How To Prepare For IELTS Exam
Is your child planning to write the IELTS exam? Here are some tips on how to prepare for the Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking tests. Also see info on the latest IELTS exam pattern & syllabus.
By Dr Shyam Kumar
The IELTS or International English Language Testing System is a testing system to assess a candidate’s English language skills for the following abilities — listening, reading, writing and speaking. A 9-band system is used worldwide to interpret the IELTS results with 9 being the highest and the best score. The entire test duration is less than 3 hours.
How to prepare for IELTS exam?
As with any exam, it is important that you prepare yourself well to achieve a good score in your IELTS test. However, since the IELTS is a language exam, the method of preparation is quite different. Studying from lengthy IELTS exam books or study guides alone will not ensure your success. It involves scaling up your language fluency for the Speaking test, improving your reading, writing and listening skills, and brushing up your English vocabulary.
Following the detailed preparation tips listed in this article will help you achieve a good score in the IELTS exams. But before that, let us quickly read about the reasons for taking IELTS and the types of IELTS available.
Reasons for taking the IELTS exam
You may need to appear for the IELTS exam if you are:
- Planning to study abroad
- Applying for international universities
- Looking to work for a foreign employer
- Migrating to Canada, Australia, New Zealand or other English-speaking countries
Types of IELTS – Academic vs General Training
There are two types of IELTS exams – Academic and General Training.
1. IELTS Academic
- The IELTS Academic test is usually taken by students who are planning to study in a foreign university.
- The academic IELTS score tells authorities how well students can adapt academically in terms of the English language.
2. General Training
- IELTS General Training is taken by individuals for immigration or work visa.
- The General Training score tells them how well an individual can adapt to the work environment in a new country.
The Speaking and Listening modules are the same for both the test categories. However, there are differences in the Reading and Writing modules which will be detailed below under the respective sections.
IELTS exam pattern and syllabus
IELTS tests you on the four skills of English language i.e. Speaking, Reading, Writing and Listening. While the Reading, Writing and Listening components of the test take place on the same day, the Speaking test may be on the day of the exam or seven days prior to or after the scheduled IELTS exam date.
All the four modules of the IELTS exam are explained in detail below:
IELTS Listening test
There are four parts in the IELTS listening test where recordings of native English speakers are played out in each section. The accent could be British, Australian, Canadian, American or New Zealand.
Part 1 — a conversation between two speakers
Part 2 — a monologue or a speech set in an everyday social situation
Part 3 — a conversation among two to three speakers in an educational or a training context, e.g., a trainer and two students
Part 4 — a monologue on an academic subject
Instructions for IELTS Listening
- During the test, you do not have the option of stopping or rewinding the audio to listen again.
- The answers are to be noted down on the question paper while you are listening to the audio through headsets.
- There is a total of 40 questions, each carrying 1 mark.
- The entire duration of the test is 30 minutes.
- An extra 10 minutes is given at the end of the test to transfer the answers to a separate answer sheet using a pencil.
How to prepare for the IELTS Listening test
Here are some valuable tips to get a good IELTS listening score.
- Before the exam, give priority to improving your listening skills. Listen to English documentaries, news, speeches and other programmes to get used to the various English accents.
- During the gap of 30 seconds before the audio begins, quickly skim through the answer sheet to understand what kind of answers need to be filled in. It could be a person’s name, a street name, a post box number, a telephone number, a specific time, a subject name or percentage of marks.
- Cutting out distraction and focussing on the audio is a key factor for success in the listening test. A momentary lapse of concentration can result in several mistakes leading to a low score.
- Pay attention to the introduction at the beginning of every part of the exam. It will give you an idea about what the conversation is going to be about.
- Always try to anticipate what the speaker is going to say. Focussing on word indicators like therefore, however, perhaps, and finally will give you a fair idea about what the speaker is going to say next.
- Part 3 and 4 are conversations related to academics or education. Learn some words related to these topics. Your efforts to improve your vocabulary for IELTS Speaking will also come in handy here.
- Learning to multitask is essential as you will be listening, reading and jotting down your answers all at the same time. There are many IELTS Listening practice tests available online where you can practice until you are confident enough.
- Ensure that you do not make any spelling errors while noting down your answers and follow the instructions given carefully.
IELTS Reading test
Instructions for IELTS Reading
- The Reading test comprises 40 questions, divided into three sections.
- The duration for this section is 60 minutes.
- There will be three passages to read and for each passage, there are a bunch of questions that need to be answered.
IELTS General Reading vs IELTS Academic Reading
- The content for the IELTS Reading passages is different for both the General and the Academic Reading tests.
- The time limit for both the tests are the same, i.e., 60 minutes.
- The IELTS General Reading comprises three sections – social survival, workplace survival and general reading.
- The content for the IELTS General Reading is sourced from newspapers, notices, advertisements, magazines, company handbooks, etc., and are related to work or social situations.
- The content for the IELTS Academic Reading module is extracted from textbooks, literature, journals, etc., and is the kind of content you can expect in an educational setting.
- In both the formats, the first passage is usually the shortest and easiest and the third one the most difficult and lengthiest.
How to prepare for the IELTS Reading test
Here are some of the best tips to improve your IELTS Reading score:
- Practise quick reading. IELTS reading practice can be done with reading material that is available online or what is given in IELTS exam books.
- Time yourself while doing the IELTS Reading practice tests so that you are well prepared for the actual exam.
- Don’t read the whole passage but skim through the content. The idea is to get the gist of the topic quickly and understand the main idea.
- You can also scan the content to identify specific keywords that could be potential answers. Read the sentences around these keywords carefully.
- Underline the most important portions as you read so that you can quickly spot the answers.
- Another important IELTS Reading tip is to go through the questions first, and then read the passage to find the answers. Some candidates find this approach more useful.
- Adhere to the given instructions while answering to avoid losing marks.
- Ensure that there are no spelling or grammatical errors in your answers.
- It is important not to spend too much time in answering one question. Try to answer all the questions you are sure of.
- If you have time, try to answer even the questions that you are doubtful about. Wrong answers won’t be penalised.
- Also ensure that you have enough time to transfer your answers from the booklet to the answer sheet.
IELTS Writing test
Instructions for IELTS Writing
- The IELTS writing test comprises two tasks and the duration is 60 minutes.
- The answers are to be written on the answer booklet.
IELTS General Writing
The topics in the IELTS General Writing task are more common topics which test your ability to express your point of view in an organised, coherent and cohesive manner with the use of accurate language.
The IELTS General Writing tasks include writing a letter and an essay.
Task 1 — letter writing in a formal, semi-formal or informal style (150 words in about 20 minutes)
Task 2 — essay writing (250 words in about 40 minutes)
IELTS Academic Writing
In Academic Writing, you may be asked to write on science topics, information technology or business. The test is designed to assess your ability to present ideas in a clear, organised and coherent manner and the use of accurate language.
The IELTS Academic Writing tasks will be to describe a report and to write an essay.
Task 1 — describe or analyse data in one of the following — graph, chart, table or diagram (150 words in about 20 minutes)
Task 2 — essay writing (250 words in about 40 minutes)
IELTS General Writing vs IELTS Academic Writing
- The time limit for both the tests are the same, i.e., 60 minutes.
- For both General and Academic Writing, the task 1 answer should be written in 150 words (time limit — 20 minutes), and the task 2 answer should be written in 250 words (time limit — 40 minutes).
- In task 1, not adhering to the 150-word limit, and in task 2, not adhering to the 250-word limit will be penalised in both the test formats.
- The topic for essay in Academic writing can be a bit more difficult than the one in General Training as the topics are based on academics.
How to prepare for the IELTS Writing test
- Read the questions carefully to understand all parts of the question. Remember to answer all the parts given in the question.
- Try to finish task 1 within 20 minutes and task 2 within 40 minutes. If you spend more time on task 1, you will not have enough time to spend on task 2 which carries more weightage in terms of IELTS band score.
- Also try to limit your answers to the prescribed word limits for both tasks 1 and 2 to save time.
- Ensure that your writing is legible and there are no spelling, grammar or punctuation errors.
IELTS General Writing task 1
- Practise writing sample letters in various styles. Ensure that your letter covers all the information that needs to be included and is neatly arranged into paragraphs.
- Go through numerous model IELTS letters to understand the structure of various letter styles.
IELTS Academic Writing task 1
- Practise describing various graphs, charts or maps. You will need to compare and contrast between various graphs, describe changes over a period of time, summarise a pie chart or diagram, or analyze data given in a table.
- Ensure that your summary covers all the information asked for in the question and is presented in a logical sequence with the use of appropriate connectors, pronouns and conjunctions.
- Practise doing mock tests to understand and improve your writing ability and speed.
IELTS Writing task 2
- Since the task is essay writing, the preparation tips are the same for both General Training and Academic.
- Prepare a structure of the topic you are going to write on — a rough introduction, body and conclusion. Then proceed to develop and extend your ideas.
- Ensure that your essay covers all the information asked for in the question and is presented in a logical sequence with the use of appropriate connectors, pronouns and conjunctions.
- Practise essay questions on various topics to improve your writing speed and your ability to ideate quickly. Check for IELTS sample essays online or in IELTS books.
- Ensure that you go through as many IELTS Writing samples as possible to understand the structure of presentation. Only meticulous writing practice will help you achieve a good IELTS band score.
IELTS Speaking test
Instructions for IELTS Speaking
- The Speaking test consists of 3 parts of 11–14 minutes and involves a one-to-one conversation with an examiner.
- In part 1 of the IELTS Speaking test, the examiner will ask general questions about yourself such as family, hometown or occupation. The duration will be between 4 and 5 minutes.
- In part 2, you will be handed out a paper with your speaking topic written on it. You will get 1 minute for preparation and 2 minutes to talk about the topic uninterrupted. The examiner will then ask you one or two questions related to the topic.
- In part 3, you will be asked further questions about the topic in part 2. Here you get to speak in a more general and abstract manner about your ideas or express your opinion related to the topic in part 2. This part lasts between 4 and 5 minutes.
How to prepare for the IELTS Speaking test
- Collect a list of common and difficult topics that you would like to practise speaking on. Many IELTS Speaking samples are available online.
- See how you can develop the ideas for speaking on a particular topic and prepare answers for possible questions related to that topic.
- Also jot down a list of words related to the topic and their synonyms which you can use while you are speaking. Using common words will not help you achieve a high band score in Speaking.
- Listen to English news, documentaries or movie dialogues and try to repeat what you hear. This will help improve your pronunciation as well as style of speaking.
- Record while you are practising speech and playback the recording to understand your weaknesses relating to vocabulary, grammar, fluency and pronunciation. Fluency in English can only be achieved with ample speaking practice.
- Many candidates find the Speaking test to be challenging. However, being anxious or nervous about the test will reduce your chances of performing well.
- Be composed and confident when you face the examiner. Speak smoothly and coherently with a pleasant demeanour.
- Ensure that your voice is well audible to the examiner and that you do not speak in a flat tone.
- Express yourself as best as you can. Hesitations and gaps in speech should be avoided. Use linking words and phrases like ‘in my opinion, in my view, however, for instance’, to maintain continuity in your speech.
- For a better band score, try to answer more descriptively rather than giving short answers. This gives the examiner a better chance of assessing your language ability.
How to improve vocabulary for IELTS
- Using the same words again and again must be avoided specifically in the Writing as well as the Speaking portions of the IELTS exam.
- The only way to overcome this problem is by developing a range of vocabulary to avoid repetitions.
- Learn and accustom yourself to words related to a wide range of topics — sports, music, environment, technology, health and so on.
- Learn to pronounce words correctly from some of the free dictionaries available online.
With lots of practice and perseverance, it is possible for you to ace the IELTS exam. Be sure to make use of all the IELTS preparation tips given above to ensure that you feel confident in taking the test and achieve high IELTS band scores.
About the author:
Written by Dr Shyam Kumar on 1 April 2020
The author holds a degree in Homoeopathy with an MBA in Hospital Management and has worked across multiple disciplines including healthcare and technology. As a nature lover, he attended the world's first underwater CEO's conference to combat marine pollution.
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