IELTS General vs. Academic – What’s the Difference?

You’ve decided to take the IELTS test and are ready to book it.

Not so fast!

Before registering and paying your fee, you need to know which test format you’ll take.

There are two types of IELTS test: Academic and General Training. Why are there two different tests? Well, the Academic and General Training tests are used for different purposes and it’s important to know how each one is used. There’s also a difference in format between the two tests.

The Listening and Speaking sections are the same for both tests, but you’ll find different subject matter in the Reading and Writing sections. Below, we’ve broken down the differences between IELTS General and Academic to help you figure out which test format is right for you!



As the name implies, the Academic IELTS is primarily meant for students looking to be accepted into postsecondary studies in which English is the medium of instruction. For example, if you’re looking to study abroad at a Canadian college or university, you’re most likely going to need to submit an Academic IELTS test score as part of your application.

However, the Academic test isn’t just for students. Many overseas professionals and job applicants may also be required to submit Academic IELTS scores. This is especially true in the medical field, as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other related professionals will need to write this version of the exam in order to work in places like Canada or Australia.

The Academic test shows you have an advanced grasp of the English language. Specifically, this format tests reading and writing skills that aren’t necessarily part of everyday communications among English speakers. Think of it as a small introduction to the type of language you’ll encounter in your own university and college experience when studying in an English-speaking country.

We’ll discuss what you can expect in terms of content on the Academic test later but before we do, let’s take a look at the General Training test.

General Training

If you’re applying for general immigration in countries such as Canada, the USA, Australia, and UK, the IELTS General Training test is for you! Some multinational companies use IELTS General scores to determine the English ability of foreign hires. The test evaluates your English speaking abilities in more everyday situations, such as in social or work environments.

Okay, now that we’ve outlined the main differences between the Academic and General tests, let’s take a look at how each test is structured.

Academic vs. General (Content)

As mentioned in the intro, both versions of the IELTS test share the same Listening and Speaking sections. You’ll find the same topics and question types. So whether you’re planning on taking the Academic or General test, your preparation will be identical for these two sections.

The Reading and Writing sections are a different story. While the format of these sections is similar – both Reading versions ask you to answer 40 questions and both Writing versions contain two writing tasks – the content is considerably different.

Here’s what you can expect:

Academic Reading

  • Assesses advanced English reading comprehension skills
  • Uses passages from professional and academic journals, textbooks, magazines, and newspapers.

General Reading:

  • Assesses general English reading comprehension skills
  • Uses passages from guidebooks, advertisements, magazines, and similar written materials

Academic Writing:

  • Writing tasks based on topics found in academic and professional settings.
  • Answers must be written in formal style.

General Writing:

  • Writing tasks such as basic essay and letter writing.

Scoring Differences

There is one very important difference in how the two IELTS formats are scored.

While Listening, Speaking, and Writing are scored the same way on Academic and General formats, Reading is not. Both versions are graded on the same scale (out of 40). However, since Academic Reading tests contain more difficult vocabulary and content, correct answers are weighted higher.

For example, scoring 30/40 on Academic Reading translates to a band score of 7. But on General Training Reading, 30/40 results in a band score of 6. In other words, you need a higher number of correct answers on a General Training Reading test to get a higher band score.

A full breakdown of how each section is scored can be found here.

Is the General Test really easier than Academic?

Performing well on the Academic test requires more advanced English reading and writing skills, so from this perspective … yes, the IELTS General test is easier.

However, this distinction actually doesn’t mean all that much.

Why? Well, you likely won’t have a choice over which format you take. If you’re applying to university and need to submit an IELTS Academic score, it’s not like you can take the General test instead. Therefore, it’s more important to know which test format you’ll be sitting for and understand what’s expected of you.

Whether you’re taking Academic or General, having the right study plan is ultimately what will lead to success!