IELTS Academic vs General: All You Need to Know

If you’re an international student or professional with dreams of studying, working, or immigrating to an English-speaking country like Canada, the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam might be on your to-do list. But hold on! Did you know there are two different versions?

The IELTS General Test and the IELTS Academic Test both assess your English language proficiency, but they cater to different goals and use different test formats. So, how do you choose the right one for you?

Let’s settle the IELTS academic vs. general debate. In this guide, we’ll explore the key similarities and differences between the two tests, who should take which version, and how to prepare effectively to achieve your target score.

Test takers, get ready! 

IELTS Exam Format

Before we talk about the two types of IELTS tests, let’s first have a quick look at the IELTS General test format. 

The exam, regardless of whether you choose IELTS General Training or Academic, follows a consistent format testing four English language skills: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking

Here’s what each section covers:

  • Listening: You’ll listen to recordings of everyday conversations and lectures in English and answer related questions.
  • Reading: Test takers read various passages and answer questions testing their comprehension and analysis skills.
  • Writing: This section has two writing tasks. Task 1 requires you to summarize information or write a letter, depending on the test version. Task 2 is usually an essay.
  • Speaking: This is a one-on-one interview/discussion with a certified examiner on a range of topics
 A man practices for the speaking section of the IELTS test online on his laptop
Image source: Canva

IELTS General vs. Academic: Similarities

Now that we understand IELTS’s general test format, we can move on to the Academic and General Training discussion. 

Both versions follow the standard IELTS format and take approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete. The content and difficulty level of the Listening and Speaking sections are identical, too. 

In both cases, test takers need to take the first three portions (writing, reading, and listening assessments) on the same day, the speaking portion may be taken up to seven days before or after. 

If you’re worried about the registration process, don’t be! The registration process (online or form submission) is the same for both tests, and most testing centres offer both versions. You can also take both the General IELTS Training test and the Academic test on a computer.

Read More: 10 Tips for Improving your English Speaking Skills

IELTS General vs. Academic: Differences

Even though they share the same format, IELTS Academic and General Training have distinct purposes and require different skill sets. 

Let’s explore these key differences to help you choose the right test:


The IELTS Academic test is meant to be a gateway to higher education in English-speaking countries. It assesses your ability to handle the specific English language skills required at universities or colleges. 

On the other hand, the IELTS General Training test is designed to assess everyday communication skills needed for work, immigration, or vocational training programs below the university degree level. 

IELTS Test Format

While the Listening and Speaking sections are the same, the Reading and Writing tasks differ between the two tests:

Section IELTS Academic         vs.  IELTS  General  

→ Focuses on academic texts (journals, articles, extracts from books)

→ Tests how well test takers analyze and understand complex ideas

→ Expect complex vocabulary you might not use every day

→ Focuses on general topics from newspapers, magazines, advertisements, notices, etc.

→ Assesses how well they grasp main points and the writer’s intention

→ Texts use everyday vocabulary for practical situations

Writing (Task 1) Summarizing information from charts and diagrams Writing a letter
Writing (Task 2) Writing an essay expressing an opinion or solving a problem Writing a short essay on topics of general interest

Difficulty Level

Choosing between the Academic and General Training tests depends not just on your goals, but also on the level of challenge you’re comfortable with.

As a rule, IELTS Academic throws complex vocabulary and academic subject matter your way, so brace yourself for a tougher test. IELTS General tends to be simpler, and the tasks are more practical, making it a touch less challenging (but no less vital) than the Academic test.

So, Which IELTS Test Should I Take?

General IELTS or Academic IELTS? Determine which one you need to take by considering the following: 

Take IELTS Academic if your goal is to:

  1. Attend university or college in Canada (or other English-speaking countries) at the undergraduate or postgraduate level; or
  2. Pursue professional registration (like for doctors or engineers).

Choose IELTS General if the plan is to:

  1. Immigrate for work or residency; or 
  2. Study at a vocational/training program below the university degree level.

💡 Pro Tip: If you’re still unsure, it’s always a good idea to double-check the specific test requirements of the university or immigration program you’re interested in. 

Prepare to Ace the IELTS with ILAC

Whether you’re taking IELTS General or IELTS Academic, proper preparation is key to success. Studying and practicing your skills at a reputable English language school is one of the best ways to secure the test scores you need.

That’s where we come in! The International Language Academy of Canada is one of the most awarded English language schools in the world, offering a variety of IELTS Preparation Programs online and in person that can help students achieve success.

Our language training courses cater to adults and young adults, students and professionals. Moreover, at ILAC we understand that people may be juggling work, kids or other commitments, which is why we also offer our English programs at the ILAC Night School. Whether you are a busy professional who’s taking the test for your residency or a hard-working young parent who wants to pursue an education, we have got you covered with our Night School classes!  

Register for our IELTS preparation program today and get ready to ace the IELTS!

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