Differences between academic and general IELTS: Format, difficulty, how to choose?


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Anand Patinge

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The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is used to test one’s proficiency in English. The test is based on four criteria: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. 

Differences between academic and general IELTS: Format, difficulty, how to choose? Source

If you are planning to study abroad in an English-speaking country, you will need IELTS every step of the way. And, there are two types of IELTS exams: academic and general training. You should be aware of the difference between academic and general IELTS. And chances are you will need both when studying abroad. 

You need an IELTS for:

  • Traveling overseas like going on college tours 
  • Immigration
  • A visa if you want to settle into the country you are studying in or if you are seeking employment in another country
  • Higher education, almost every university demands a good IELTS score
  • Securing employment, and more. 

Now, you have to understand for which of these you need an academic IELTS and general IELTS and what is the difference between the two. 

Differences between academic and general IELTS: Format, difficulty, how to choose?


Overview of IELTS academic and general difference

This table only provides an overview, to know the difference in detail, keep reading. 


Section Academic IELTS General IELTS
Writing  Explain data and respond to an argument. Informal email and reaction to assertion or argument.
Reading 3 sections 1 big text
Scoring Average score 5.9 Average score 6.2
When to take For higher education abroad  For employment, continuing education or settling down abroad 
Difficulty  Harder  Easier 
Content Academic in nature  Mixed content
Purpose To gauge your ability to keep up in an academic environment  To gauge your general English proficiency


Should I take academic or general IELTS?

Which test you take mainly depends on why you are taking it. Here are some instances of when you need to take which test. 

Reason Type of test
Undergraduate level IELTS Academic
Postgraduate level IELTS Academic
Doctorate level IELTS Academic
Post-Doctoral IELTS Academic
Below degree level IELTS General
Work or training IELTS General
Migration IELTS General
For professional organization IELTS Academic
Permanent Residency IELTS General


If you want to study in an English-speaking nation like the US or the UK, you have to take the IELTS Academic exam, especially if you are an Indian. Some countries where the majority is English speaking, students are exempt from taking the IELTS, but India does not fall into this category. 

You will have to take IELTS General Training if you want to continue your education abroad or if you need a foreign country’s certification for job and work experience. It is typically requested as a prerequisite for the immigration of non-native English speakers to English-speaking nations. 

Difference between academic and general IELTS

Now that you know that the two tests are taken under different conditions, we will brief you on the difference in the format. 

IELTS general and academic have a very similar format. Understanding the similarities and differences will help you choose the test that best suits your needs.

IELTS academic and general similarities 

There are more similarities than differences between the IELTS general and academic tests. 

The two tests have the same timing and format (four sections evaluating speaking, reading, writing, and listening for two hours and 45 minutes). 

IELTS Academic and IELTS General both have separate Reading and Writing sections but share a common Listening and Speaking section. 

You have to take the IELTS writing, reading, and listening tests all on the same day in both instances. But you can take the speaking test up to seven days before or after. 

The registration process for both tests is the same as well.

IELTS academic and general differences

Let us break down each section to understand the IELTS academic and general differences. We have also included samples from the test paper to help you understand IELTS academic and general differences with real-life examples.

IELTS academic and general differences Source


1. Reading difference between academic and general IELTS 

The reading section of academic IELTS has 3 lengthy sections designed to evaluate your logical and analytical skills. The comprehensions are from both academic articles and newspapers and magazines.


Reading difference between academic and general IELTS Source

These passages are followed by brief questions on sentence construction to matching headers. One mark is assigned to each correct response. 


Reading difference between academic and general IELTS Source


In comparison, the IELTS general training test only includes one big text. This is followed by a number of short pieces distributed across three sections. 

In the second segment, you will encounter workplace-related questions. Job descriptions, workplace morality, staff training materials, etc. are some examples of the question types. 




Compared to the Academic Test, which primarily assesses the candidate’s critical and constructive skills, the lengthy text will be slightly more challenging. One mark is awarded for correct answers.


Reading difference between academic and general IELTS Source

2. Writing difference between academic and general IELTS 

On the IELTS academic writing test, you have to explain data presented in a table, chart, diagram, or graph in 150 words. The first task has a 20-minute time limit. 


Writing difference between academic and general IELTS Source

The next assignment is to respond to an argument in writing in 250 words or less within 40 minutes. 

Writing difference between academic and general IELTS Source

One important thing to keep in mind is that the response should be deliberately worded in paragraphs rather than in bullet points. 

The first assignment of the IELTS general training exam requires you to write a formal or informal email in 150 words asking for any information or providing an explanation. 

Writing difference between academic and general IELTS Source


The second task requires the candidates to react to an assertion or argument in a 250-word essay. The opinions should be supported by examples.

Writing difference between academic and general IELTS Source

3. Scoring difference between academic and general IELTS 

The main distinction between IELTS general and academic is the test scoring structure. 

For both tests, the Listening, Speaking, and Writing sections are scored identically. 

IELTS Reading, which makes up 25% of your overall score, is weighed differently in the general and academic versions of the test. 

Scoring difference between academic and general IELTS Source

For the academic portion of the IELTS exam and the general training exam, the test-takers’ average band score is roughly 5.9 and 6.2, respectively. 

In both tests, there is a difference between one band. If you score 30 out of 40 correctly answered questions on the IELTS Reading section, your final score will be interpreted as an absolute 30. That translates to a general training reading IELTS Band of 5.0. However, in academic reading, 30 out of 40 is regarded as 6.0.

4. Difficulty difference between academic and general IELTS 

The General Training IELTS test is probably less challenging than the Academic IELTS test. 

Difficulty difference between academic and general IELTS Source

Because the questions are more broad than specific for IELTS academics, you will find IELTS general to be simpler.

 The main reason is that the Academic test demands exceptionally strong comprehension abilities and the capacity to succinctly summarize complex ideas. 

In comparison, the General Training Test only evaluates a candidate’s proficiency in speaking and understanding English.

In fact, according to IELTS, the academic test is chosen by approximately 80% of test-takers, with the remaining 20% opting for the general training test.

For the academic assessment and the general training exam, the average total band score for all test-takers is approximately 5.9 and 6.2, respectively. Numbers prove that general IELTS is easier. 

The writing section with an average band score of 5.5, appears to be the academic test’s most challenging portion based on overall test-taker performance. 

The reading section of the academic test appears to be the simplest, with an average score of just above 6.0. 

Writing and reading also have the lowest and highest average paper scores on the general training test.

5. Content difference between academic and general IELTS 

As you have seen above, for IELTS general vs. academic, different texts are used for the writing and reading sections. 

The IELTS academic test will use texts from various sources, including academic journals, textbooks, pertinent magazines, and English-language media to gauge your comprehension skills. The primary goal of the IELTS academic exam is to assess your ability to write college-level essays for use in academic and professional contexts. 

On the other hand, the general IELTS will use material found in advertisements, manuals, periodicals, notifications, and employee handbooks. Your letter writing and fundamental essay writing will be used to gauge your written English proficiency.

Steps in your study abroad journey 

Here are the steps you need to follow if you are planning on studying abroad.

  1. Research colleges
  2. Take your IELTS
  3. Contact your professors/teachers for LOR
  4. Prepare your SOP and CV
  5. Submit IELTS scores 
  6. Make the payment and submit your form
  7. Wait to hear back

As you can see, IELTS is but one step in the process, and it’s not very significant.

It is significant in the sense that it helps you meet the eligibility criteria for colleges, but it does not distinguish you from other students. Your IELTS is not why you secure a seat, but your SOP and CV are.

Hence, you need to find colleges and courses that you are best suited for. Find a college which needs you just as much as you need them with SelectRight

Steps in your study abroad journey

The AI-based platform uses 6 million+ data points across 10,000+ STEM, CS & MBA programs to give you unbiased recommendations for colleges that you are best suited for. 

After the platform has helped you find a university that is right for you, SelectRight will connect you with mentors and industry experts who can help you with various aspects of your application. You can ask for a review of your application, Statement of Purpose (SOP), Letters of Recommendation (LoR) or anything else you need.

You can even enquire about alternatives to IELTS, if you do not score well. 

Now that you know about the difference between academic and general IELTS, it’s time to sign up for your test. No matter which test you have to take, the registration process is the same. If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to contact a SelectRight mentor.

Picture of Anand Patinge

Anand Patinge

A master storyteller, Anand has enriched multiple entities with captivating designs, compelling messaging, and impactful media campaigns. Beyond work, you can find him feeding stray dogs, exploring art, and watching insiprational documentaries.

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