IELTS Exam Syllabus : Section-Wise Syllabus & Test Pattern

IELTS Exam Syllabus : Section-Wise IELTS Syllabus & Test Pattern

Updated on 18 January, 2022

Mrinal Mandal

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The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is an English language proficiency exam for work, study, or migration.  With the right knowledge of the IELTS exam syllabus and pattern, cracking the popular English test won’t be difficult. The exam scores are especially important for students who wish to study abroad at reputed universities.

Studying abroad is one of the most important decisions made by graduates and high school students. It is an opportunity for them to see the world and explore global opportunities. The education system and the job market are dynamic and promising in various countries like the USA, Australia, Canada, Europe, and Germany. All reputed and global schools, colleges and universities demand English proficiency before offering admission to international students.

The test allows an evaluation of international students based on their proficiency and command over the English language. It is mainly intended for non-native English speakers aspiring to study abroad. English is a medium of communication and education in almost all foreign universities. IELTS is an entry ticket to these universities. This is a standard English test that every student who did not have their first language as English has to appear for. The accepted score and eligibility depend upon the country and the university. There are two types of the test– Academic and General Training—and the IELTS syllabus slightly differs for them.

Two types of IELTS exams

IELTS Academic is for those who want to opt for professional registration and higher education in countries where English is a fundamental language. IELTS General Training is for those students who aspire to take admission in countries like New Zealand, Canada, the US, Australia and the UK for below degree level education and training programs. Under academic and general training, there are four sections–reading, writing, listening, and speaking. While the syllabus for listening and speaking remains the same for all test takers, the reading and writing tests are different for academic and general training types. The duration of the examination is 2 hours and 55 minutes and the score range is from 0 to 9. The IELTS score is valid for 24 months and the maximum attempt limit is four times a month.

It is one of the largest English language proficiency examinations conducted by the British Council and IDP Education Ltd. More than 10,000 universities and 140 countries accept IELTS scores for admission. There is no minimum score to pass, and it depends upon the educational institutions to decide the score for eligibility. The top 100 globally ranked universities have a high cut-off and international students need to have a strong preparation to compete for seats there. Therefore, it is important for international students to learn about the IELTS question paper pattern and syllabus so that they can score high and get through the admission process easily.

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IELTS exam pattern

The exam is divided into four sections that check the students’ proficiency in English language. These sections are reading, writing, speaking, and listening. The students need to work on all the aspects of the English language to get a good IELTS exam score. The table below takes you through the exam pattern and discusses the topics and the time allotted to attempt each of the sections:



Number of questions

30 minutes

The Listening section will have four monologues and recorded conversations.

4 questions in total

60 minutes

The reading section will have four passages and there will be tasks.

40 questions in total

The tasks from the passage will be fact-based, descriptive, and discursive. The analytical portion will be based on the non-verbal part and will have graphical representations, images, illustrations and texts from various books and study material.

60 minutes

1 short essay of around 250-word limit.

2 questions in total

A task of 150 words where the students need to describe, analyze, summarize, and explain the graphical representations, images and illustrations.

11-14 minutes

The speaking section will have a structured and detailed discussion on various topics, short face-to-face interview questions and some lengthy questions about various topics of interest.

3 questions in total


IELTS syllabus

The IELTS syllabus is vast, as it has two modules and four chunky sections. The four sections have a fixed structure, pattern, time duration, and number of questions. Here is how the syllabus looks like in details:

Writing syllabus

The writing segment is the first section of the IELTS examination. It contains short essays or reports that are addressed to an educated audience. There are two tasks in the writing portion. Firstly, the students need to draft a 150-word essay after examining and understanding the graphical representations, diagrams, data, and tables. Secondly, the students need to prepare an essay in their own words based on a view, idea, or argument.

1. IELTS Academic writing: The topics under this type of IELTS exam are based on general interest and are meant for students applying for a postgraduate or undergraduate degree. The first task will have a diagram, data, or a graphical representation that the students need to analyze and explain in their own words. Secondly, the students need to draft an essay of 250 words based on the data documented and produce a proper view or argument with relevant examples. The writing style of the report and essay must be formal and structured.

2. IELTS General Training writing: The General writing module has two tasks, but the level will be easier than the Academic module. A situation will be given and based on that; a letter must be written by the students. This letter should be formal or semi-formal based on the type of situation. The students need to explain, argue, or request a certain authority. Based on the viewpoint of the first letter, the next task will be an essay. The tone of this essay can be semi-personal or personal.

Reading syllabus

The IELTS reading module will have three questions that will be based on general interest and are meant for undergraduate and postgraduate degree students. There will be a total of 40 questions that will include short questions, multiple-choice questions, matching phrases, and data lists. The reading examination of IELTS has a different pattern for academic and general training modules.

1. IELTS Academic reading: The academic reading section will have three long paragraphs. They will be analytical, descriptive, and based on facts. These paragraphs are mainly from books, newsletters, journals, and articles. The level is for professional and post-graduate students aspiring to study abroad.  

2. IELTS General Training reading: The format of the general training reading examination will be the same as that of the academic module. However, this portion is relatively easier because it will have topics that the students come across in their day-to-day lives. The three reading passages will be based on topics like pamphlets, advertising, and brochures among others.



Listening syllabus

The IELTS listening section is the same for the two modules-Academic and General Training examinations. There will be a total of four questions. The first two conversations will be based on social and environmental needs, while the last two will revolve around educational situations. All the conversations will be three minutes each. The students are allowed to hear the four conversations only once. Based on these conversations, several questions like note completion, multiple-choice and sentence completion will be asked.

1. Conversations 1 and 2 will be based on social and regular situations. Under this, the first conversation will be between two people in a common scenario and setting. The second one will be a monologue that will be based on a common everyday situation too.

2. Conversations 3 and 4 will be based on educational situations. Under this, the third conversation will be among four people in a proper education or training context. The fourth conversation will be a monologue based on any academic context or subject.


Speaking syllabus

The IELTS speaking examination is the very last section and it has the same pattern and structure for both the modules-Academic and General Training. The section assesses the general speaking skills of the candidates. This section will test the knowledge and effective communication skills of the candidates to communicate overseas. There will be a total of three questions that will contain personal interviews, discussion, and a small speech.

1. Part 1 – Introduction: This part focuses on the self-introduction of the candidates. Students need to talk about themselves, their background, hobbies and educational qualifications and achievements. The focus should be on the tone, structure, sentence construction and usage of words.

2. Part 2 – Long run: Here the candidate will be given a topic. The candidates will have around two minutes to jot down everything related to the topic that is relevant and speak about it. After the speech of the candidates, there will be a short question and answer round.

3. Part 3 – This will be a lengthy discussion and the questions will be deep, relevant, and abstract. The discussion will be based on serious issues and topics.

IELTS is an important exam for aspiring students to take up education in popular countries like the USA, Australia, Europe, Canada, and Germany. The IELTS exam pattern and syllabus are vast as it has two modules and four sections. Students need to give time to understand the exam pattern, types of IELTS exams and the kind of questions asked. Visit upGrad Abroad to get the right guidance and support to crack IELTS in a single attempt.

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Frequently Asked Questions on IELTS Exam Syllabus

Q. Q1. Which is the most difficult section in the IELTS exam?

The IELTS exam has four sections-writing, listening, reading, and speaking. Each of the sections will need a good amount of practice. The difficulty level of sections will vary from student to student. While some students find listening difficult, others may find writing difficult. Writing includes a lot of structure and listening needs patience. When students practice and devote time equally to all the sections, all the segments will become easy. 

Q. Q2. Is it difficult to pass the IELTS exam?

IELTS is a leading examination to test English language proficiency. This test is not a difficult one. However, the four sections demand a lot of practice and consistent efforts. If the students can focus on each section and dedicate a good amount of time to each section, it will be an easy examination to crack.

Q. Q3. How can I prepare for the IELTS exam?

IELTS preparation can be done at home or at a coaching center. The students need to understand the test format and syllabus. The modules and sections of IELTS need to be understood clearly. Sample questions, past papers and practice tests need to be taken on a regular basis. The listening and writing sections will need a lot of practice and improvement. The right IELTS study material will help students prepare better.

Q. Q4. What is the eligibility for the IELTS exam?

IELTS only has an age requirement and that is 16 years of age. There are no eligibility criteria in terms of marks or percentage. Irrespective of the total percentage which the students gained in school or graduation, they can appear for the IELTS examination.

Q. Q5. How many times can one take the IELTS exam?

The IELTS examination does not have any fixed number of attempts for international students. The examination can be attempted up to four times a month. That means IELTS exams are conducted around 48 times a year. Students can prepare and take the examination as many times as possible. The aim should be to earn a good score according to the eligibility of the universities.

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