A beginner’s guide to IELTS

Author’s note:

This is the first of a 5-part series. In the next installment, we shall talk about IELTS Speaking: Format, Structure, & Strategies to employ. 


“He who is an expert was once a beginner.

There is no shame in being a novice at something. You don’t know what IELTS is about, do you? So what? The very fact that you are reading this article is proof enough of you having taken that all-important first step to eventual mastery. And I am flattered – honoured actually – that you have chosen me to enlighten you about it. Over the next few blogs, I shall try my best to give you a snapshot of the IELTS test and its 4 modules in as comprehensive a manner as possible.


What is IELTS?

IELTS is short for the International English Language Testing System. It is one of the several English proficiency tests that is conducted to evaluate the English-speaking ability of candidates who aspire to either study abroad or migrate to foreign shores. Specifically, to countries that are English speaking such as the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. And now, its acceptance is steadily increasing even in the USA, a country that for long had considered TOEFL as the only fit English language proficiency test.

For history buffs, Wikipedia provides a short and snappy account of the origin of IELTS. You can find it here. Go on, have a look.


Why take IELTS?

Because people wish to go abroad for either work or study, with hope that it will turn into a permanent stay. 3.5 million people took the IELTS test in 2019. According to India’s Ministry of External Affairs, in 2022 nearly 13,00,000 Indian students were studying in different countries around the world. Prominent among them are the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada, and Ireland.  The number has been growing for more than 18 years in a row, and there is no reason to believe that it is going to go down in the near future. So, you are not going to be the only passenger in the bus.

You see, every year, thousands of students and even working professionals take this test. Many of them try several times in the course of a year, just to realize their dreams of a better life in a country far, far away across the seven seas. A land of plenty, a society that offers boundless opportunity and consequent prosperity for those willing to take the initiative, and where impossibility is just a word.  

But all talks of shortlisting of selecting universities, applying for foreign jobs, or exciting plans to migrate and start a new chapter come to nought if, unfortunately, you have not been able to clear the IELTS test. In other words, you have not managed to secure your desired/required score. One of my students- a General Training candidate – took the test 8 times straight! Fortunately, he proved to be 9th-time lucky. The dear boy was pleasantly surprised that he actually cleared! Quite understandably, he was most disinterested to see the result that morning.

Who is the test for?

The test comes in two variants: IELTS Academic & General Training IELTS. IELTS Academic is taken by those who wish to enter certain English-speaking countries or where the language of instruction is English. In the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and so on, it is enough to have the required IELTS score. But in certain countries of the Continent, it has to be accompanied by an acceptable level of a country’s national language – German, French, Spanish, etc. Clearing the IELTS exam will enable a student to benefit from a modern and world class education system. It will ultimately pave the way to a brighter professional and, one hopes, personal future.

General Training IELTS is for candidates who wish to directly enter the job market of a foreign country without first going through its higher education system. For instance, an IT professional in India planning to join an Australian IT company in that country and then settle down in “Ozzie land” would have to sit for the IELTS General Training examination.

GT IELTS candidates constituted nearly 20% of total IELTS aspirants in 2022. Academic IELTS candidates were an overwhelming 80.31%. Interestingly, there were more women test takers at slightly over 51%.

[all figures courtesy Demographic data 2022 (ielts.org)]

IELTS: Miscellaneous facts

The nearly 3-hour long IELTS test can be taken either on computer or using pen and paper. The pen-paper based test is conducted a good number of times throughout the year. Nearly 4 dates per month are available for Academic IELTS. GT IELTS are usually held twice in that same period. Computer Delivered (CD) IELTS have many more slots throughout the year. If you require your results in a hurry, you should sit for CD IELTS. There is no 2-week wait here. Your test report form (TRF) will be available in 5-7 days. However, the test price will remain the same.

God forbid that you have to retake your IELTS examination. Nevertheless, it is reassuring to know that neither is there any “cooling-off” period nor any bar on the maximum number of times that you may retake IELTS. Do remember, though, that each attempt will require you to pay the full test fee.

Final word

IELTS is a wonderful test. If pursued sincerely, it will help you not only in your study abroad/immigration plans but also in making you a better user of the English language. For this singular reason itself IELTS scores over several other English proficiency tests.

Let’s suppose you do not wish to travel abroad. So, does IELTS have no use for you? Not really. Most of us are somewhat familiar with English and can understand what is being said. But suffer from ‘hesitation’, especially when faced by people who converse in the language fluently. Learning ‘Spoken English’, as it is often described, is woefully inadequate to address this deficiency which, in turn, engenders a deep-seated lack of confidence. In the long term, this can become a debilitating handicap, preventing an individual from achieving her fullest potential. Yesterday only, a gentleman contacted me. He will be appearing for the UPSC test in the near future, and wanted to sufficiently develop his spoken and writing skills.

So yeah, some are indeed beginning to see IELTS in a new light. And why not? . . .

Practicing all 4 aspects of a language will result in your holistic development. If you learn to listen well it will positively contribute to your speaking skill and vice versa. When attempting to master the IELTS Reading module, new sentence structures and words/phrases will become familiar and a part of your everyday vocabulary. Finally, learning to write effectively will positively impact your study projects. Also those office reports and presentations are bound to stand out from the crowd. Result? Confidence develops. Personality flowers. You come into your own.

And then who knows what wonderful things may happen?



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