IELTS offers two main types of English exam: IELTS for Life Skills and IELTS Academic or General Training
IELTS for Life Skills.
This was introduced in April 2015 and is an IELTS English test for UK visas and immigration.
It is a listening and speaking test at CEFR A1 or B1 level (elementary or lower intermediate). You do it with another candidate. There is one examiner and the result is either a pass or a fail. The result is available after about 7 days.
Check the IELTS website (IELTS Life Skills) for more information.
Academic and General
These test all four skills: speaking, reading, writing and listening.
This IELTS exam comes in 2 versions: Academic and General Training. Both versions have the same listening and speaking parts but different reading and writing questions. People wanting to study at university will usually need to take the Academic version. Very often people preparing for IELTS Academic module need special help with academic writing. The General Training version is sometimes required for immigration purposes.
IELTS has become a popular way of meeting English language requirements at colleges and universities around the world. British university entry requirements are generally in the range IELTS 6.0 to 7.0 but do check for individual course requirements. Naturally, a masters course will normally require a higher score than an undergraduate course.
Because you get a score of 1 to 9, you cannot fail these IELTS exams. Here are some approximate comparisons:
A score of 5.0 to 6.0 is similar to the pass grades (C,B,A) in Cambridge English First (FCE).
A score of 6.5 to 8.0 is similar to the pass grades (C, B, A) in Cambridge English Advanced (CAE).
A score of 8.0 to 9.0 is similar to the pass grades (C, B, A) in Cambridge English Proficiency (CPE).
Here is a link to a good comparison table
Your score is valid for 2 years. Your result is the average of the scores from the individual parts of the exam.
The parts of the Academic / General Training IELTS exam
On the same day:
Listening: 4 sections (30 mins)
Reading: 3 sections (60 mins)
Writing: 2 tasks (60 mins)
Speaking: 1-1, 3-part interview with an examiner (11-14 mins)
Check the IELTS website (www.IELTS.org) for more information