Every year, people of various ages and backgrounds opt to move to an English-speaking country.  Some do this to pursue their studies at famous universities; others aim to find a job abroad; and there are those who are simply migrating to be with loved ones who are already there.

Regardless of the reason, the ability to use English is a necessity in order to meet immigration, study, or work requirements.  This is why many end up taking the IELTS exam to prove their English language capability.

The need to test English

A few decades ago, migrants did not need to take an exam to prove their English skills.  For work, if they were able to answer well during the job interview, they were hired on the spot.  For school, it was believed that supplementary English classes would be enough to allow students to understand their professors and do their assignments.

But after years of difficulty for workers, students, employers, and teachers, it was determined that something better had to be done for everyone involved.  Proper communication is essential in getting both work and studies done; hence, English exams such as the IELTS came about to validate migrants’ English skills to serve as standardized proof of their English capability.

IELTS General Training

The IELTS General Training (GT) exam is meant for high school or vocational students, blue-collared workers, or family members who will just join their relatives and not study or work.  The exam tests the four communicative skills:

  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Speaking
  • Writing

Many people ask whether the general IELTS test is easier than the academic one, and the answer is “yes.” The GT test is considered slightly easier than the IELTS Academic tests as the vocabulary level for GT Reading and Writing are not as difficult.  But despite being “easier,” the IELTS GT exam can still be quite hard if one has not prepared properly.  So it pays to prepare and practice in advance so that money and time are not wasted.

GT Modules that are the same as Academic

Among the four tests given, the Listening and Speaking exams are just the same as the Academic test.  The rationale here is that regardless of whether you work in a factory or in a law firm, when you interact with others outside or watch TV, the language level used is basically the same.

Listening Exam

For the Listening exam, GT candidates will be seated with Academic candidates, listening to the same recording and answering the exact same questions. In Listening, candidates will hear people talking about a variety of topics.  The candidates must listen carefully and answer the questions. At the end of the test, candidates have ten minutes to transfer their answers to the answer paper.

What makes this tough for many GT test takers is the inability to deal with the speed of the recording.  If you do not regularly watch English TV or movies, it can be really difficult to catch all that has been said.  The other issue is the accent as British or Australian accents are used.

A special note for GT candidates: sections 2 and 3 of the Listening test are set in an academic context. So even if you are only studying for the GT you should also be aware of some academic language.

Speaking Exam

For Speaking, the interviewers will be using the same question sets for both groups of test takers.  Everyone is treated the same, regardless of whether they are doing the GT or Academic.  Questions greatly vary from common topics to more difficult ones.

It is expected that if you are a high level speaker then the interviewer’s questions will become more complex.  If you are quite new to English, expect the questions to be much simpler. The examiner will give you a chance to show off your speaking skills, so don’t say too little during the test.

No specialist knowledge is required, but for part 3 of the speaking exam, you should be able to talk about relatively complex issues and give developed answers. Just don’t talk too much and go off-topic.

Tackling the “different modules”

The good news for General Training candidates is that GT Reading and Writing are considered easier than academic as the language level and format are more basic than IELTS Academic.  IELTS GT can be described as “survival English.”  Achieving the scores you need means that you can function well enough to go about everyday tasks in the other country – read basic instructions, understand pamphlets at the bank, discover the best discounts at the supermarket, and write a letter of complaint to the store’s manager.

GT Reading

In GT Reading, the exam consists of several reading materials placed together.  A candidate can expect to see a combination of advertisements, pamphlets, brochures, and one magazine article (though harder tests may have two).  As earlier mentioned, these are materials one expects to see in everyday life so the vocabulary is easier than the Academic test, which is great news for many.

But despite having “easier” vocabulary, a big challenge for many GT candidates is that the words in the questions are often different than the words in the articles themselves, tricking a lot of test takers.  Test takers need to become more familiar with synonyms if they wish to do well.

As with the Academic Reading test, time is of the essence. Being able to read quickly is very important, so remember to practice daily in your preparations.

GT Writing

In GT Writing, the candidate is expected to create a letter (formal or informal) and an essay about a given topic.  For many test takers, the GT letter is a more welcome challenge compared to the graph that Academic candidates have to interpret and discuss.  The GT essay’s topic is also more preferred as they are usually about everyday topics (e.g. reasons for shopping at the big department store versus at a boutique shop) whereas the Academic test might ask for something more abstract in nature (e.g. whether people’s stress levels are affecting the economy).

To do well, however, GT candidates have to ensure that their grammar, vocabulary, and organizational skills are okay lest they get a low score.  Constant writing practice is also needed to ensure they can finish both tasks within the one hour time limit.

Preparing for IELTS GT

Fortunately, there are many resources available to help someone prepare for the GT test.

  1. Check online – There are many online resources that can be accessed for free. Some are free tutorials that may show you how to attack a particular exam. Other sites provide free training modules to try.
  2. Purchase practice materials – If you doubt the quality of the “free materials” online, you can choose to purchase test booklets yourself. These may be found online or at your local bookstore.
  3. Join a review class – Many IELTS reviews exist today to help migrants achieve their desired scores. You can join one in your area (if there is one) or you may sign up for online tutorials and learn from professionals from around the world.
  4. Back to the basics – And of course, you can do what you might have done when you were much younger which is to review again your English grammar books, read English magazines and newspapers, and watch English movies and TV.
  5. Love English – Last but definitely not least, learn to love English. It is easier to learn something if you truly WANT to learn it. This means viewing the English language as a key to your future success.  If not, it will be very difficult to learn it; and most importantly, it will be hard for you to survive in the other country if you are allergic to the English language.

Summing it up

The IELTS General Training test is a key element to help a person migrate abroad.  But just like all challenges in life, in order to perform well, you must begin preparation ahead of time.  So begin now to increase your chances of doing well in this standardized English test.  In the end, the sacrifices will be well worth it!