IELTS is a jointly managed test by the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations, British Council and IDP Education Australia. There is no prescribed IELTS syllabus as such. IELTS typically has 2 formats –

A) IELTS Academic

B) IELTS General Training.

IELTS or International English Language Testing System assesses your proficiency in English with respect to 4 components:

  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking


IELTS syllabus & exam questions for Listening and Speaking are the same for both formats (Academic & General Training), but the subject matter of the Reading and Writing sections differs between the formats.

This essentially means that the Listening and Speaking components are the same for the 2 formats. However, the types of questions asked in the Reading & Writing sections and your approaches to those questions will altogether differ with the test format you take.

IELTS Exam Structure – In Brief

IELTS measures the language proficiency of people who want to study or work where English is used as a language of communication. IELTS has 2 formats, as already mentioned earlier.

IELTS Academic

This format is for people applying for higher education or professional registration in an English speaking environment. It reflects some of the features of academic language and assesses whether you are ready to begin studying or training.

IELTS General Training

This format is for those migrating to English speaking countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the UK, or applying for secondary education, training programs and work experience in an English-speaking environment. This test format focuses on basic survival skills in broad social and workplace contexts.

There are basically 2 paths you can take while appearing for IELTS exams:

  1. Listening (common) -> Reading (General Training) -> Writing (General Training) -> Speaking (common)
  2. Listening (common) -> Reading (Academic) -> Writing (Academic) -> Speaking (common)

Remember, you may have to take the Speaking test even before you start with all other papers. This decision rests on your testing centre solely.

IELTS syllabus 2020: IELTS Exam structure
IELTS syllabus 2020: IELTS Exam structure 

IELTS Exam Syllabus

Listening

(Same for both formats – Academic & General Training)

This module comprises 4 sections with a total of 40 items of increasing difficulty.

Each section is heard only once.

Different accents are used, including British, Australian, New Zealand and North American.

Each section can be either a monologue or dialogue. Each will begin with a short introduction telling you about the situation and the speakers.

  • 1st section is a conversation between two individuals
  • 2nd section is a monologue/speech
  • 3rd section is a conversation among a maximum of four people set in an academic setting
  • The final section is a monologue on an academic subject

The first 3 sections have a break in the middle allowing you to look at remaining questions.

IELTS Syllabus 2020: What’s in the Listening Section?
IELTS Syllabus 2020: What’s in the Listening Section?

IELTS Syllabus 2020: Short Summary of the Listening Section
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Short Summary of the Listening Section

List of 6 Types of Questions in the Listening Section

Type 1: Multiple-choice

IELTS Syllabus 2020: Listening Question Type 1
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Listening Question Type 1

Type 2: Matching

IELTS Syllabus 2020: Listening Question Type 2
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Listening Question Type 2

Type 3: Plan/map/diagram labeling

IELTS Syllabus 2020: Listening Question Type 3
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Listening Question Type 3

Type 4: Form/note/table/flow chart/summary completion

IELTS Syllabus 2020: Listening Question Type 4
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Listening Question Type 4

Type 5: Sentence completion

IELTS Syllabus 2020: Listening Question Type 5
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Listening Question Type 5

Type 6: Short-answer questions

IELTS Syllabus 2020: Listening Question Type 6
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Listening Question Type 6

Speaking

(Same for both formats – Academic & General Training)

IELTS Syllabus 2020: Which of Your Skills are tested in Speaking Section?
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Which of Your Skills are tested in Speaking Section?
IELTS Syllabus 2020: The 4 Skills Explained
IELTS Syllabus 2020: The 4 Skills Explained

This module contains 3 parts.

The 1st part (Introduction and interview) takes the form of an interview during which you may be asked about your hobbies, interests, reasons for taking the IELTS exam as well as other general topics such as clothing, free time, computers, and the internet or family.

IELTS Syllabus 2020: Speaking Part 1
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Speaking Part 1

In the 2nd part (Long turn) you are given a topic card and then you will have one minute to prepare, after which you must speak about the given topic.

IELTS Syllabus 2020: Speaking Part 2
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Speaking Part 2

The 3rd part (Discussion) involves a discussion between the examiner and you, generally on questions relating to the theme which they have already spoken about in section 2. This last section is more abstract, and is typically considered the most difficult.

IELTS Syllabus 2020: Speaking Part 3
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Speaking Part 3

Reading

Common information for Academic & General Training

Reading section includes 3 sections, 40 questions. You need to read the text passages and answer questions. The questions may be multiple-choice type, sentence completion, summary writing, matching information or short-answers. Each passage consists of 13-14 questions. The passages are different for the two formats as described below.

IELTS Academic – Reading

  • Syllabus for IELTS “Reading” section in the Academic exam format includes 3 long paragraphs (descriptive, factual or analytical).
  • The texts are authentic and are taken from books, journals, magazines, and newspapers
  • These are selected for a non-specialist audience, ideal for testing higher education aspirants or for professionals seeking work abroad
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Academic Reading Section Short Summary
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Academic Reading Section Short Summary
List of 11 Types of Questions in Academic Reading Section

Question type 1 – Multiple choice

You will be required to choose the best answer from four alternatives (A, B, C or D), or the best two answers from five alternatives (A, B, C, D or E), or the best three answers from seven alternatives (A, B, C, D, E, F or G).

Question type 2 – Identifying information

You will be given a number of statements and asked: ‘Do the following statements agree with the information in the text?’ You will be then required to write ‘true’, ‘false’ or ‘not given’ in the boxes.

Question type 3 – Identifying writer’s views/claims

You will be given a number of statements and asked: ‘Do the following statements agree with the views/claims of the writer?’ You are required to write ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘not given’ in the boxes.

Question type 4 – Matching information

You are required to locate specific information within the lettered paragraphs/sections of a text, and to write the letters of the correct paragraphs/sections in the boxes.

Question type 5 – Matching headings

You are given a list of headings, usually identified with lower-case Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, etc.,). A heading will refer to the main idea of the paragraph or section of the text. You must match the heading to the correct paragraphs or sections, which are marked alphabetically.

Question type 6 – Matching features

You are required to match a set of statements or pieces of information to a list of options. The options are a group of features from the text, and are identified by letters.

Question type 7 – Matching sentence endings

You are given the first half of a sentence based on the text and asked to choose the best way to complete it from a list of possible options. You must write the letter you have chosen as your answer. The questions are in the same order as the information in the passage

Question type 8 – Sentence completion

You must complete sentences in a given number of words taken from the text. The instructions will make it clear how many words/numbers you should use in your answers

Question type 9 – Summary, note, table, flow-chart completion

You are given a summary of a section of the text, and are required to complete it with information drawn from the text. The summary will usually be of only one part of the passage rather than the whole.

Question type 10 – Diagram label completion

You are required to complete labels on a diagram, which relates to a description contained in the text.

Question type 11 – Short-answer questions

You will answer questions, which usually relate to factual information about details in the text. This is most likely to be used with a text that contains a lot of factual information and detail.

IELTS General Training Reading)

IELTS Syllabus 2020: General Training Reading Section Important Points
IELTS Syllabus 2020: General Training Reading Section Important Points
IELTS Syllabus 2020: General Training Reading Section Short Summary
IELTS Syllabus 2020: General Training Reading Section Short Summary
List of 11 Types of Questions in GT Reading Section

Question type 1 – Multiple choice

You will be required to choose the best answer from four alternatives (A, B, C or D), or the best two answers from five alternatives (A, B, C, D or E), or the best three answers from seven alternatives (A, B, C, D, E, F or G).

Question type 2 – Identifying information

You will be given a number of statements and asked: ‘Do the following statements agree with the information in the text?’ You will be then required to write ‘true’, ‘false’ or ‘not given’ in the boxes.

Question type 3 – Identifying writer’s views/claims

You will be given a number of statements and asked: ‘Do the following statements agree with the views/claims of the writer?’ You are required to write ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘not given’ in the boxes.

Question type 4 – Matching information

You are required to locate specific information within the lettered paragraphs/sections of a text, and to write the letters of the correct paragraphs/sections in the boxes.

Question type 5 – Matching headings

You are given a list of headings, usually identified with lower-case Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, etc.,). A heading will refer to the main idea of the paragraph or section of the text. You must match the heading to the correct paragraphs or sections, which are marked alphabetically.

Question type 6 – Matching features

You are required to match a set of statements or pieces of information to a list of options. The options are a group of features from the text, and are identified by letters.

Question type 7 – Matching sentence endings

You are given the first half of a sentence based on the text and asked to choose the best way to complete it from a list of possible options. You must write the letter you have chosen as your answer. The questions are in the same order as the information in the passage

Question type 8 – Sentence completion

You must complete sentences in a given number of words taken from the text. The instructions will make it clear how many words/numbers you should use in your answers

Question type 9 – Summary, note, table, flow-chart completion

You are given a summary of a section of the text, and are required to complete it with information drawn from the text. The summary will usually be of only one part of the passage rather than the whole.

Question type 10 – Diagram label completion

You are required to complete labels on a diagram, which relates to a description contained in the text.

Question type 11 – Short-answer questions

You will answer questions, which usually relate to factual information about details in the text. This is most likely to be used with a text that contains a lot of factual information and detail.

d) Writing

IELTS Academic Writing

IELTS Syllabus 2020: What are the Skills tested in Academic Writing Section?
IELTS Syllabus 2020: What are the Skills tested in Academic Writing Section?
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Explanation of the Skills that are tested in this Section
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Explanation of the Skills that are tested in this Section

There are 2 tasks:

In Task 1 (150 words) you will describe a diagram, graph, process or chart. You may be asked to describe / explain data, explain stages of a procedure, how something works or describe an object/ event.

IELTS Syllabus 2020: Academic Writing Task 1 Explained
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Academic Writing Task 1 Explained

In Task 2 (at least 250 words) you will respond to an argument. This response will be in the form of an essay.

IELTS Syllabus 2020: Academic Writing Task 2 Explained
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Academic Writing Task 2 Explained

You will have to learn to interpret & describe statistical data using appropriate language and grammar. You will demonstrate enhanced vocabulary in writing. You will learn to formulate, express and defend opinions using appropriate vocabulary.
You need to focus on:

  • Paraphrasing
  • Charts & graphs
  • Structuring an argument
  • Justifying an opinion drawn from tables & graphs
  • Describing a process
  • Presenting an opinion & interpreting data
  • Explaining “how” of things
  • Summarizing
  • Presenting solutions & data and describing them

IELTS General Training

IELTS Syllabus 2020: What are the Skills tested in General Training Writing Section?
IELTS Syllabus 2020: What are the Skills tested in General Training Writing Section?
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Explanation of the Skills that are tested in this Section
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Explanation of the Skills that are tested in this Section

There are 2 tasks (much easier than that of the academic format):

In Task 1 (150 words) you will have to write a letter or explain a situation. The letter can be formal, semi-formal or personal depending upon the situation presented. You will be asked to explain, request for something or support your argument referring to a certain authority.

General Training Writing Task 1
General Training Writing Task 1

General Training Writing Task 2
General Training Writing Task 2

Facts You Must Know While You Prepare for IELTS

Listening:

IELTS Syllabus 2020: Important Facts for Listening Section
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Important Facts for Listening Section

You must:

  • Increase vocabulary and try to focus on content & flow of spoken material while listening.
  • Create an outline of the information presented while listening. Write main ideas, major points, and important details
  • Listen for signal words that indicate the introduction, major steps of ideas, examples used and the conclusion or the summary
  • Listen for words that show connections & relationships between ideas.
  • Identify relationships between ideas: cause/effect, compare/ contrast, and steps in a process
  • Anticipate what a person is going to say (as a way to stay focused). Listen to recorded material and stop the recording at various points to assimilate what you’ve heard. Predict what information/ idea will be expressed next
  • Try and assess the purpose of a speech/ conversation whether it is an apology, a complaint or a suggestion etc.
  • Notice if language or narration of various recordings is formal or casual. Pay attention to speaker’s voice and tonality (calm or emotional, degree of speaker’s certainty etc.).
  • Observe the way stress or intonation patterns are being used to convey meaning

Reading:

IELTS Syllabus 2020: Important Facts for Reading Section
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Important Facts for Reading Section

You must

  • Develop vocabulary – this is one of the key determinants of your performance in IELTS. This is not just about learning the meaning of words. It is also equally important to know when and when not to use the same word. You should write down word lists and choose from the lists while practicing.
  • Practice reading for making a gist and develop speed in locating information
  • Do mock tests, not under exam conditions, so you can work on skills
  • Do mock tests, under exam conditions, so you can test your score and improvement
  • You should learn to spot keywords. You must also know how to use them correctly. Each question will have keywords to help you locate the information from the passage & spot the right answer.
  • Practice skimming through information – you need to be able to skim & scan passages. Skimming is reading to get a general idea of the content provided. This does not mean you try to understand the passage. It’s just about getting a sense of the topic & layout. At the same time, try to underline/highlight any keywords that come to your notice.
  • Practice identifying the writer’s opinions, attitude & purpose
  • Develop skills for each type of question: there are around 11 types. Find a strategy to tackle each one. Practice makes perfect. Most struggle with the “True False Not Given (TFNG)” type of answers. Find more time for TFNG type.
  • Practice reading for main ideas, understand logical arguments but do not try to understand the full passage – this section has a strict time limit. Your ability to answer questions in time will be challenged heavily. You must develop speed reading skills. Scan a passage quickly to locate information. Most questions test your ability to locate specific information so wasting time for the whole content is not advisable. “Matching Headings” and “Choosing a Title” are the only 2 types of questions that require a detailed understanding. Rest of the questions does not. All of the others are based on locating information.

Writing:

IELTS Syllabus 2020: Important Facts for Writing Section
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Important Facts for Writing Section

You must:

  • Increase vocabulary & knowledge of idiomatic speech so you can use it effectively
  • Learn to find synonyms with ease
  • Make a list of familiar topics and practice writing about the. For each topic, state an opinion or a preference and then support it with evidence
  • Practice planning and writing at least one essay on each topic
  • Create a focused thesis statement and use it to develop the ideas presented in the essay
  • Use signal words and phrases such as, “on the one hand”, “in conclusion”, to create a structure for your response
  • Learn grammatical structures so well that you are able to use them naturally while writing
  • Learn the conventions of spelling, punctuations, and layout (e.g. paragraph styling)
  • Read articles that are 300-400 words long. Make outlines including major points and essentials details of those articles
  • Use these outlines to write a summary of information presented in the articles
  • Make summaries brief which can clearly communicate only the major points
  • Be sure to use paraphrasing using different words and grammatical structures. Paraphrasing involves restating something from source material in your words.

Speaking:

  • This module (same for both formats – Academic & General Training) is basically a structured interview (you can practice this while on your own with your family or others regularly before taking the test).
  • This component of IELTS will put emphasis on your general speaking skills.
  • It assesses whether you have the necessary knowledge and skills to communicate effectively with native speakers of English.
  • The venue for the speaking section may differ from that of the other 3 modules.

IELTS Syllabus 2020: Important Facts for Speaking Section
IELTS Syllabus 2020: Important Facts for Speaking Section

This is a face-to-face interview round between the examiner and you (test-taker). This module is divided into 3 parts and every part is recorded.

Part 1: you will be asked general questions about yourself, your home, family, work (if applicable), education, interests & hobbies. This part lasts 4-5 minutes.

Part 2: you will be given a card with a particular topic stated on it. Then you will be given a minute to prepare. Then you will speak for 2 minutes.

Part 3: you will be asked a question on the topic given in Part 2. Here, you will be getting an opportunity to discuss more abstract ideas and issues with the examiner. This part will last 4-5 minutes.

IELTS Exam Details – Scoring Mechanism

IELTS uses a 9-band scale to clearly identify levels of a candidate’s proficiency in English. A score will be first assigned for each test component – Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. The individual scores will then be averaged and rounded off to an Overall Band Score (OBS).

OBS is an average of the 4 component scores which is rounded off to the nearest whole or half band. All component scores are weighted equally.

IELTS Pattern of Scores – Marking Scheme
IELTS Pattern of Scores – Marking Scheme

IELTS Syllabus 2020: All You Need to Study for Success 1
Examples of Scores of Three Fictitious Candidates

Look at the table above. If the average of the 4 components ends in .25, the OBS is rounded off to the next half band, and if it ends in .75, the OBS is rounded off to the next whole band.

IELTS is available at more than 1,600 locations worldwide, including more than 50 locations in the USA.

IELTS Exam Details: Test Day Facts

  • On the day of the test, the 3 components will be taken in the following order: Listening, Reading, and Writing.
  • After completing the Listening section, you may proceed to the Academic or General Training format for the Reading & Writing sections.
  • You may take the Speaking test 7 days “before or after” the other sections. This choice will depend on your testing centre.

IELTS Exam Details: Test Day Facts
IELTS Exam Details: Test Day Facts

Useful Links

  1. IELTS or International English Language Testing System
  2. Academic Module, General Training Module – Listening, Reading, Writing, Speaking
  3. Where can you sit for the tests? Check a suitable Indian location for yourself here.
  4. To know more about the scoring mechanism, visit this page.
  5. Find out who accepts IELTS scores; find an organization and the band scores that they accept.
  6. Find collated sample tests here

Conclusions

Hey there! Finally, you’ve reached this end. Anxious about how your IELTS examiner will treat you on that very day? Scared about your preparation? Well, don’t be! If you are wondering about some handholding that can take you a long way in this direction, allow us to help you! We’ve just finished presenting to you important facts about the IELTS syllabus, IELTS exam details, and essential aspects of the IELTS exam structure. Hope this helps with your preparation for your big day!