IELTS is the world’s biggest English language test with testing centres all over the world. It has two modules: General Training and Academic.
IELTS test is divided into four parts:
Listening – during this test, you listen to a 30 minute audio recording and answer 40 questions. Both Academic and GT applicants listen to the same recording. (They do not rewind the audio recording so you really need good listening skills and the ability to focus only on what you hear. Some testing centres let their testing applicants use headphones. I found that very helpful during both times I took the test as it allowed me to tune out noise and distractions.)
Reading – in this part, you have to read 3 passages and answer 40 questions and it lasts for an hour. The test is different for GT and Academic modules. (This tests reading comprehension. You need to be able to read fast and understand the concept right away. My technique here is to quickly skim through the passages, look at the questions, then read the full passages remembering the questions I just read so I can answer them correctly. The GT reading is easy, the Academic version is harder because of a lot of technical terms and more complex vocabulary.)
Writing – this part has 2 tasks and and it lasts for a total of 1 hour. Task 1 for GT is writing a letter. Task 1 for Academic is a short report of a graph, chart, table, bars, maps, etc. Task 2 for both is a formal essay. (Task 1 (33% of your writing mark) requires at least 150 words. Task 2 (66% of your writing mark) requires at least 250 words. Thus, it’s best to spend no more than 20 minutes for Task 1 and no more than 40 minutes for Task 2. As soon as I was given the topics, I try to formulate an outline in my mind and translate that into writing. I usually finish about 5 minutes early so that gives me time to read my work and make adjustments as well as count the number of words.)
Speaking – this part is like an informal face-to-face interview that lasts between 11-14 minutes and has 3 parts. It’s the same kind for both GT and Academic modules. (The beginning of the test is just an ID check and greeting. Then the examiner will ask you a series of simple questions about yourself and your life for about 4 to 5 minutes. Then the examiner will ask you about a topic that you will answer in 1 to 2 minutes straight with rounding off questions for a minute. Don’t worry as you’ll be given 1 minute to think of your answer and you can even write notes for talking points. The last part is a discussion based on your previous talk for about 4 to 5 minutes. This part is always the most nerve-wracking for me and I think the examiner can always sense the nervousness in my voice. But just try to breathe, relax, and be yourself. The words will just flow naturally.)
IELTS – General Training Module
If you’re applying via Express Entry, you need to take the General Training option. They do not accept the Academic option for Express Entry. However, you would need to take the Academic option later on when you register for your pharmacist license in your province.
[Just to give a brief background, the route I took to get a Permanent Residence in Canada is through the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program, then applied to the Citizenship and Immigration Canada under the Provincial Nominee Class. Back then, it was paper-based and there was still no Express Entry option.]
Back in February 2013, when I was just planning to go to Canada, I emailed MPNP asking if I need to take a language test first before I can create an account. In their reply, they said:
The MPNP gives priority assessment to eligible applicants who have existing employment in Manitoba and/or demonstrate that they have English proficiency demonstrated by IELTS 5 or higher.
As I wanted my application to be “prioritized” I decided to take the IELTS right away and hoped to get a score of at least 5.
In the Philippines, there are 2 authorized agents that conduct the IELTS tests: IDP and British Council. Back in 2013, the cost for IELTS is PhP 8,900 (~245 CAD) for IDP and and PhP 8,986 (~ 247 CAD) for British Council. After reading various reviews online by other test takers, I decided to go with IDP.
This is a brief overview of how IELTS is done based on an email conversation with IDP back in 2013:
With IELTS, you are being evaluated on your Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking skills. The first 3 tests (Listening, Reading, and Writing) will be completed in one day (9am to 12nn). There is no break in between the tests. The 20-minute Speaking test will be assigned at a different day, usually within 3-4 days before the other tests. The results are then released 2 weeks after the test.
I took my IELTS – General Training module through IDP in Manila, Philippines on March 23, 2013. I had my Speaking test on March 21, 2013.
On April 3, 2013, they released the results of the IELTS exam and I got the following scores: Listening: 9.0, Reading: 8.5, Writing: 8.0, and Speaking: 7.0 for an overall score of 8.0. I was very happy and excited as I only needed a 5.0 but I got an 8.0 out of a perfect 9.0. 🙂
I am the type of person who likes to know what to expect and tries my best to prepare for an upcoming task. I obsessively searched and read forums as to how to prepare for IELTS.
I prepared by self-studying at home using various practice tests available online. As well, I enrolled in a preparation course at 9.0 Niner IELTS Review and Tutorial Center. I got a deal back in November 2012 for PhP 999 (~27 CAD) for the whole course which included lectures, coaching sessions, and the 9.0 Niner Orange Book. I also got free preparation materials from Cambridge English and from IELTS.
Long story short, I practiced a few hours a week during the month leading up to my exam date. Most people do not really prepare for a language test, but I have read stories of people going into such tests and not getting the results that they wanted and needing to take it again. As I do not have extra funds in case I had to repeat the test, I had to make sure that I will only take it once and get the results that I need.
Make sure to read the confirmation email as well as they would send you the times, locations, what to bring, and other important reminders to make sure that your IELTS test is as smooth as possible.
It’s important to take note that IELTS results are valid only for two full years from your test date. So if you do not finish your immigration application process within two years, you may have to retake the test.
I took the IELTS – Academic module on July 7, 2018 again through IDP in the Philippines. Back in July 2018, I paid PhP 10,270 (~283 CAD) for the test.
** As of writing this, the rate for IELTS (General/Academic) through IDP is now PhP 11,300 (~311 CAD). And they now have computer-delivered as well as paper-based versions of taking the test. **
I took the Speaking test on July 5, 2018. The results were released on July 20, 2018 and I got the following scores: Listening: 9.0, Reading: 8.5, Writing: 7.5, and Speaking: 8.5 for an overall band score of 8.5.
My writing score lowered but my speaking score increased. I found the Writing aspect of the Academic module a lot harder because you’d have to interpret graphs and charts instead of just writing a letter and an essay with the General Training module. And my Speaking score probably improved because I am now using mostly the English language at work and I get to practice speaking in English every single day.
This time, I mostly just studied by myself using available online resources. Aside from the Cambridge IELTS books, my favourite is IELTS Liz. This is a FREE IELTS preparation website which I found to be very comprehensive and helpful.
Thanks for reading my experiences during both GT and Academic modules and I hope this helps in any way during your preparation. Wish you all the best!