The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is a standardized English test used primarily by students applying to universities abroad and by prospective immigrants to the UK and other commonwealth countries. There are three versions of the IELTS – the IELTS General Training, the IELTS Academic, and the IELTS Life Skills. The IELTS Academic is by far the most popular, representing about 80% of the IELTS tests taken each year.
The IELTS is the product of Cambridge English Language Assessment, and is co-managed by that organization, the British Council, and IDP IELTS Australia. Cambridge English Language Assessment is also behind the much older Cambridge English exam suite, including the Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) and the First Certificate in English (FCE).
The IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training tests are similar but not identical. They share a scoring scale and two out of four test sections. IELTS Life Skills is completely different in that it tests only listening and speaking, and only at one proficiency level, either beginner or intermediate. The information on this site concerns only the IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training tests. The IELTS is a handwritten test, not administered on a computer. Students write their answers on an answer sheet. It is not necessary to know how to type to take the IELTS.
The two oral sections of the IELTS – listening and speaking – are identical on the IELTS Academic and the IELTS General Training test versions. The two written sections of the IELTS – reading and writing – are different on the Academic and General Training tests.
All IELTS test takers, whether they take the Academic or the General Training test, must complete all four test sections and they will receive their IELTS result within 13 days. The reading, writing, and listening tests are completed in a single session. The speaking test may be taken on the same day or up to 7 days before or after the other test sections. Many students spend several months doing IELTS preparation and taking practice tests before getting the score they need.