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Download your copy of the Guide to IELTS Academic Test

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is the world’s most popular English proficiency test. IELTS offers two main tests: the IELTS Academic test and the IELTS General Training test.

The IELTS Academic test is the international gold standard for measuring English language ability in academic contexts, such as universities or colleges.  If you want to apply to an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in an English-speaking environment, you’ll likely have to succeed on the IELTS Academic test.  

Understanding how the IELTS Academic test works is a key first step in your journey to studying overseas. Here, we provide an overview of the test, starting with the important question — how does IELTS compare with other English proficiency tests? 

For a summarised PDF of this article, get your copy of the Guide to the IELTS Academic Test 

The IELTS Academic Test vs. Alternatives 

Did you know that over 4 million people take IELTS every year? Though IELTS is a leading name in testing, there are a few other noteworthy alternatives you might consider. These include: 

  • TOEFL - Operated by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), TOEFL leans towards American English and mainly provides computer-based testing, though paper-based testing is accessible in limited areas. IELTS, on the other hand, accepts both US and UK forms of English and includes conversation with an examiner who will help the test taker achieve their highest-possible score. 
  • PTE Academic - Managed by Pearson, PTE Academic primarily serves those eyeing university education. While it's a pathway for visa applications to Australia and New Zealand, the global acceptance and the learning resources of IELTS is more helpful for test takers.  
  • C1 Advanced - Having been accepted by 9,000+ institutions, C1 Advanced (formerly Cambridge English: Advanced) is another common English language assessment. While the exam also tests reading, listening, writing, and speaking skills, the extensive preparatory resources of IELTS may provide a better experience for test takers. 
  • Duolingo English Test (DET) - The DET is an online on-demand test that doesn’t require advanced booking to take. While it is accepted by over 4,000 institutions, DET testing is less widely relied upon than IELTS.  
  • Password English Language Test - Primarily used in the UK and Europe, this online test is administered by the CRELLA research group. Despite offering carefully designed tests and fast results, the Password English test is recognised by relatively few institutions.

What makes IELTS so special? 

When it comes to proving your English proficiency, you want an exam that prepares you for real-world scenarios. By studying for the IELTS Academic test, you get training in the English you’ll actually use in university. The assessment is well-rounded and tests all key skills, including listening, reading, writing, and speaking. 

IELTS courses and examinations accommodate both British and American spelling, making them relevant for universities around the world. But one stand-out feature of the assessment is that it focuses on understanding the English spoken by different nationalities. The Listening section includes a range of accents, making it an ideal choice if you’ll be studying in multicultural universities. 

IELTS also offers significant flexibility. Depending on their location, learners can choose between taking the test on paper or on computer. Also, in some locations you'll have the choice to take the IELTS Academic test in a test centre or online from the comfort of your home. Many other exams, like TOEFL, are primarily computer-based, which may not suit everyone's preferences. 

The IELTS test is accepted nearly everywhere and is recognised by 12,000 organisations, including immigration departments in countries like Australia, Canada, the US, the UK, and New Zealand. If you're looking to study or settle in these countries, IELTS might be the best choice.

Which English proficiency test is right for you? 

Choosing the right test can be like picking the right running shoes; it really depends on your own needs and where you're planning to go. Some universities prefer one test over another, and some countries have unique visa requirements.  

The availability of test preparation resources also makes a huge difference in your confidence and readiness. Carefully consider IELTS and its alternatives before choosing the best test for you.

How IELTS opens doors to higher education

If you want to attend a top-tier university, where English is the primary language of instruction, you'll likely find IELTS is not just preferred — it's often a requirement. There's a good reason for that.

The IELTS Academic test fairly and accurately measures whether you have the level of English language proficiency needed in academic settings.  

It isn't just about understanding English. The IELTS Academic test also prepares you for the unique demands of academic language. IELTS achieves this by testing key features of academic language. This ensures you’re prepared to engage with texts, lectures, discussions, and activities common in higher education. 

IELTS also tests your ability to overcome cultural challenges and thrive in English-speaking environments. This is true for all degrees, regardless of whether you want to study computer science in Boston or literature in London.

Succeeding on the IELTS Academic test tells universities and visa officers that you’re socially, intellectually, and culturally prepared for your academic journey. 

What can you expect when taking the IELTS Academic test? 

While there are over 1,600 IELTS test locations in more than 140 countries, the most convenient way to take your IELTS Academic test is through an organisation that co-owns the test, like The British Council

The IELTS Academic test is 2 hours and 45 minutes long and consists of four sections: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking.

You can take the test at a local testing centre or online from the comfort of your home — or any other private location with a stable internet connection. This offers you greater flexibility in choosing your test environment. IELTS Online is available in selected regions, so please check if it's available in your country. 

The Listening, Reading, and Writing sections take place on the same day with no breaks in between. The Speaking section may be scheduled up to a week before or after the other sections.

Learn more about the IELTS Academic test format 

How to prepare for the IELTS Academic test 

Preparation is key to succeeding on your IELTS Academic test. This requires understanding the test format, improving your skills, and building your confidence so you can perform under test conditions. At the British Council, we offer a variety of resources, including exclusive access to IELTS Ready, to help you do just that. 

Learn more about IELTS Ready and other IELTS preparation materials 

Understanding your IELTS score 

IELTS scores are easy to understand and are assessed using a scale that ranges from 1.0 to 9.0. The higher your score, the higher your level of English language proficiency. Each university will have its own minimum score requirements for accepting applications. 

Typically, these minimum scores fall within the 6.0 to 7.0 range. Of course, achieving a higher score will improve your chances of being accepted. After confirming that your score meets the criteria of your ideal university, you'll need to submit an official Test Report Form (TRF) or its electronic version (eTRF) as proof of your eligibility. These are provided upon completing the IELTS Academic test.

Learn more about IELTS scores 

Why you should choose the British Council for your IELTS Academic test 

With decades of experience and a global reputation for quality, the British Council is the preferred choice for millions of IELTS test-takers. Here's why you should choose the British Council for your IELTS Academic test: 

Global recognition

With 90 years of experience in English education and a presence in 100+ countries, the British Council is a globally recognised authority in English language teaching and assessment. Our expertise ensures you’re in safe hands. 

Unmatched preparation support

We provide more preparation than any other test provider through our IELTS Ready offer. Plus, when you book with us you unlock IELTS Ready Premium, which includes a personalised study plan and over 40 practice tests. Make sure you book early to make the most of these resources. 

Trusted, transparent and flexible

IELTS is jointly run by the British Council and our services are trusted by over 12,000 organisations worldwide. Depending on your location, you can choose between IELTS on paper or IELTS on computer. We also offer the option to take the new IELTS Online academic test that can be taken from the comfort of your home.

Simple booking and convenient dates and locations for your test

From booking your test to receiving your results, we have systems in place to guide you every step of the way. All official British Council IELTS test centres are modern, comfortable, and conveniently located. Test dates are scheduled throughout the year, letting you pick the date that best suits your calendar. 

Stress-free experience with a professional and friendly staff

From the moment you book your test to the day you get your results, we ensure a seamless, supportive, and transparent experience. Our classes are led by highly trained educational specialists. IELTS tests are run by experienced staff who ensure your test day runs smoothly.

One Skill Retake

When you take IELTS on computer with the British Council you also have access to the One Skill Retake option. This means you can retake a specific section of the test, rather than the entire test, saving time and money if you only want to improve your score in a single section. Check here to see if One Skill Retake is available in your country. 

IELTS success stories 

Hear from English learners like you who have worked with the British Council to succeed on their IELTS Academic test and secure a place at their university of choice. 

“I received everything I needed for taking my test via email as soon as I'd booked my test.  The practice tests and videos made me less nervous as I knew what to expect on the day.  I found the study materials easy to use. I also attended the IELTS webinars, which were very helpful.” -  Muhammad, Pakistan 

“One of the main reasons for my IELTS success is enrolling on the IELTS Coach online course offered by the British Council. It was a great privilege to take my test in a friendly environment with supportive staff.” - Dona, Sri Lanka 

“I'm totally satisfied with my experience of taking IELTS with the British Council. The test was conducted in a convenient and professional manner. I'd definitely recommend it to those planning to relocate to an English-speaking country.” - Felipe, Philippines

Take the next step in your academic journey 

Attending a prestigious English-speaking university offers you more than an excellent education. It's a life-changing experience that exposes you to diverse cultures and perspectives. Such an education can set you up for career advancement and will open doors to opportunities around the globe. 

But to access these opportunities, you first need to take the IELTS Academic test. The British Council provides all the tools and support you need to excel at the test. Don't put off your dreams any longer. Book your IELTS Academic test with the British Council now and make the first move toward a future filled with possibility. 

Start your journey with our Guide to the IELTS Academic Test 

From booking to preparing for your test, there’s a lot to know when it comes to succeeding on your IELTS test. To help, we’ve developed a guide containing the key details you need. It shares all the information presented here in an easy-to-digest format. Click the button below for your free copy.  

Download your copy of the Guide to IELTS Academic Test  

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