanning the headers and the text efficiently in order to save time to answer all of the questions thoroughly.
  3. Writing: 60 minutes. You will get a topic, which can be different kinds of texts, such as a formal letter, an article, etc. You will have to develop a text expressing your thoughts using appropriate sentences and vocabulary.
  4. Speaking: 11-14 minutes. This test takes place person-to-person. An examiner will start asking you basic questions as a warm up and will continue asking about your opinion on different topics, resulting in a discussion. Besides using good arguments, it is important to structure them in a convincing way, while using appropriate vocabulary.

Learn about each type of IELTS exam and more.

The sections above are taken one after the other and without breaks, except for the speaking part. Depending on the schedule, it can be done even on a different day from your examination. Always remember to bring your exam number (that you will get once you apply) and your ID!

How to apply?

In order to apply for the IELTS test just go to the IELTS website and check out the centre closest to your home. You can see possible examination dates and their availability, and directly register for an exam. Read carefully about what you need and how you can pay the registration fee.

Before registering you should consider how much time you need in order to prepare for the test and get the qualification you need! You apply for a seat available on a specific day and changing your mind does not only mean additional costs, but can also cause quite some delay if alternative examination dates are already fully booked in the meantime (maybe you even have to travel to a different location further away). On the other hand, keep in mind that getting the results takes a bit of time. If you need the IELTS for university admission, make sure you have your results ready before the application deadline!

Test your English language proficiency

How to prepare

Regarding the qualification, there is a scale from 0-9. This score indicates your overall English-skills. The higher the number, the better your skills. A score of 6 is required to consider that you are able to speak English in an understandable way, required by many universities. However, depending on the institution you are applying to, other (higher) grades might be expected.

How can you prepare for the exam? Well, as you might know, the more you study the more secure you feel. This exam demands a mix of practical skills and theoretical background, but also some knowledge about the testing procedure itself. There are several books with interactive CDs available which will help you to train and get used to the format and refresh your reading, writing and grammar skills. Once you register for the exam, you get access to a free online training course, too. On the other hand, only you know your skills and strengths. So, if you have been talking English fluently but never studied the grammar, you should definitely focus more on that! Contrary, if you have studied in a school for many years but never experienced speaking with anyone, you should maybe meet some friends and practice your speaking and listening. Check out this practical guide to IELTS preparation.

My personal experience

In my experience, I had to take the IELTS exam because I decided to apply for a Master's in another country, and I am not a native English speaker. Normally, if you apply for a job or further education in another country, you will probably be asked for English tests such as IELTS. Check out which exam is preferred in your particular case, as there are more exams you can take, such as Cambridge or TOEFL, but not all are accepted by all institutions.

prepare for the IELTS certificate

Register early!

You could run into trouble when trying to get your language certificate, as maybe the most common problem is getting a seat for the exam on the dates you want! The IELTS exam offers the paper and the electronic test, and some institutions want only the paper based. This was my case, and unfortunately, the paper based exam takes place only few times per year. Luckily, I applied for the paper based exam before summer (when I also applied for my Master's) where I found a place in my city (apparently that was the only possible exam date in the beginning of the summer).

Lesson learnt

But what happened, then? Well, at that time I was studying in Denmark as an Erasmus student and I wanted to take my exam in Spain (where I am from) so the paper management was done by scanning and sending the needed documents. The delay of the papers seemed to be too long, so when all the papers arrived to Barcelona, I did not have any seat in the end! Luckily, they suggested me to travel to Bilbao, another city in Spain, where they luckily had some places left. So, you should always try to follow the registration deadline on time, especially if you are applying for the paper based test, which is usually very full, as it is not available so often.

Before the test

Traveling to Bilbao took me some hours; time that I used to check out information about all the sections of the exam. Yes, I did not have time to prepare so well, even though when you apply for the exam, you get automatically an online intensive course, which takes a few days to complete and might be useful to get used to the examination. However, I really needed to take the exam, and even though I did not have time to prepare - did not even take the online course or used the CD-ROM provided - I traveled and took the test. However, I should mention that I spent two semesters as an Erasmus student. That period helped me to become fluent in English and to get used to different accents.

Once in the exam room, I felt a bit weak with the reading part, maybe I felt tired reading many paragraphs and finding out the topics. On the other hand, the speaking part was my strong point, since I felt very comfortable talking, as I was used to doing that all the time during my Erasmus exchange. Regarding the examiner: he was an English native, but very patient and speaking very clearly. The professors explained all the rules in Spanish, making everything easier for all of us to understand.

All in all, the test lasted only a few hours, as I had the speaking section scheduled 30 minutes after the other sections of the exam. Some of my fellows did the speaking part the day after, or even 3 hours after the exam. It does not matter that much when you take it, but I did feel lucky, as I had to travel some time by bus to get to the exam location.

Receiving IELTS results

Getting the results

After almost 3 weeks, I received an email regarding the grades and also an official letter in the post. Yes, you get a bit nervous since you need a special grade and you never know how well it went. In the letter, you get a code which will be important for the institution you apply for. Finally, remember to check exactly what your institution needs and the minimum grade you need in order to be accepted. Be calm, it is not your first language and everybody is in the same situation, and the examiners are well aware of this fact. Try to get as much practice as possible before the test - by speaking English every day. The more you practice, the easier the test will be for you!

Test your English language proficiency

Book an IELTS test in your country!

Test your English language proficiency

Book an IELTS test