Creating opportunities

IELTS exam

“What is the best English exam to take?” is a question we at Desktop English hear all the time. The answer is not always simple. However, if your aim is to study or work in an English language speaking country, then the answer is most probably IELTS.

IELTS is recognised by thousands of universities, immigration authorities and professional organisations in many countries including Canada, Austrailia, the USA, New Zealand and the UK.

IELTS exam structure

All exam candidates take the same test which includes a listening, a reading, a writing and a speaking module. You will be preparing for either the ‘Academic’ module or the ‘General Training’ module depending on your reasons for taking the IELTS exam. The ‘Academic’ module involves studying from newspapers, books and magazines and is suitable for candidates who would like to study or work in an academic environment. The ‘General Training’ module includes tasks based around the workplace and social situations and is recommended for candidates wishing to work in or emigrate to an English language speaking country.


All IELTS modules are taken on the same day. The modules are as follows:

    • The listening test takes around 30 minutes. There are 40 questions and 4 sections. See how the listening band score is calculated.
    • The reading test also has 40 questions and takes 60 minutes. In the reading test you will have to read three texts totalling between 2,000 and 2,750 words and answer questions. See how the reading band score is calculated.
    • In the writing test you have 60 minutes to complete 2 tasks. The first task requires 150 words and the second 250.
    • The speaking test lasts between 11 and 14 minutes. In the first part the candidates will answer questions about themselves, their interests and their family etc. In part 2 the candidate will be asked to speak uninterrupted for 1-2 minutes on a topic with one minute to prepare. In the third part the candidate will talk in depth with the examiner about the topic in part 2.


Your result will be graded between levels 0-9. Depending on the university, between a level 5.5 and a level 7 are usually required. This is the same across most countries. For example, Essex University requires a level 5.5 to study there, whereas Edinburgh University requires a level 7. If we take an IELTS level 7 for example, this is the equivalent to C1 on the Common European Framework of reference for Languages (CEFR). According to the CEFR a candidate with this level:

Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices


The IELTS exam is available to take up to four times a month in over 500 centres across 125 countries. You can find your nearest centre through the IELTS website.


If you are considering working or studying abroad, you can use the IELTS search tool to find out if your desired university or employer are among those that accept the IELTS exam.


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