General vs Academic IELTS: All you need to know

There are two formats of the IELTS test; General Training & Academic.  What are the differences between the two test formats and which one should you take?  This article will tell you all you need to know about these difference so you can make the right choice for your needs.

What is each IELTS test format used for?

General Training version

The General Training test is primarily used by governments for immigration purposes.  In Canada, Immigration, Refuges, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) recognizes the IELTS General Training test as part of its permanent residency and citizenship programs. IELTS scores are linked to the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLBs), and these are used to determine English language ability.

Academic version

The IELTS Academic test is used for academic purposes. Schools, colleges and universities around the world accept IELTS Academic as a proof of language ability for acceptance on their programs.  This is mainly aimed at international students who do not have English as their primary language.

While most academic institutions accept the academic version of IELTS, it is always a good idea to check with the institution as they may accept both versions of IELTS.

What about using IELTS for employment purposes?

If you are using IELTS for employment purposes, there is no specific version that you need to take (unless an employer requests a specific version), so it is up to you which version you would like to take!

IELTS is accepted by over 11,000 organizations worldwide, including over 750 in Canada.  Find out which organizations in Canada accept IELTS.

Is the test content the same between IELTS General Training & Academic?

Some parts of the two different versions are the same and some are different.

The same

  • The Listening section
  • The Speaking section
  • Part 2 of the writing section (the essay)


  • The reading section
  • Part 1 of the writing section

Let’s look at these differences in more detail:

IELTS General Training Reading

The content of this test is focused more on everyday text.  For example, you may get texts such as job posting, workplace email or advertisement. There is always a longer section in the final part of the test.

IELTS Academic Reading

The texts in this version focus more on academic subjects and are usually longer than the texts in the General test. They are typically taken from newspapers, magazines, books and journals.

For both tests, you are given 40 questions and you have 60 minutes to complete the test.

Read our blog to find out more about the differences between the reading section so that you are ready for test day.

IELTS Writing (Part 1)

The other difference between the Academic & General test is the writing part 1.

IELTS General Writing Part 1

For Task 1, you are given a situation around a topic of ‘general interest’ and you have to write a letter in response to this situation.  These situations may be either formal, semi-formal or informal.  For example:

  • Formal/Semi-Formal: these types of letters are based around a topic that is of a professional nature (i.e when you write to your boss at work or you write to a academic institution to get more information about their program or courses).
  • Informal: this is usually when you write to a friend or family member about a personal topic (i.e. thanking a friend for something that they have done for you).

Some examples are:


You recently spent a night in a hotel and had to put up with a great deal of noise very early in the morning because of a faulty central heating system. The manager promised to contact you regarding compensation but you still haven’t heard from him.

Write a letter to the hotel. In the letter

  • describe the problem at the hotel
  • explain what the manager had said at the time
  • say what you want the manager to do


You arranged to visit a friend in Canada but an important event at home now means that you must change the dates of the visit.

Write a letter to your friend. In your letter

  • explain the important event
  • apologise for the situation
  • suggest a new arrangement

Find out more about IELTS letter writing in our blog.

IELTS Academic Writing Part 1

In part one of IELTS Academic Writing section, the task you are given is very different to the General test. There are three possible task types:

  • Charts
  • Processes
  • Maps

To see samples of tasks, take our practice tests. Also, read our blog to get preparation tips so you are ready for your test!

For both the General & Academic test, you have to write a minimum of 150 words and you should spend approximately 20 minutes on the task.

Is one version harder than the other?

Not necessarily. The key is to prepare as much as possible so that you are familiar with the test content. If you do this, you will feel more confident on test day. Visit our preparation page to get a host of free material.

Visit the IELTS Canada homepage to find out more.

Ready to take your test?  Visit our register page to find a IELTS test venue near you.