International students who want to study in the UK will have most likely heard of the IELTS test. But what is it? The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is the world’s leading English language skills test and is mainly used for higher education and migration. Many universities require you to have a good working level of English in order to be accepted onto the course of your choice.

It can seem confusing at first, but when it’s broken down, it’s really easy to understand and in this post, we’re going to help you understand your IELTS.

There are two modules of the test: IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training. Both are marked in the same way. To decide on which one is right for you, it depends on what you want to do. The academic module is generally for people who want to study at university, whereas the general training module is mostly for those looking to move to another country and need an English qualification to do this, or want to study in an education level below university.

We’ll assume that you’re looking to study a course with us at Northumbria University London! To do so, you’ll need to take the IELTS Academic. Both modules will test all four language skills – listening, reading, writing and speaking.


The listening part of the test lasts 30 minutes.

You will listen to four recordings of native English speakers and then write your answers to a series of questions.

  • Recording 1 – a conversation between two people set in an everyday relaxed situation.
  • Recording 2 – a monologue set in an everyday situation, e.g. a talk about local facilities.
  • Recording 3 – a conversation between up to four people set in an educational or professional training context, e.g. a university tutor and a student discussing an assignment.
  • Recording 4 – a monologue on an academic subject, e.g. a university lecture.

The people who will be reviewing your tests are looking to see your understanding of the main themes, fact details and the opinions and attitudes of the speakers.


The reading section of the test lasts 60 minutes and is made up of 40 questions, testing a range of English reading skills. Through these questions you should be reading to understand main ideas, details, key points and top-level themes. You should be able to show you understand the writer’s opinions, attitudes and reasons.

The IELTS Academic test includes three long texts which range from the descriptive and factual to the disordered and analytical. These are taken from books, magazines and newspapers.


Lasting 60 minutes, there are two tasks in the writing part of the IELTS Academic test:

  • Task 1 – You will be given a graph, chart, table, or diagram to and you’ll be asked to describe, summarise or explain the information presented in your own words. You might be asked to describe and explain the data, explain the stages of the process, how something works or describe an object or event.
  • Task 2 – In this task you’ll be asked to write an essay that directly responds to an argument, belief, point of view or problem. Be sure your responses to both tasks are formal in style and tone.


Lasting between 11-14 minutes, this is the shortest part of the IELTS. This section allows you to show your spoken English language skills, with each test being recorded and graded.

The speaking test is in three parts:

  • Part 1 – The examiner will ask you conversational questions about you and common topics like family, your studies, work, interests and home.
  • Part 2 – In this part you’ll be given a card asking you to talk about a specific subject. You’ll be given one minute to think and prepare before you start to speak for up to two minutes. After you’ve spoken, the examiner will ask one or two follow-up questions on the same subject.
  • Part 3 – This section follows on from part 2, as the examiner will ask you questions related to the topic in part 2. Here you’ll have the chance to talk more and explore and explain difficult ideas and issues.

With some thorough study, preparation and practice you’ll feel confident enough to take your IELTS Academic test, taking you to the next step on your educational journey.

Visit the official IELTS website for more information and advice on the tests.

To see what the IELTS requirements are for our programmes, please visit the course page. If you just fall short of these IELTS requirements, we run the Pre-Sessional English programme which develops your English language skills, ready for university study.

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