A fairly common request is for an explanation of the differences between academic and general training IELTS writing. I asked Mike Wattie of IELTSanswers, an expert on the IELTS writing process, to give some guidance on this. If you read on you’ll discover that the two formats are graded in just the same way, but each presents slightly different challenges:
IELTS writing: General and Academic exam
The IELTS writing exam has two versions. In most cases you cannot choose which one you want to take. For instance getting into a university requires a score in the Academic version, and immigration is usually based on the General version. There are two tasks for both versions of the exam.
In terms of the content of Task 1 they are quite different. The general version involves writing a 150 word letter, whereas the academic version requires writing a 150 word report based on data in a chart or table, describing a process, or describing or comparing information on a map. For task 2, both versions of the test require writing a 250 word essay. Both versions have a separate question on any given exam day, but the topics and types of essays seem to be about the same.
In terms of the grading, the same four criteria are used to assess both versions of the exam (Task Response, Cohesion and coherence, Vocabulary, Grammar). As well as this the same people (examiners) assess the tasks. So, from this perspective they can be considered as equally challenging to pass.
However, the general exam is easier to prepare for, and less likely to lead to a nasty surprise on exam day because task 1 only involves leaning how to write a few styles of letters, whereas the academic version requires the students to learn how to write about a wide variety of charts, different time periods, and passive tense in order to be able to write about processes and maps.