Need to do an IELTS test? Expert IELTS teacher Sasha from E2 has some great tips on how to reach your goal.
What is IELTS test?
IELTS is the world’s most popular English language exam. Over 3 million candidates do the exam each year. Students undertake this exam for a variety of reasons, such as applying to study at university, having their qualifications officially recognised, or migrating to Australia or other countries.
IELTS assesses 4 skills – Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing. Students can choose from 2 different modules – Academic or General Training. Students can also do a paper-based version or a computer-based version of the exam.
General IELTS tips
The number 1 tip is very simple…. you must be prepared! If you play a game or sport, you need to learn the rules of the game. It’s the same with preparing for the IELTS exam. You must learn the rules of the IELTS game. Even native-English speakers find the test very difficult if they don’t prepare carefully.
Make sure you do your IELTS preparation with a reputable company. There is a lot of incorrect information on the internet about the exam. Try to learn from a company that has an excellent reputation and uses current or former IELTS examiners to teach the students.
Does your lifestyle help you to improve your English and your IELTS skills? Do you live in an English-speaking country? If you do, do you speak English regularly or do you live and work with people who speak your first language. If you don’t live in an English-speaking country, what activities do you do each week to help you improve your English? Think about how you can modify your lifestyle to improve your English. Small changes can make significant improvement over time.
Understand your current level. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Do you need to spend the same amount of time on each part of the test, or do you need to focus on 1 or 2 particular skills, e.g. Speaking and Writing?
Make a study plan. How much time do you have before your official IELTS exam? How often will you study? 1 hour, 3 times a week? Or 3 hours every day? Write down your study plan that uses all of your study time. What will you study each week? Make your plan in advance so that you can check that you will focus on the areas that are difficult for you.
DON’T do practice test after practice test after practice test. Tests reveal your current level, but they don’t teach you new skills. Too many students who are stuck at a particular IELTS level will do many official tests in a row, but their score doesn’t increase. If you are stuck at a level, you need to improve your skills before you do another test.
Tips for Speaking and Writing
These 2 parts of the test are the most challenging for many students, particularly if you live in a non-English speaking environment. You need to find opportunities to practice both general English skills and specific IELTS skills.
Fortunately, the internet makes it easy to contact other learners from all over the world who want to practise their skills too. There are many Facebook and WhatsApp groups (and many others on other types of social media) that you can join for free and practise communicating in English.
Unlike Listening and Reading, where you can easily check your answers yourself, it can be much harder to know if your Speaking and Writing are improving. It’s definitely a good idea to have skills assessed by a current or former IELTS examiner so you easily see if your score is increasing. Using an examiner is recommended because they have been officially trained and assessed. They can accurately tell you your score, explain why it is your score, and most importantly, show you what you need to do to reach your IELTS goal.
Fortunately, the IELTS organisation provides detailed information about what you need to do achieve a high score in Task 1 Writing, Task 2 Writing, and Speaking. This information is called the IELTS band descriptors. There are 3 sets of descriptors. They are very detailed and include essential information, such as the difference between a 6, a 7, and an 8. It is highly recommended that you download and study these 3 sets of band descriptors. Make sure you completely understand the differences between your current score and the score you are aiming for.
As you practise your Speaking, give long detailed answers. Demonstrating that you want to communicate lots of information is very important. Remember to include lots of reasons and examples. Record yourself with your mobile phone and listen to your answer.
Many students find the writing test to be the hardest part of the exam because they usually don’t do these types of writing in their normal life. Firstly, learn the structures that are used to write an answer to a Task 1 and Task 2 question. After you can remember the structures, practise using them to answer real questions. At first, you probably won’t be able to write within the suggested time limit for each task. However, with practise, your writing speed will increase.
DON’T practise your writing using as much time as you need. After you have learnt the structures, you need to practise with specific time limits so that you can write faster. For example, if you think that you have 40 minutes to write an essay, it’s easy to spend 5 or more minutes brainstorming the question. However, this wastes valuable time. Use your alarm on your phone and give yourself about 3 minutes to analyse and plan, 5 minutes for the introduction, 8-10 minutes for each body paragraph, 4 minutes for the conclusion, and the rest of the time to check over your work. This will train you to think and write quickly.
Tips for Reading and Listening
Make sure you always read the questions before you read the text or listen to the information. Highlight the key words and try to think of what type of answer is possible. Is it a number? A place? A person?
After you do a practice Reading or Listening test, you can easily check which questions you got right or wrong. Don’t just focus on your overall score. Instead, look at the types of questions that were incorrect. Do you have problem with True/False/Not Given or Matching Headings etc. Once you know the question types that are more difficult for you, then you can do extra focus of these types of questions.
Even though most students don’t need an IELTS 9.0 score, when many students do the real test, they often waste time thinking about the question they didn’t know the answer for. Instead of focusing on the next set of questions, they are still thinking about the previous question that they didn’t know the answer for. If you do this, you won’t be able to completely focus on the next question! If there is a difficult question and you don’t know the answer, don’t keep focussing on it!
DON’T leave any questions blank! Write an answer for all the questions! If you don’t know, guess an answer! There is no negative marking in IELTS. You may be lucky and guess the correct answer!
Good luck for your next IELTS exam!
Sasha is an IELTS teacher with E2. He is a former examiner with over 20 years’ teaching experience.