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English Proficiency Tests (IELTS, TOEFL, etc.): Preparing for IELTS

Suggests tools and resources to help students prepare for IELTS, TOEFL, and more

About the IELTS

What is IELTS?

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is a British English based standardized test that measures the language proficiency of non-native speakers who want to study or work where English is used as a language of communication. It assesses writing, reading, listening, and speaking skills, ultimately indicating the candidate's ability to communicate in the English language. 

The IELTS test has two versions: Academic and General Training.

  • IELTS Academic: for candidates who wish to study at undergraduate or postgraduate levels, and for people seeking 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: for candidates who are planning to emigrate to the UK, Australia, Canada or New Zealand, and for people who wish to complete their secondary education or undertake work experience or training programme in an English speaking country. The test focuses on basic survival skills in broad social and workplace contexts.



The total test time is around 2 hours 45 minutes.

  • Listening: Approximately 30 minutes (plus 10 minutes transfer time).
  • Reading: 60 minutes
  • Writing: 60 minutes
  • Speaking: 11-14 minutes


Extracted from the IELTS Official Website


IELTS is a test to assesses your ability in four language skills: listening, reading, writing and speaking.

The Listening, Reading and Writing sections of all IELTS tests are completed on the same day one after the other, with no breaks in between them.

Depending on your test centre, the Speaking section may be scheduled on the same day as the other three tests or up to a week before or after the other tests. You will receive notification in advance from the test centre if your Speaking test is on a different day to your main test day.


IELTS can be taken on a computer or paper.

Paper-based IELTS:

This test requires test takers to sit at a desk with the question papers and answer sheets for the Reading, Listening and Writing tests in an official IELTS test centre. Test takers will write their answers in either pen or HB-pencils. The Speaking test is carried out face-to-face with a trained IELTS examiner. 


Computer-delivered IELTS:

This test requires test takers to sit the Reading, Listening and Writing tests in front of a computer with the questions presented on the screen in an official IELTS test centre. The test takers then submit their answers through the use of a keyboard and a mouse. All aspects of the test are idential to paper-based IELTS, including question types, content, timings and marking. The Speaking test is not on a computer and will remain face-to-face with a trained IELTS examiner*. 


*Starting from July 2020 some of the British Council's IELTS test centres will start delivering the IELTS Speaking test via video calls. The test will be delivered via a video call by an IELTS Speaking examiner, enabling real-life, real-time, two-way interaction. This means more flexibility and more availability of IELTS Speaking tests. Visit the British Council's website for more details.




You will listen to four recordings of native English speakers and then write your answers to a series of questions.

  • Recording 1 – a conversation between two people set in an everyday social context, e.g. finding out information about travel.
  • Recording 2 - a monologue set in a real-life context, e.g. a radio broadcast or a speech about local facilities.
  • Recording 3 – a conversation between up to four people set in an educational or training context, e.g. a university tutor and a student discussing an assignment.
  • Recording 4 - a monologue on an academic subject, e.g. a university lecture.



The section is designed to test a wide range of reading skills. These include reading for gist, reading for main ideas, reading for detail, skimming, understanding logical argument and recognising writers' opinions, attitudes and purpose.

Academic Reading - this includes three long texts which range from the descriptive and factual to the discursive and analytical. These are taken from books, journals, magazines and newspapers.  They have been selected for a non-specialist audience but are appropriate for people entering university courses or seeking professional registration.

General Training Reading -  this includes extracts from books, magazines, newspapers, notices, advertisements, company handbooks and guidelines. These are materials you are likely to encounter on a daily basis in an English-speaking environment.



Academic Writing - Topics are of general interest to, and suitable for, test takers entering undergraduate and postgraduate studies or seeking professional registration. There are two tasks:

  • Task 1 (150 words) - you will be presented with a graph, table, chart or diagram and asked to describe, summarise or explain the information in your own words. You may be asked to describe and explain data, describe the stages of a process, how something works or describe an object or event.
  • Task 2 (250 words) - you will be asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem. Responses to both tasks must be in a formal style. 

General Training WritingTopics are of general interest. There are two tasks:

  • Task 1 (150 words) - you will be presented with a situation and asked to write a letter requesting information, or explaining the situation. The letter may be personal, semi-formal or formal in style.
  • Task 2 (250 words) - you will be asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem. The essay can be fairly personal in style.



The speaking section assesses your use of spoken English. Every test is recorded.

  • Part 1 - the examiner will ask you general questions about yourself and a range of familiar topics, such as home, family, work, studies and interests. This part lasts between four and five minutes.
  • Part 2  - you will be given a card which asks you to talk about a particular topic. You will have one minute to prepare before speaking for up to two minutes. The examiner will then ask one or two questions on the same topic.
  • Part 3 - you will be asked further questions about the topic in Part 2. These will give you the opportunity to discuss more abstract ideas and issues. This part of the test lasts between four and five minutes.


Extracted from the IELTS Official Website. The details of each test section can be found here.


The Academic and General Training papers are graded to the same scale. There is no passing or failing score in the testIELTS scores are reported as band scores on a scale from 1 (the lowest) to 9 (the highest) for each test section, which reflects your proficiency in English. Each educational institution or organisation sets its own level of IELTS scores to meet its individual requirements.

Your IELTS Test Report Form will show a score for each of the four sections (Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking) and an Over Band Score which is the average of the four sections. You can score whole band scores (e.g. 5.0, 6.0, 7.0) or half band scores (e.g. 5.5, 6.5, 7.5) in every section of the test.  

To see all IELTS scores from 1-9, please click here.


Score validity

The IELTS score validity is of two years counting from the date of receiving it.


IELTS Academic / IELTS General Training:

Hong Kong: HK$2,150

Macau: HK$2,520


Find a test location for IELTS at Hong Kong, SAR of China:

British Council / IDP Education


Prepare for IELTS

Prepare for IELTS

IELTS Practice Tests

Roads to IELTS (HKBU Library eligible users only)

An award-winning online preparation course for IELTS co-published with the British Council. Road to IELTS provides comprehensive preparation and practice in every aspect of each of the four modules of the IELTS exam.

IELTS Official Website - Sample test questions 

The practice materials available on the IELTS Official Website will give you an idea of what to expect in the Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking tests.


Understanding IELTS on Future Learn (Free Online Course)

The free 3-weeks online preparation courses from the British Council provide a complete guide to all four sections (Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking) to help you prepare for the test. - IELTS Sample Practice Tests

Includes information about preparing for IELTS as well as free practice materials, tests and writing examples.

There are a number of helpful IELTS materials available at HKBU Library.


Recommended books

Here are some highlights from the Library's book collection that my be of interest to you:

IELTS Official Website

The official page of IELTS. Includes information about preparing for and taking the test and finding a test centre. There are also sample questions from different skill areas.

British Council (Hong Kong) - IELTS Information

One of the co-owners offering test centres of IELTS, provides the information you need to choose a test that’s right for you and help you get the best score possible.


IDP Education Hong Kong - IETLS information

One of the partners offering test centres of IELTS, provides registration information for the test.

HKBU Language Centre - IELTS Information

This page is presented by HKBU Language Centre. It provides a comprehensive collection of IELTS preparation materials and practice resources that all students should know about!


Contains information about the IELTS test, recommended books, study materials and free practice exercises.