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What kind of topics are on IELTS?

Published on October 11, 2019

What’s on the IELTS test? What do we have to write about? What do we speak about in the Speaking test? And how about the Listening and Reading tests, what are the topics? As an IELTS preparation course instructor, I hear these questions often. When preparing for IELTS, it comes up all the time. The short answer is that there are probably 1000s of different topics. Predicting what specifically you will see on test day is near impossible. However, there’re certain themes you can focus on, and there’re certain approaches you can take. So, as you work through your preparation materials, keep these points in mind.

The Writing Test

As you may know by now, the Task 2 Essay for both the IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training Writing tests will ask you to write a typical four to five-paragraph essay. The essay types fall into either argument, discussion, multi-question, opinion, and problem-solution. If you don’t know what these essay types are, you should spend some time learning about them. As the basis for these essays, you will probably have to give your opinion, think of a solution, or explore discussion points. Considering that then, IELTS has to provide topics which all test takers will be able to write about.

Just imagine, could you write an opinion essay about the benefits of cardiac surgery? How about a discussion essay on the powerful leaderships of Canadian Prime Ministers, Robert Stanfield or Wilfred Laurier? Or try this one: “Write a problem solution essay about glitches in blockchain banking systems.” Get the idea? All of these topics would be very difficult for 99% of people taking the IELTS.

With the above in mind, IELTS has developed test topics that 99.9% of test takers CAN write about. For example, discussing the benefits of healthy food might be a topic. Everyone knows something about food that is good or bad for us. Another topic could be arguing the benefits of public transport. Almost everyone has some ideas about travel by buses, cars, and trains. You might also see a multi-part question about protecting important historic buildings in a country. The vast majority of people can think about famous old buildings that need to be protected, right? As you can see, these topics are something most people have ideas about. In short, if it is a common idea, it could be on the test.

As for Task 1 in the Writing test, I’ll keep it simple. Task 1 in the IELTS Academic Writing test will always be a summary about a particular statistic. The statistics will be common ideas, and simply require you to exhibit reporting skills. Task 1 in the IELTS General Training Writing test will be similar to the essay. However, instead of voicing your opinion, you will have to direct a letter to a particular individual and offer solutions to a stated problem/ situation.

The Speaking Test

As with the essay questions, IELTS will only choose topics for the speaking interview that most people are able to talk about. As you can see in the public test guides, Part 1 of the interview are questions about you. These will be “everyday English” questions that discuss your life. For example, you might be asked about school, about your family, clothing, snacks, or exercise. If you check out most test guides and examples, you will notice this. The Part 1 topics are easy to talk about and connect with your personal experiences and opinions on general things.

Part 2 and Part 3 of the Speaking test are more like the essay questions. The topics for this are less about your life, and more about good topics for discussion. Thus, you might see some ideas that people commonly discuss. For example, you might be asked to talk about the best way to learn a new language, the advantages of walking, compared to driving. Or you might end up comparing learning online to learning face-to-face.

The Reading & Listening Tests

While you prepare for IELTS test day, you’ll come across a lot of sample topics on the reading and listening tests. You might notice that the topics on the reading and listening tests seem different from the Writing and Speaking tests. If you did see a difference in the topics, you’re right. So how are they different? The main difference is that the Reading and Listening tests use topics which are new or unusual for test-takers. Oppositely, as we mentioned above, the Writing and Speaking tests use topics most people know something about.

Why are the Listening and Reading tests about uncommon topics then? The simple reason is this. These tests want to grade your skills, not your knowledge. The aim is to test your ability to read and listen to new topics, then use your English language skills to understand them. For example, both of these tests challenge you to get the main ideas, get detailed information, and identify the author’s point of view.

Although practically no one can tell you the specific topics on the test, you should have a good idea now of what to be ready for. For the essay and the Speaking tests, be prepared to give your opinions, ideas, and examples. For the Reading and Writing tests, be prepared to learn about a new topic while using your language skills to respond to questions about it. If you keep these points in mind while preparing, you’ll be sure to do well.