Everything you need to know about the IELTS exam

What is IELTS?

IELTS is a world-renowned language proficiency test, designed to assess the language ability of people immigrating to or studying in English-speaking countries. It stands for International English Language Testing System and is made up of four assessment components: Speaking, Listening, Writing and Reading.


Who is IELTS for?

The IELTS test is for anyone who needs to prove their English language ability for immigration, work or study purposes. Immigration authorities, universities, colleges and many employers will often request proof of IELTS, and they might also require you to achieve a specific test score level.


Why IELTS over other language proficiency tests?

IELTS is the world’s most popular English language test for higher education and global migration.

It is world-renowned and accepted by 10,000 organisations across the globe. British Council has over 1,200 test centres delivering IELTS worldwide, including many locations across Canada, making it widely accessible to all.

In Canada, IELTS is the preferred high stakes English language test, and is trusted by over 700 Canadian organisations. It was the first test to be recognised by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), and also by Immigration Quebec as proof of English language proficiency for immigration and citizenship programs.

Here is a list of organisation types that accept IELTS:

  • Universities, schools, colleges and training organisations.
  • Government departments and immigration authorities.
  • Professional and industry associations.
  • Multinational companies and employers.


There are two IELTS tests available – which one is right for me?

There are two different types of IELTS tests: IELTS General Training and IELTS Academic. So that you know which one is more suited towards you, here are the main differences between them.

IELTS General Training
IELTS General Training is for those looking to apply to an immigration program, such as Express Entry, in order to establish yourself in Canada.

IELTS Academic
IELTS academic is for those looking to study at English-speaking universities and for membership to certain professional associations, depending on your employer’s requirements.
Some organizations accept both versions of the IELTS test. If you are in doubt as to which version to take, you should contact the organisations directly in order to check their requirements.


About the IELTS test format

There are four components to the IELTS test: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking.


The Listening test takes approximately 30 minutes and includes 40 questions. There are four sections:

Section 1: A conversation between two people, set in an everyday social context.

Section 2: A monologue set in an everyday social context (e.g., a speech about local facilities or a talk about the arrangements for meals during a conference).

Section 3: A conversation between up to four people set in an educational or training context (e.g., a university tutor and a student discussing an assignment).

Section 4: A monologue on an academic subject (e.g., a university lecture).



The Reading test takes approximately 60 minutes, including 40 questions. The content of the test is different between the Academic & General Training versions: The reading exam types include:

Academic Reading
The Academic Reading test includes three long texts which are taken from books, journals, magazines and newspapers. The texts come from a wide range of subjects but you do not need any specialized knowledge on these subjects. These texts are appropriate for people entering university courses or seeking professional registration.

General Training Reading
The three sections of the General Training include:

Section 1: Contains two or three short factual texts. Topics are relevant to everyday life in an English-speaking country.

Section 2: Contains two short factual texts focusing on work-related issues (e.g., applying for jobs, company policies, pay and conditions, workplace facilities, staff development and training).

Section 3: Contains one longer, more complex text on a topic of general interest.



The Speaking test takes approximately 11-14 minutes and has three parts.

Part 1:
The examiner introduces themselves and asks you to do the same, confirming your identity. The examiner asks you general questions on familiar topics, e.g., home, family, work, studies and interests.

Part 2:
The examiner gives you a task card which asks you to talk about a particular topic, including discussion points relating to that topic. You are given 1 minute to prepare your talk and are given a pencil and paper to make notes. You then talk for 1-2 minutes on the topic. The examiner may then ask you one or two questions.

Part 3:
The examiner asks further questions which are connected to the topic of Part 2. These questions give you an opportunity to discuss more abstract issues and ideas.



The Writing test takes approximately 60 minutes, during which time you are given two tasks.

Academic IELTS
Task 1: You are presented with a graph, table, chart, diagram or map and are asked to describe, summarise or explain the information in your own words.

Task 2: You are asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem.

General Training IELTS
Task 1: You are presented with a situation and are asked to write a letter requesting information or explaining the situation. The letter may be either informal, semi-formal or formal in style.

Task 2: You are asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem.

Visit our brochure to learn more about the IELTS test components.


Take your test on paper, or using a computer

British Council IELTS tests are always taken inside an exam centre, but participants have the option of sitting their exam either on paper or using a computer. Both options provide the exact same test – it is just a different method of submitting your answers.

Check your nearest test centre to see which format of the test they offer.


How is the IELTS test scored?

You cannot fail an IELTS test, you simply get scored at different levels based on your ability. For example, IELTS is scored 0-9, with Level 9 indicating that you are an expert user.

Here is a breakdown of the different scores and what skill level is required to achieve them.


Band score Skill level Description
9 Expert user Full operational command of the language. Your use of English is appropriate, accurate and fluent and you show complete understanding.
8 Very good user Very good user You have a fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriate usage. You may misunderstand some things in unfamiliar situations. You handle complex detailed argumentation well.
7 Good user You have an operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriate usage, and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally, you handle complex language well and understand detailed reasoning.
6 Competent user Generally, you have an effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings. You can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.
5 Modest user You have a partial command of the language, and cope with overall meaning in most situations, although you are likely to make many mistakes. You should be able to handle basic communication in your own field.
4 Limited user Your basic competence is limited to familiar situations. You frequently show problems in understanding and expression. You are not able to use complex language.
3 Extremely limited user You convey and understand only general meaning in very familiar situations. There are frequent breakdowns in communication.
2 Intermittent user You have great difficulty understanding spoken and written English.
1 Non-user You have no ability to use the language except a few isolated words.
0 Didn’t attempt the test You did not answer the questions.

How is my final score calculated?

You are given a score across all four assessment skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking). Then, an average is taken from each skill to create your overall band score.

Find out more about how your score is calculated.


How do I prepare for the IELTS exam?

British Council has lots of free preparation materials available online to help you prepare for your test. These include weekly study packs, a variety of webinars, a free learning app, plus, a comprehensive e-learning and online assessment tool called ‘Road to IELTS’. Try it for free.

Discover our range of online learning resources here and start preparing for your IELTS exam today.

Prepare for IELTS


How do I book my IELTS exam in Canada?

British Council has test centres located across the whole of Canada. Use our website to find the province you live in, then locate your nearest town or city to see our available test centres. Once you’ve found one near you, you can complete your booking online!

Start your journey and book your IELTS test with British Council today.

Book now


Why book my best with British Council?

By choosing IELTS with British Council, you will get:

  • Convenient dates and locations. With many test locations across Canada, you are sure to find one near you. Our test centres are conveniently located and have modern facilities.
  • Simple online booking process and friendly, professional staff. Book and pay for your test online with our easy to use registration portal. Our test centre staff are also on hand to provide you support in this process.
  • Free access to a last-minute preparation course. This includes nine videos giving advice and tutorials, 100 interactive activities and two IELTS practice tests for each of the four skills. Visit ‘Road to IELTS’ to find out more.


Want to know more? Find out more about IELTS in Canada.