Ultimate Guide to the IELTS Exam (Singapore) - IELTS University (Singapore)
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Ultimate Guide to the IELTS Exam (Singapore)

Last Updated: 2022

This article you are about to read gives you all the information you will ever need about the IELTS examination. It answers the most commonly asked questions like:

  • Differences between Academic and General training
  • IELTS exam test format 
  • Valuable tips to prepare for the exam
  • How much time is needed to prepare for the exam
  • Steps to registering and paying for the IELTS exam
  • Fees and exam results release dates

Refer to the Table of Contents for specific information you need, or devour this entire article and be 100% informed about the IELTS exam you are about to take!

An English teacher who specialises in teaching only the IELTS exam, Jonathan has prepared over 1,000 IELTS students in the past 8 years in Singapore, Australia and various other countries. He develops his own English curriculum, including essay writing frameworks and essential vocabulary builder, which is unique and effective in preparing students for their IELTS exam.

1) Introduction to the IELTS Exam

IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is the world's most popular English language test. More than 2.5 million IELTS tests are taken each year. The test is scored from an overall Band Score of 1 to 9. There are two basic kinds of IELTS tests (Academic and General Training) and each is required for different purposes.

Students need this test for three main reasons:

1) Migration: IELTS is required for skilled migration and permanent residency (PR) in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK

2) Studies: IELTS may be required for those who desire to further their studies in an English-speaking country.

3) Work: IELTS may be required for registration in a professional body in certain industries (e.g. nursing, accountancy, etc.) or for vocational training (e.g. in the tourism, hospitality sectors).

2) Two types of IELTS: Academic and General Training

Differences in test format

The General Training IELTS test is the easier of the two papers. The only differences in the test format is in Task 1 of the Writing paper and also in the Reading paper. For Writing Task 1, the Academic IELTS paper requires the student to write a report on graphs, tables, maps, etc., and this is much more difficult than the General Training Writing Task 1 of writing a simple letter. For Reading, the Academic IELTS paper contains longer and more difficult texts.

Which type to take?

It is important to know which type of IELTS test the student needs to take! While General Training is normally required for migration and Academic is generally required for further studies, one should not assume this to be the case always.

A lot of students ask me which type of IELTS they should take. The truth is that I wouldn't know. Every student needs to find out which one is required for their situation. They could ask their agent or find out from the website of the organization (university, government website, etc.). Everybody's individual situation is different!

What band score you need?

You also need to know what band score you need. In my experience with my IELTS students in Singapore, most migration students need 7.0 in General Training IELTS. However, nurses and accountants usually need 7.0 in Academic IELTS. For students wanting the further their studies with a degree, a 6.5 or 7.0 in Academic IELTS is normally needed. However, as mentioned, one can't assume this is the case for everyone.

Take Note: When organizations indicate that the student needs to get, for example, "7.0", they are referring to the "overall band score", which is calculated as the average score of the 4 individual sub-tests (Writing, Reading, Listening and Speaking). However, some organizations may also state a further requirement of a minimum score for each individual sub-test. So, for example, some universities require students to get a minimum overall band score of 6.5 with a minimum 6.0 for each sub-test. Therefore, if you get an overall score of 6.5 but one of your sub-test is 5.5 (which does not meet the 6.0 minimum), your IELTS score will not be accepted.

Here are some questions to ask your agent or the organization that requires your IELTS score:
1) Do I need to take the Academic or General Training IELTS?
2) What is minimum overall score I need?
3) Is there any minimum score I need for the sub-tests (Writing, Reading, Listening and Speaking)?

3) Four components of the IELTS Exam

Writing

Writing is the most difficult component of the four components. The Writing paper consists of two tasks:

Task 1: This is where General Training and Academic IELTS differ. Task 1 for General Training is simply writing a letter. It could be a formal, informal or semi-formal letter. For the Academic paper, the task is much more challenging: you need to write a report on a graph, table, process or map. The minimum word count for this task is 150 words.

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  • Examiner-friendly Grammar Tips!

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Task 2: This task is similar for both General Training and Academic IELTS. It is to write an Essay of a minimum of 250 words. There are about 7 different types of Task 2 questions (7 according to my analysis and how I teach, at least), but only one will come out.

Total Time: 60 minutes to complete Task 1 and Task 2. It's recommended that you spend about 20 minutes on Task 1 and 40 minutes on Task 2 as Task 1 accounts for 1/3 of your Writing score while Task 2 accounts for 2/3 of your Writing score. While you can start with whichever task you want, I always recommend that my students do the Task 2 first as it's worth more marks.

Reading

Reading, to many, is considered the 2nd most difficult sub-test. The Reading paper doesn't require students to "read" the passage, but rather to answer a total of 40 questions based on a number of reading passages. Therefore, it's a reading comprehension paper.

There are 3 Passages or Sections. There's a difference between the Academic and the General Training version. The Academic version contains 3 long passages (of about 700 to 1000 words in length) while the General Training version contains 3 sections where the 1st and 2nd sections consist of about 2 short passages each and the 3rd section consists of 1 long passage.

Question Types: There are a variety of question types but the two most difficult question types are the "Matching Headings" and the "True/False/Not Given/Yes/No/Not Given" types.

Total Time: 60 minutes.

Listening

The Listening paper requires students to answer 40 questions as they listen along to 4 listening recordings. This is the same for both General Training and Academic IELTS. There are 4 sections in total:

Section 1: a conversation between two people (everyday social situation).
Section 2: one person speaking (everyday social situation).
Section 3: a conversation between two people normally (educational context).
Section 4: one person giving a lecture (educational context).

The challenge of this paper is that students only get to hear the recording once!

Total Time: 30 to 40 minutes.

Speaking

The Speaking test is held at a different time from the Writing, Reading and Listening papers, which are held together. The Speaking test could be in the afternoon (the other three papers would be in the morning), or it could be held on a different day altogether.

The test is conducted one-to-one with an examiner asking the student certain questions on different topics and the student answering them. There are 3 parts to the Speaking test:

Part 1 (4-5 mins): The examiner asks the student some general questions on topics that are familiar to the student - e.g. work, studies, hometown, etc.
Part 2 (3-4 mins): The student is given a task card on a particular topic and given 1 minute to write some notes. Thereafter, the student is expected to speak non-stop for about 1 to 2 minutes.
Part 3 (4-5 mins): The examiner discusses current affair issues related to the given topic in Part 2.

Total Time: 11 to 14 minutes.

4) Preparing for the IELTS Exam

This tip could save you hundreds of dollars!

It is extremely important to prepare for the IELTS exam - if you want to save a lot of money while achieving your required score! Over the years, I've come across many students who taken the exam a ridiculous number of times. For example, I knew of a student who took the exam more than 10 times before attending my classes. Yes, 10 times! If each exam costs about S$300+, that means this person spent over S$3,000 on exam fees! (This person eventually passed his IELTS exam after attending my classes and understanding what he had been doing wrong!)

I would say that based on my experience, many students take the exam a few times before passing. That's because they don't really prepare the first time round or they don't give themselves enough time to prepare.

Whether you take formal IELTS preparation classes or you prepare by yourself, it's important not to rush into booking your exam - unless you have a strict deadline, of course.

By not preparing for your IELTS exam, you think you'll save a lot of time and money. You couldn't be more wrong. In the end, it could mean that you'll spend even MORE time and money by not preparing for your IELTS exam as you'll probably have to take the exam a few times before you get your desired score!

Why properly preparing for the IELTS exam is important

One could divide the 4 components of the IELTS exam into two main areas: Productive skills (Writing and Speaking) and Receptive (Listening and Reading) skills:

Productive skills: students are involved in producing or creating language - as in when writing and speaking.
Receptive skills: students are involved in understanding the language that they receive - as in when listening and reading.

When preparing for the receptive skills (Listening and Reading), students could do so by going through test papers and doing a lot of them by themselves. After all, for Listening and Reading, there’s only one answer and it’ll be given to you in the answers section. You can find out by yourself whether you’re right and if you didn’t get the correct answer, you can easily find out how to get the correct answer (as there’s only one correct answer). There are of course better ways to prepare for Listening and Reading, but this is an OK strategy for most people.

The problem comes when you’re trying to prepare for the productive skills (Writing and Speaking). With these two areas, you’re actively producing language. Unlike in Reading and Listening, there’s not one correct answer to any question. As a result of this, you wouldn’t know the level of your Writing and Speaking answers unless you get someone trained to evaluate your language. You also wouldn’t know how to improve and which parts of your answers are wrong unless there is someone correcting you. Lastly, because there’s no one correct answer for each question, the examiners actually mark you based on a complex set of criteria. Understanding these criteria is not as simple as students think and understanding the strategies needed to meet these criteria in order to get a good score is even more difficult. Because of all this, you’d stand the best chance of getting a good IELTS result for Writing and Speaking if you prepare with an experienced IELTS teacher.

Testing yourself versus learning and improving

Students fail to understand that there's a great difference between a) testing yourself by doing a lot of practice papers AND b) learning and improving. The truth is that if you only do a lot of practice papers, you'll be more prepared for the exam, but that doesn't mean you'll be learning new things and improving your score!

I know students who took the exam many times. Nobody should be taking the exam too many times. If someone is doing that, it means that he's not really improving in between his tests. If you're not improving and getting better, why take the exam again as you'll only get the same score! And that's exactly what happens to many students. The problem is that students think that by doing a lot of practice papers, they would improve. That's only half true. Doing a lot of practice papers is merely testing yourself. It's not helping you to improve!

In order to improve, you need to do some things better! But doing the same thing (doing more and more practice tests) over and over again isn't going to make you do it better. It's just going to make you more familiar with the test. That's all!

In order to improve, you need to learn new things and do things differently and better. You may need to improve your vocabulary or your grammar. You may need to learn different strategies. You first need to know what you're doing wrong. Then you need to do it better. If you don't know what you're doing wrong, practicing over and over again is not going to make you score better, it's only going to make you better at getting the same score!

For example, I know students who got 6.5 for their Writing. And they took it a few times and they still got 6.5. This is a very common situation. They told me they practiced a lot and yet got the same result many times and it was frustrating. When I asked them what they meant by "practicing a lot", they told me they wrote answers to many Writing questions. I explained to these students that writing out a lot of answers doesn't guarantee you'll score higher the next time. You see, one way your Writing is evaluated is by the grammar you use. Therefore, if you don't improve your grammar (practicing your writing will NOT improve your grammar unless you intentionally work on your grammar!), you're not going to improve in that area. It's irrational to think you'd improve in your Writing score if you don't understand how your Writing is evaluated and if you don't improve in the areas you're weak in. Practicing alone will NOT automatically improve your grammar or other areas you need to improve in! If anything, if you don't know how to improve your grammar and yet you keep writing out a lot of Writing answers, practice is going to make your grammar mistakes permanent! It's going to make your grammar mistakes habitual. You won't improve this way - you'll just get the same score over and over again!

Practice doesn't make Perfect. Practice makes PERMANENT! And if you keep practicing your Writing with the same grammar mistakes, you'll make your grammar mistakes more habitual and permanent and you'll make your Writing score permanent!

5) Registering for the IELTS Exam

Attention: before you register!

Before you register for the exam, there are few things you need to ask yourself:

a) Am I prepared?

This is the most important question! I've mentioned about the importance of preparation above so I won't repeat myself. But just take note that each IELTS exam costs slightly more than S$300 so if you take the exam without being prepared, you may not get the score you desire and you'll have to take it again and spend another S$300+!

[FREE] 4-Part Video Series Reveals What IELTS Examiners Really Want!

  • Impress IELTS Examiners with this "Task Achievement" trick
  • Next effective yet easy tip using "Linking Phrases"
  • The truth about Vocabulary (shocking details)
  • Examiner-friendly Grammar Tips!

Click the button below to get the 1st video sent instantly to your Facebook Messenger!

Unless you need your results very soon, please don't just rush in and register without thinking it through first. You probably won't be able to postpone your exam date or get a refund.

b) Academic or General Training?

I've also mentioned this above. Before you register, you need to know whether you're taking the Academic or General Training version of the exam. The best way to find out is ask your agent or the organization that requires the IELTS result. They will be able to tell you.

c) Normal IELTS or "IELTS for UKVI"?

If you're taking the IELTS to get a visa to move to or stay in the UK, you may need to take a special type of IELTS called "IELTS for UKVI". The test format is exactly the same as the normal IELTS test but the registration procedure is different. There's also "Academic" or "General Training" for "IELTS for UKVI". The cost is slightly more expensive at S$380. Again, if you want to know whether you need to take the normal IELTS or the "IELTS for UKVI", just check with your agent or the organization that requires the IELTS result. But please make sure that if you need the "IELTS for UKVI", you register for the correct one!

d) Which IELTS exam date to select?

What to think about before deciding on a date

You'd need to decide which date(s) you want to take your IELTS test. The main papers (Listening, Reading and Writing papers) are taken together (around 2 hours and 45 minutes in total) on either a Thursday or Saturday morning while the Speaking paper (around 15-20 minutes) will either be held in the afternoon of the same day or on a different day.

In Singapore, the IELTS exam is held up to 3 or 4 times every month. Most of the time the main papers will be on a Saturday morning but occasionally it will be on a Thursday morning. However, because there are 4 different kinds of IELTS (IELTS Academic, IELTS General Training, "IELTS for UKVI" Academic and "IELTS for UKVI" General Training), it's important to actually find out the dates available for the type of IELTS you're taking.

The IELTS type with the most timings is "IELTS Academic" (around 3-4 times every month). The other 3 types of IELTS are available only 1 to 2 times a month.

Actual IELTS dates at IDP and British Council in Singapore

Below is a comprehensive list of the IELTS dates in Singapore for the rest of 2019. "Yes" means that that kind of IELTS exam is available and "no" means it's not.

Normal IELTS Exam Dates (2019)

Note: Click on image to zoom in

Normal IELTS Exam Dates for Computer Delivered at IDP (2019)

Note: Click on image to zoom in

UKVI for IELTS Exam Dates (2019)

Note: Click on image to zoom in

e) When to register and pay for your IELTS exam?

Bringing all the above together, here are my suggestions. If you're taking either IELTS General Training, "IELTS for UKVI" Academic or "IELTS for UKVI" General Training, it's important to book (pay for your registration) maybe a few weeks to 2 months in advance as there are not many dates available for these types of IELTS. If you're taking IELTS Academic, it's not necessary to book so far in advance - maybe 2-4 weeks before you want to take your exam.

Why not just book as far in advance as possible? I would caution against this because you may not be prepared and you may end up taking the exam when you're not ready and then wasting S$300+. Trust me, many students do this and they regret booking their exam too early as they realize they are not prepared and they can't postpone their dates.

You also need to consider that the IELTS results will be given out 13 days from the day of the main papers. Therefore, if the organization that needs your IELTS has deadline for your results, you need to take this into account.

One more thing I want to address: when should you book your speaking test? Many students want to take their Speaking exam on the same day/afternoon of their main papers. Their rationale is that they can do everything in one day! This is something I'd advise against because you'll be very exhausted after the main papers in the morning and that would most likely affect your Speaking performance. In addition, you want to actually "prepare" for your Speaking test. Therefore, my suggestion would be sitting for your Speaking test on another day when you can prepare for it better.

Steps to registering for the IELTS online

For both British Council and IDP, you can register for the IELTS exam online or at the organization itself. The most convenient way is to register online. Here's how to do so:

1) IELTS Fees in Singapore

First, do take note of the fees. Make sure you have enough money 🙂

IELTS Fees in Singapore

For the normal IELTS:
IDP: S$365
British Council: S$365

IELTS for UKVI:
IDP: S$370
British Council: S$370

2) Materials needed for online IELTS registration

Next, prepare the following materials before you start your registration process:

- A soft copy (gif or jpeg) of an image of your ID document or passport (for foreign nationalities in Singapore, you need the soft copy of your passport - you would also need to bring this on the test day).
- A valid VISA or MASTERCARD for online payment.

3) Go to the correct website for online IELTS registration

British Council or IDP Singapore IELTS Registration Websites

Here are correct websites to register at:

British Council Singapore: Normal IELTS (click here) or "IELTS for UKVI" (click here)
IDP Singapore: Normal or "IELTS for UKVI" (click here)

6) The Actual Exam

Here are some tips related to the actual exam day itself:

a) Make sure you check the start time and location of your test. Remember that the address of your actual IELTS test may be different to that of the test centre where you registered. Also, make sure you have planned how to get to the location on time before the actual test day itself. If you're late, you may not be allowed to take the test.

b) Bring along the same identity document which you used to register for the test - foreign nationals need to bring along their passoport.

c) You will only be allowed to have the following with you on your desk: identity document, pencil, pen and eraser. You can also bring a bottle of drink in a transparent bottle. Everything else needs to be left in your bag.

d) The Listening, Reading and Writing tests take about 2 hours and 40 minutes altogether. There will be no breaks between each part of the test.

e) Don't rush into writing your answers immediately when you start - always read the instructions first or you'll make careless mistakes.

f) There will be a clock in the test room so make sure you look at it regularly to know where you're at in the test. For example, each section/passage of the Reading test should only take 20 minutes. For Writing, Task 1 should take only 20 minutes and Task 2 should take 40 minutes. You could start with Task 2 first (and give yourself 40 minutes) as that's more important than Task 1.

g) You need to use a pencil for the Listening and Reading tests as the computer can only read pencil marks. You can use pencil also for your Writing test.

h) You can use capital letters for for all your answers for the Reading, Listening and Writing papers if you wish to.

7) Exam Results

Release Date

Your results will be released on the 13th day after your test.

Requesting a re-mark (Enquiry on Results)

If you're not satisfied with your results, you can request for a re-mark - what IELTS calls an "Enquiry on Results". However, you need to make this request within 6 weeks of your test date. It'll cost about S$185 - which is more than half of the cost of the actual test itself - but if your result is changed to a higher band score, you will receive a full refund.

Is it advisable to request for a re-mark? Firstly, there probably isn't any point asking for a re-mark if you hope your Listening or Reading score will change. That's highly unlikely since these two tests are easy to mark (your answers are either right or wrong) and there probably won't be any mistakes on the examiner's part. If you hope for a better Writing or Speaking mark, then you could think about asking for a re-mark. But it's probably only best to do so if you only require a half-band increase in your results. That's something that is possible. It's highly unlikely that your score in Writing or Speaking will increase by 1.0 or more - if so, the examiner who marked you the first time was not doing a good job!

Some students ask me whether IELTS will be fair. Yes, I believe they will be. They are not going to purposely fail you so you spend more to take another exam with them! The examiners doing the re-mark will be different and they will not know your initial score.

Do note that it takes up to 3-4 weeks for you to get the result of the re-mark.

8) Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)

a) How long do I need to prepare for the IELTS exam?

This is probably the most common question I get from students. The answer to this question really depends upon 3 things:
1) What your level of English is now
2) What your required score is
3) How much effort you'll be putting into preparation.

If your level of English is very low and yet you want to get 7.0, it's going to take a long time. However, if you study hard and put in a lot of effort, the amount of time you need will be shorter.

If you already know what level you're at (perhaps because you've already taken the IELTS test before), I could give you a rough guideline as to how many hours of study you need to put in. In the 2002 IELTS handbook (p. 22), some guidelines were given:

Recommendations for hours of language tuition are influenced by a number of affective variables. It has been shown that individuals can take up to

200 hours to improve by one IELTS band.

IELTS 2002 Handbook, p. 22

What this basically means is that if you got a 6.0 for your overall IELTS score and you need a 7.0, you probably need to study for around 200 hours! Yes, that's a lot! But let's say you only need to improve 1 of the 4 skills by 1.0. Say, for example, you got 7.0 for Reading, Listening and Speaking, but only 6.0 for Writing. Based on the above guidelines, you should spend about 50 hours to improve one skill by 1.0. If you need to improve one skill by 0.5? That would be about 25 hours of study.

Please remember that these are just guidelines. There are a lot of factors and variables involved. And do remember that the quote mentions "up to". For some people, it will take that long. For others, it won't take that long. Everybody is different.

But overall, I think this is a good guideline to follow. After all, if each test costs more than $300, it's better to play safe and put in the required number of hours of study (or even go beyond that number) if you don't want to fail again and waste another S$300+. Therefore, if there's no urgency in getting your result, just follow the above guideline.

b) Should I take the IELTS test at British Council or IDP?

The truth is that it doesn't really matter. They are the only two places where you can register for the test in Singapore and there's no difference. Actually, the only difference between the two is that IDP charges $330 while British Council charges $340 for the test. That's a difference of $10.

But students really want to know which place is better for their score. Some students may have friends who said it was easier at British Council than at IDP or vice-versa. What do I say? I think it doesn't really matter.

Let's clarify certain things first. The IELTS exam will be the same in both places. The only difference is in the examiners who will be marking your Writing and Speaking test. Are there more lenient examiners in one place than another? That shouldn't be the case as examiners go through training and there shouldn't any great difference in how they mark your work.

Having said that, you have to understand that examiners are human beings. The marking of the Writing and Speaking always involves a bit of subjectivity. A person, and not a computer, is marking you. So it's impossible that examiners mark exactly the same always. Examiners are allowed to differ by 0.5 in the marks given, but can't differ too much - if not, they have to go for re-training. One examiner could give you a 6.5 for your Writing while another examiner could give you a 7.0 for the exact same work. That's not uncommon.

Your friend may have gotten an examiner at IDP who gave him/her a 6.5 for Writing. He/she then may have gone to British Council and gotten a 7.0 for Writing. As a result, he/she may tell you that it's easier to score at British Council!

The problem with this line of thinking is that even in British Council there are many different examiners. Even if your friend got an examiner from British Council who happens to be quite lenient, if you go to British Council, you may get a different examiner marking your work.

The conclusion of all this is it probably doesn't matter where you go. If you really feel that IDP is better than British Council, then register there. For me, I don't think it really matters.

Examiners are meant to be well-trained, but they are still human beings. And the IELTS system is not perfect. Any system that depends on human beings will never be 100% consistent as people (your examiners) are all different. Don't focus too much on where to take your test - just focus on preparing for it.

c) Should I take the IELTS test in Singapore or Malaysia / India / China / Thailand, etc.?

Just as in the previous question, students hear a lot of rumours about the IELTS test being easier to score in another country like _____ (fill in the blanks with any developing country). Could this be true?

I'm a bit more open to the idea that certain cities/countries are easier to score in than the idea that British Council or IDP is better than the other. There's a slightly greater possibility that some cities/countries could be easier for various reasons, but I wouldn't let this influence you too much. If you really think going to Malaysia or wherever is easier to score, then go ahead if you can. That may or may not be true. In fact, it may be more difficult to score in a certain city/country.

Don't waste your time thinking about all this because it may or may not be true. This a just a distraction. Just focus on improving your English.

d) What's the passing mark for the IELTS exam?

There's no such thing as a fixed passing mark. Different organizations will require a different score. The most common "passing score" is 7.0, but some organizations may require a 6.5 or a 5.5 - or even a 8.0. You need to check with the organization that requires you to take the IELTS exam. They will tell you what score you need.

[FREE] 4-Part Video Series Reveals What IELTS Examiners Really Want!

  • Impress IELTS Examiners with this "Task Achievement" trick
  • Next effective yet easy tip using "Linking Phrases"
  • The truth about Vocabulary (shocking details)
  • Examiner-friendly Grammar Tips!

Click the button below to get the 1st video sent instantly to your Facebook Messenger!