IELTS – How does it work?

The language proficiency exam is one of the most important factors when it comes to studying, working or immigrating to Canada. But do you know what IELTS is and how it works?

IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System and is one of the exams that prove proficiency in the English language. The exam costs roughly $ 320 CAD and is available on 48 dates of the year and in 1600 locations worldwide. Depending on the purpose for the test taker who needs to prove knowledge in English, they must choose between two segments of the exam: academic or general.

Test format

The test assesses your listening skills, reading and text interpretation skills as well as your writing and speaking skills. The total test time is 3 hours. The listening, reading and writing modules are done on the same day, without breaks. The 15 minute speaking module can be done the day before or the day after the other modules.

In both the academic or general IELTS, the speaking and listening modules are the same, but reading and writing are different and more focused on the pertaining exam segment.

Paper vs. Computer

The IELTS exam can be done on paper or on a computer. The exam questions, whether taken on the computer or on paper, are exactly the same. However, there are some differences in the tests.

Test dates: the computerized version of the exam offers more possible test dates than the paper version due to the ease in applying for the exam and correction.

Result times: the results for the computer version takes between 5 and 7 days to be sent out.

The results for the paper version of the exam takes 10 to 15 days.

Speaking: The task is exactly the same on the computer or paper – it is done in person in front of an examiner.

Listening: the computerized version will always have a headset where you can adjust the volume of the audio and make notes on the draft paper while filling in the answers. In the paper version, there won’t always be a headset available depending on the room structure (just a regular speaker). However, you can make notes directly on the question sheet, circle and underline questions. You will have a few minutes at the end to transfer your answers to the answer sheet.

Reading: In the paper version you will need to turn the pages to read the text and questions but on the other hand, it makes it easier for you to draw, circle or write down things in the middle of the text on the same paper. On a computer, the screen will be divided into 2: the text will be on the left side and the questions on the right side, both with scroll bars. Your notes can be made on the auxiliary sheet.

Writing: on the computer, it is possible to quickly cut, paste, erase, rewrite and reorganize the text. In addition, there is the automatic word counter and there is no spelling / grammatical correction. In the paper version, you can reorganize the text, as you can write the text in pencil and erase if necessary but you will waste a lot more time rewriting. Additionally, you should also consider your handwriting.


In an exam like the IELTS there is no “passing the test”. Your score reflects the level of English you have. The minimum IELTS score is 1 and the maximum 9.


Many educational institutions in Canada (mainly public colleges) require an official certificate (IELTS Academic or TOEFL score for example) to prove the student’s English level before admission and before issuing the Letter of Acceptance (LOA). Each institution requires specific English levels for the courses it offers.


For work and immigration to Canada the IELTS General Training program is one of the most sought after options in addition to the Celpip test. The minimum score depends on the program being applied to. To find out the equivalence of the IELTS General scores with the level of English required the Canadian government (Canadian Language Benchmarks – CLB), click here.

In addition to this text focused on the IELTS exam, we will publish an explanation of the Celpip exam. We hope that this text helps you clarify your doubts about the IELTS exam and that with this information you will be able choose which exam is best for you. To find out how the IELTS exam can help you in your study and immigration process to Canada contact us.



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