General or Academic?

The IELTS (International English Language Testing Service) offers two version of the test and which one to take is a common question candidates have. The aim of this post is to help you understand the similarities and differences of each version and how to discover which one is for you.

To start with, in order to make this decision, it is important that you check with the organization you want to apply to the version of test which is needed. Sometimes both versions are accepted. In order to find this piece of information, visit

In general terms, the General Training IELTS is used for school, work or migration. It focuses on general survival skills in social and work contexts. The IELTS Academic is for those who want to study at a Higher or Further Education institutions – admission to undergraduate or postgraduate courses might depend on the results of the Academic IELTS.

Knowing the version you will need is essential when it comes to prepare yourself, for some parts of the test are different. Find below an overview of the exam, which is divided in four parts. Let’s start with the parts which are the same:


  • Speaking: the speaking test in a one-to-one interview which lasts from 11 to 14 minutes. The test is divided in three parts: a conversation on familiar topics (4 – 5 minutes), a longer turn when the candidate must speak on her/his own for one to two minutes (3 – 4 minutes), and finally, the examiner will ask the candidate further questions which are connected to the topics discussed in Part 2.


  • Listening: The listening part of the test consists of four parts with four separate recording sections, which will be played only once. There are ten questions for each recording section and forty questions in total.


Now the two parts which are different:


  • Reading: both general and academic consist of three passages to be read in one hour. In the Academic IELTS, texts are more academic but selected for a non-specialist audience. The General IELTS also brings authentic passages, but those are likely to be encountered in everyday situations.


  • Writing: Both the academic and general training writing tests have two sections and students are advised to spend twenty minutes on section 1 and forty minutes on section 2, making one hour in total. In the academic writing test, section 1 asks candidates to describe the information (more than 150 words) presented in some kind of graphic or image. This is often a pie chart, a line graph, a table, a bar chart or a representation of a process, whereas in the general the candidate is asked to write a letter in response to some information presented (at least 150 words). In section 2, candidates have to write a short essay (250 words) in both academic and general tests, although the topic of the essay is slightly different.


We will talk about each session in detail soon. Stay tuned!


Bruna Caltabiano
Bruna is the co-founder and academic director at Caltabiano Idiomas. She has a degree in Psychology and holds, among others, the Cambridge certificates CPE, ICELT and DELTA Module 1. She is also a Cambridge ESOL speaking examiner. She presents talks and workshops for teachers in national and international events on methodology, didactics, professional development, coordination, entrepreneurship and academic projects. She is the coordinator of the LAMSIG (Special Interest Group on Leadership and Management) at BRAZ-TESOL.