The IELTS exam (International English Language Testing System) is an exam designed to test the proficiency level of people who are not native English speakers and wish to study, work or live in an English speaking environment. The exam tests the four basic language skills – listening, reading, writing and speaking.
The IELTS exam has two different versions – academic and general training. The differences between the two versions are exhibited only in the reading and writing sections. The purpose of the general training version is to evaluate how well an individual can function in a work setting and therefore the content and the types of questions in this version are ones that are more relevant to the workplace. In the academic version, however, the texts that the examinees are asked to read and write are more factual, scientific and analytic and make use of academic level English.
The IELTS is a paper-based test (rather than a computer-based test). Each examinee receives a question paper and an answer sheet on which he or she writes or marks the answers with a pencil. The listening, reading and writing sections are done one after the other and take 2 hours and 40 minutes to complete. The speaking section is done separately (up to one week before or after the other sections) in the format of an oral interview with an examiner. This section takes between 11-14 minutes.
Within the different sections, the tasks go from easiest to most difficult. Each section, and also the exam as a whole, is graded on a scale of 1-9, where 1 stands for non-user and 9 for expert user. Different organizations and institutions have different requirements with regard to the IELTS scores needed in order to be accepted. IELTS exam scores are valid for 2 years.