IELTS is the most widely used test that people take if they are to move to English-speaking countries. Organizations, universities, schools, and immigration bureaus around the world recognize it. When you take IELTS, you are guaranteed that it will be accepted worldwide.
If you’ve decided to take the IELTS Exam, the following best tips and tactics might help you improve your band score on your first attempt. Of course, you may retake the test, if necessary, but it is preferable to be as prepared as possible the first time to save time and money.
6 Ways to Prepare for the IELTS Test
Preparing for the IELTS exam can indeed be terrifying especially if you don’t know where to begin with. You might have all the resources you need, but how do you utilize them? How do you know the best approach to employ? More importantly, how confident are you that what you are currently doing will really help you prepare for IELTS? You might just be wasting your time and effort for all you know.
We are here to help you and we have narrowed down the best ways to prepare for IELTS to help you achieve your desired band score.
1. Get to Know the IELTS Exam Formats
There are two modules: IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training. Both modules assess your English language proficiency in speaking, reading, listening, and writing. The Listening and Speaking sections are the same in the Academic and General Training. However, in the Reading and Writing sections, they are different.
How do you know which of the two modules to take? If you are a student or a professional who intends to study or work in the countries that were mentioned earlier, you should take the Academic module. This test determines whether you are prepared to begin studying English or work in an academic setting.
On the other hand, if you wish to study or train below degree level, the IELTS General Training module is what you should take. This test evaluates your English proficiency in work and social environments.
2. Get Familiar with the IELTS Test Sections
Having an idea of how IELTS will go will surely boost your chance of getting a high IELTS band score. Some examinees make the mistake of overlooking this and end up getting a low band score despite being proficient in English prior to taking IELTS. Why? Because they failed to research and neglect to make themselves familiar with the exam format and grading system of IELTS.
Below are the IELTS format and grading system for both the Academic and General Training modules. Make yourself familiar with them before taking the test.
The four sections of the IELTS test are:
The Speaking section is the same for the Academic and General Training modules. It takes 11-14 minutes and has 3 parts.
In this section, the examiner will be assessing how proficient you are in the English language. You will be asked a series of questions about everyday topics and common experiences.
Just like the Speaking section, the Listening section is also the same for the Academic and General Training modules. It takes 30 minutes and has 4 parts with 10 questions each. The questions are presented in a way that the answers appear in the order in which they were heard in the audio.
The IELTS Reading section takes 60 minutes for both the Academic and General Training modules. It consists of 40 questions that are designed to assess your reading skills.
In the Academic module, you will be reading three long passages that range from factual and descriptive to analytical and discursive. These passages are taken from books, journals, periodicals, and newspapers.
On the other hand, passages in the General Training module are extracts from books, magazines, newspapers, announcements, advertisements, and company handbooks. This is because you are more likely to come across these things on a daily basis in an English-speaking environment.
In both modules, there won’t be extra time for you to transfer your answers on your answer sheet.
The Writing section takes 60 minutes for both modules. There are two writing tasks and both must be completed.
Topics in the Academic module are of general interest and suitability for those who are beginning their undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, and for those who are seeking professional registration.
On the other hand, in the General Training module, you will be presented a scenario to respond to, such as drafting a letter requesting information or explaining a problem. In the second task, you will write an essay in response to a point of view, argument, or problem.
In both modules, answers must be written in full in the answer booklet. Answers in the form of notes or bullet points are not accepted.
3. Get Familiar with the IELTS Scoring and Grading Process
IELTS band scores are provided on a 9-band scale, with band 1 being the lowest and band 9 being the highest. For each section of the test, a band score is assigned. The IELTS Listening and Reading sections are scored differently than the Speaking and Writing sections.
Each section of the listening and reading tests has 40 questions, with one mark awarded for each correct answer. The IELTS 9-band scale is used to convert the overall score out of 40.
Certified IELTS examiners analyze fluency and coherence, lexical resource, grammatical range and accuracy, and pronunciation in an actual interview. They use a set of assessment criteria to provide band scores for each of the four categories.
The examiner awards band scores for each of the four criteria that best fit the performance at each band level for both tasks in the Writing section.
4. Build a Personalized Study Plan
Start studying 6-8 weeks before your exam. This time frame will give you ample time to prepare yourself for the test. It will also give you the best chance of not retaking the test. A precious amount of time will be saved and you will get a lot more done if you start early. Make a timetable and stick to it.
For the first week, we recommend setting an hour or two each day, then gradually increasing the intensity over the next few weeks. You can shorten the schedule again in the final week before the exam, spending an hour or less fine-tuning your skills. This interval will let your thoughts settle down a little and help you rest before exam day. Remember, you need to be relaxed and well-rested when you take IELTS.
5. Complete Practice Tests and Sample Questions
Practice tests are a fantastic way to keep track of your progress while also familiarizing yourself with the test forms. Try to stay as close to exam circumstances as possible – don’t use a dictionary and keep to the time limit. Then look up anything you did not understand after you have graded your test. There are several materials available online, as well as IELTS books with sample examinations and audio recordings. Utilize and take advantage of these materials. Most of them are free and won’t cost you a dime.
Sample test questions use varied language and circumstances to simulate the format of IELTS questions. Completing practice test questions can help you have a better understanding of the types of questions that you will encounter on the real test. Although sample test questions will not be identical to those on the actual test, they will be comparable enough that you may find them easier to grasp and score higher on the test as a result.
6. Invest in Good Guides
Taking IELTS isn’t free and in fact, quite expensive. Investing in at least 1 or 2 study guide/s won’t hurt especially when it is your future that is at stake. Study guides are indeed one of the best ways to prepare for IELTS. They have sample questions and answers that you can work on to improve your English proficiency. They also give you handy tips and tricks to improve your approach in studying and preparing for IELTS.
How to Prepare for IELTS Listening?
1. Practice Note-taking
Just sitting back and listening to the audio recordings during the test is a terrible idea. Chances are you might forget the important and valuable details. Even a person with a sharp memory tends to forget when they are tensed and nervous. What’s the solution? Note-taking. It is a fantastic technique to help you remember the answers.
However, you have to remember that note-taking is a skill that you have to learn and acquire. You cannot write in detail while attentively listening at the same time. Learn how to identify which details are important and leave out the rest.
“My name is Peter, I’m twenty-one years old and from France.”
In your notes, you can just write Peter — 21 — France.
You can then piece together the rest of the information logically in your head if you only take down the essential details.
You can also try listening to podcasts and short audio snippets on Youtube or elsewhere. Practice taking down notes while ensuring that you still understand what you have listened to. When you have finished listening, put the pieces together by using the notes that you have.
2. Practice Listening to Different Accents
IELTS being an international test, you will hear a variety of accents. This is where it gets tricky. Given the fact that English is not your native language, understanding the audio recordings is difficult enough. How much more hearing them in an accent that you are not familiar with? And more often than not, you will be hearing more than one accent.
One of the best ways to prepare for IELTS is to practice listening to different accents: Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, British and American. Remember that the audio recordings will only be played once, so make sure to pick out the most important details.
You can watch English movies and tune in to channels that have these accents to make yourself familiar with them. Listening to radio stations is also another good option.
3. Equip Yourself Properly
The Listening section of IELTS requires you to use headphones while listening to the audio recordings. It is therefore recommended that you also practice using headphones while listening to sample tests. This will help you to be at ease and confident when you finally have to take IELTS.
All you need is a working pair of headphones. We also suggest that you hold your listening practices in a setting similar to that of IELTS, quiet and free of distractions.
4. Read Before You Listen
One of the best things about the Listening section of IELTS is that you have the privilege of knowing the questions even before the audio recordings are played. Make use of this advantage by ensuring that you have browsed on the questions before they play the recordings. This way, you will have a grasp of which details to focus your full attention on.
How to Prepare for IELTS Reading?
1. Become Familiar with Unfamiliar Words
A wide vocabulary will benefit you in all sections of the IELTS test. In the Reading section, it will aid you to understand the passages and eventually help you get the answers right.
When reading an IELTS passage, you will almost certainly come across words that you are not familiar with. Words that you might not know even existed. Prepare yourself for this. You may not need to know the actual definition of unfamiliar words until you encounter them.
Using context clues is a brilliant way to get the meaning of words that you are not familiar with. In some cases, you don’t need a dictionary to know what a word means. You just have to read the sentence or passage carefully and you will have an idea of what the word means.
“A skirmish took place during the rally, so the police had to intervene to restore order.”
If you don’t know the meaning of the word ‘skirmish’, you can deduce that it means ‘a minor fight or dispute’.
2. Learn Speed Reading
One of the best ways to prepare for IELTS Reading is to learn how to speed-read. It is the ability to quickly detect and comprehend text as a whole rather than focusing on the individual words. It is a valuable skill to hone for the IELTS Reading section. It can help you get through a long text quickly and reduce reading time, allowing you to begin to work on your responses sooner. Bear in mind that time is of the essence in IELTS.
3. Don’t Get Distracted While Reading
Being actively engaged in reading is easier said than done. It is something most of us have struggled in, keeping our focus while reading. Additionally, concentrating on the material can be hard especially if you find it boring and it is not about your favorite topic. However, with a sense of determination, and by employing effective techniques, you will be able to keep yourself from being distracted while reading.
We suggest that you find a place where you are comfortable and one that is quiet and free from any kind of possible distractions. Ensure that you have eaten and have gone to the bathroom when practicing for IELTS as these are the most common distractions most people encounter. It is also recommended that you set your phone to ‘Do Not Disturb‘ mode.
4. Explore Any Additional Reading Resources
The IELTS Reading section includes figures, graphs, and illustrations that you will need to interpret and explain. This section employs all possible materials that are aimed at assessing your comprehension skills. Before taking IELTS, it will be beneficial that you equip yourself with enough knowledge about how these visual aids work.
How to Prepare for IELTS Speaking?
1. Have Good Conversation
The IELTS Speaking section takes only about 11 to 14 minutes. However, you will be conversing with the examiner the entire time. In this section, questions will be generic topics about yourself, and you must be able to respond well and in a natural manner.
Having regular conversations with your friends and colleagues (in English of course) will help you perform well in the IELTS Speaking section. If you know someone who is a native speaker, then this is the time for you to seek their help. They will surely help you improve your English-speaking skills. You may also get yourself involved in an English study group to make yourself confident in speaking English.
2. Pay Close Attention to the Examiner
When taking the IELTS Speaking test, it is a good idea to watch the examiners’ mouths when they are asking you a question. They are used to speaking English naturally and at times, they might speak a bit faster than you expect. Reading their lips, combined with hearing them, will ensure there is no miscommunication. Some examinees fail to do this and end up giving the wrong responses.
3. Ask to Repeat or Clarify
In case you are wondering what to do in case you did not hear or understand the question, you are allowed to ask the examiner to repeat the question/s. It is totally fine and acceptable. Asking them to repeat the question is way better than giving wrong responses to their questions. Nevertheless, make sure to not do this too often.
4. Sound Confident
The IELTS Speaking section can indeed be stressful and we can’t blame you. Unlike the other three sections where you can afford to commit mistakes and correct them afterward, this section does not give you that option. Anxiety has a debilitating effect on your ability to speak a foreign language. We, therefore, encourage you to be confident.
There are various ways on how you can boost your confidence in the IELTS Speaking section. One is to smile during the interview. This will help create a relaxing atmosphere between you and the interviewer and make the communication more conducive.
Another way is to maintain an even tone and finish your statements clearly rather than ask questions. This technique exudes confidence, and the interviewer will not doubt whatever it is that you are saying.
Lastly, try speaking slowly. While your goal is to impress the interviewer with your English-speaking ability, it is also a must that your audience understands you. Let them know that you have a solid grasp of what you are talking about.
5. Improve Your Speech Quality
Speaking in English can be challenging for non-native speakers. Diction and pronunciation are something that takes time to improve on. To make sure that the examiner understands you, speak clearly.
Avoid long pauses, fillers, and placeholder names. These are words or phrases that indicate a pause but are clearly useless and insignificant to the conversation. Placeholders are names that refer to things or people that do not exist. Examples of fillers are ‘Um’, ‘like’ and ‘you know’. Fillers and placeholders affect the quality and effectiveness of your message and can greatly affect your scores. Continually learn how to speak English without an accent.
How to Prepare for IELTS Writing?
1. Practice Timed Writing
While others may say that this is the easiest section for them, a vast majority say that it is indeed writing which is the most difficult. This is also the section where examinees got the lowest band score. It is due to the fact that we are used to speaking, reading, and speaking, but not to writing.
Getting yourself used to timed writing is one of the best ways to prepare for IELTS. Make yourself used to structure your time within the limit. Practice as often as possible until such a time that you have mastered the skill of finishing your material before the time limit.
2. Manage Your Time
In the past, there have been examinees who handed in great but unfinished material. Why? Because they were not able to manage their time effectively.
There are two tasks in IELTS Writing and you need to finish both tasks in 60 minutes. Yes, 1 hour. The second task is given more weight in IELTS Writing so make sure you spend more time on this task.
3. Create a Plan
Creating a plan for both tasks (Task 1 and Task 2) in IELTS Writing will help you follow a logical and more organized thought progression. This is called the pre-writing stage. This will help you write more clearly and coherently. This technique will also help you get your writing done in less time, which is very essential in IELTS.
The most common methods include listing, clustering, and concept mapping. Employ these things when practicing for the IELTS Writing section. They will help you write in a particular direction where you want your writing to lead.
4. Mind the Topic Sentences
When writing, make sure that you start each paragraph with a topic sentence. The topic sentence is the most important sentence in a paragraph. It helps you to organize a paragraph by summarizing the main idea contained in that paragraph.
When writing a good topic sentence, remember that it should always be related to the given task. Do not deviate from the given topic. Discuss only one idea and then write supporting key points to justify the idea that you have written.
5. Avoid Writing Long Sentences
Using long sentences is not recommended in this section. Long sentences tend to make your text dull and utterly boring. In most cases, they increase the chances of your text being incoherent and syntactically incorrect. It is recommended that you stick to short sentences that are clear and on point.
3 Tips to Follow During Your IELTS Exam
Here, we will discuss specific tips and ideas that you can apply during your IELTS exam.
1. Skip Difficult Questions
IELTS is a timed exam. When the examiners tell you to hand in your paper, you have no option but to do it, regardless of whether you finish answering all the questions or not. Do not waste your time on difficult questions.
If you don’t know the answer to a particular question and it is giving you a lot of trouble, skip it. Do not waste your time thinking about what the answer to that particular question is. Proceed and answer the succeeding questions. If you finished early and still have time to return to the difficult questions that you have skipped previously, do so.
2. Leave No Question Unanswered
Every correct answer in IELTS counts. One correct answer could mean the difference between a band score of 6.5 and 7. Even if you are not sure about your answers, make sure that you answer every question on the test.
Remember that no points will be taken away if you got the answers wrong. Better take a shot at questions you have doubts about.
3. Proofread your answers
Before you hand in your paper to the examiners, ensure that you have proofread it for any spelling, grammar, and vocabulary mistakes. You might have overlooked some of them because you are too anxious about the time.
This will allow you to catch any errors you have committed and correct them. As much as possible, you want to ensure that your answers and clear and coherent.
Additional FAQs on IELTS Exam Preparation
How Can I Prepare Myself for the IELTS Exam at Home?
There are various ways on how you can prepare for IELTS at home. The most convenient ways are just at the tip of your fingertips.
You can use the web to search for the best ways and approaches that you can apply while preparing for IELTS. You can also try registering in an online class for candidates who are planning to take IELTS. Another option is using self-study resources such as books and online apps that will help you improve your English proficiency.
How Long Do I Need to Prepare for IELTS?
Being proficient in the English language does not happen overnight. It takes time.
We highly recommend that you spend at least 6-8 weeks studying and preparing for IELTS. This will give you enough time to be proficient and confident before taking IELTS.
Is it Difficult to Prepare for IELTS?
No, it is not difficult to prepare for IELTS. Nowadays, thousands of websites offer every information that you will need to prepare yourself for IELTS. You have to be resourceful and focused. Take advantage of these resources.