IELTS Test Preparation Tips for Listening, Reading, Writing & Speaking

Are you planning to take the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) examination? We know what it’s like preparing for IELTS, so here are some very useful tips for IELTS preparation.

Achieving a satisfactory result in IELTS depends not only on having an advanced level of English but also mastering the techniques to present the IELTS exam. Here we’ll tell you about some important tips to prepare and sit the IELTS exam. These tips are a compilation of knowledge of the exam acquired while doing an IELTS preparation course in England. The course was taught by experienced teachers who have been IELTS examiners.

IELTS Preparation Time

Before preparing for the IELTS exam you must be very clear about what your level of English is. Keep in mind that the process of advancing from one level to another can last a year, so take the time to improve your writing skills, communication and comprehension, written and oral, especially if you did not study in a bilingual school or you have not lived in an English-speaking country for a period of one year or more.

The IELTS preparation time may vary depending on your level of English. Normally universities require an IELTS band score of 6.5 to 7 which corresponds to an advanced level of English language competence. If you think that you're at that level already then you must concentrate on (1) knowing the structure of the exam, (2) acquiring IELTS exam techniques and (3) practising doing mock IELTS exams to consistently achieve the same result. This IELTS result should preferably be a little higher than that asked by the university you would like to attend because you need to have a margin of error due to the fact that on the day of the real IELTS exam nerves and pressure may cause your result to be slightly lower.

If you think that you don't even have a sufficient English level to achieve the IELTS score that you need then we recommend you first focus on identifying what your weaknesses are and work on improving them. To do this you can take an intensive English course with an academic focus, hire a private English tutor or study on your own using many of the English learning tools and apps available.
What’s important is that when you can consistently achieve a higher IELTS result than you need doing mock IELTS exams – you’ll know it means that you are ready to submit the real IELTS test.

How to prepare for the IELTS examination

It is very important to thoroughly know the structure of the IELTS exam, sections, timing, bands of qualification and evaluation criteria. If you know the IELTS exam format and know in advance what is waiting for you in each section, you can better focus your time for practice at home.
IELTS preparation techniques

Each section of the IELTS test requires different techniques that are explained below.

Section 1 - IELTS Listening

(A) Predicting - when you are reading each question (you'll have time for this) - learning how to predict the kind of information you need to answer each question, this can be either a date, a number, a name or other information. The benefit of this is that when you are listening to the dialogue you will be ready to easily identify the correct response when you hear it in the recording.

(B) Anticipating - dialogues usually use vocabulary that is different from the one in the IELTS exam booklet of questions. You must identify the keywords of each question and anticipate their synonyms so that when you hear the dialogue these will allow you to track the correct response. The dialogue will normally contain some ‘signpost’ words - words that indicate that the word or phrase required for the answer follows next.

(C) Understanding special words - in the third section of the IELTS listening test you will normally hear a teacher or expert giving a talk on a theme, therefore their speech will be formal. In this type of speech, certain words are used to introduce ideas and to give the speech or lecture organization, words such as however, finally, secondly, additionally, etc. These words allow you to follow changes in the discussion or talk and warn that typically when additional information is given, the correct answer or response is normally contained in that section.

(D) Spelling – this is especially important in the IELTS test. Certain English words begin with a capital letter (months, days of the week, geographical locations, etc). If you present the IELTS and do not have these in mind this will lose you points – it is therefore critical that the answers you provide on the official IELTS answer sheet are spelt correctly. Tip: You can write all your answers in capital letters (this is allowed) and thus avoid losing points.

Section 2 – IELTS Reading

You should spend about 20 minutes on each IELTS reading section (approximately 5 minutes answering each section of questions) and always count your time when you are doing mock IELTS exams at home.
IELTS techniques for the different types of reading questions (not including questions matching paragraphs with paragraph titles).

(A) Look quickly at the reading text title to get an idea of the content.

(B) Go directly to the section of questions below and start with the section where it asks for dates, numbers, names, etc. because these are relatively easy to answer in the text.

(C) Each question has keywords and you should highlight them and then start to search for those keywords in the text, read the information that is immediately before and after the keyword and this will help you find the answer, sometimes you have to search for synonyms.

(D) Questions in each section are in the same order as the reading. When you find an answer in the text, the following response should be very near either the end of that same paragraph or in the following paragraph.

(E) In the section of questions: True/False/Not Given, remember that you must answer False when you can demonstrate that a different response is true and Not Given when you cannot find related or supporting information in the text.

(F) In the question section: matching titles and paragraphs; leave this part to the end of this section, and do first the other sections (e.g. multiple choice) in order to help familiarize yourself with the information contained in each paragraph and you will be find it easier to finish identifying which is the main idea of each paragraph and its corresponding title.

The instructions always specify if you must use a title for each paragraph or if you can use the same title more than once. In the first case you can delete the titles you have used already in order to avoid returning to read them over and over again – this will save valuable time.

Section 3 – IELTS Writing

Task 1 (should last 20 minutes writing a report of at least 150 words)

The answer should be structured using the following paragraphs:

  • Short introduction paraphrasing the information they give you about graphics, table, diagram bars or map in the question.
  • Paragraph 1- analyze and summarize the most remarkable or notable features of the figure/diagram/chart/graph given in the question. Describe general trends and patterns. If you do not include this paragraph you may lose points.
  • Paragraph 2 – provide specific details in this paragraph, you should compare and contrast the major differences and similarities, also select and describe key points which you can see in the data, do not forget to include numbers and figures that represent the most significant changes. In the case of diagrams that describe a process you should describe each stage of this.
  • Conclusion - write a simple sentence that says something about the figure/graph/diagram/flowchart, very similar to what you wrote in the paragraph about general trends or patterns, etc. Do not copy this exactly – pafraphrase what you wrote previously. Important, do not include any new information or analysis that you have not included previously – this is a conclusion and should not introduce any ‘new data’ as an afterthought.

It is important that you describe what you see in the figure/graph/table/chart, etc. Do not try to explain, suggest reasons or give opinions about the information provided.

Task 2 (should last 40 minutes, writing an essay of at least 250 words)

It is important to take 5 minutes to write your essay plan, identify your position, arguments, and ideas that support them and your conclusion. If instead you start to write the first thing that comes to mind, your essay will not have consistency and you will not manage to respond to each of the parts of the question.

The questions of the IELTS writing test can be of three different types. You must be able to recognize this on the day of your exam and identify the type of question it corresponds to and you will therefore know how you should answer this part of the IELTS test.

(A) problem/solution (question focused on cause/effect of a certain situation)

  • Introduction: Describe what the problem is and its effects
  • Paragraph 2: causes of problems
  • Paragraph 3: possible solutions to the problem(s)
  • Conclusion: Possible results when applying these solutions

(B) Opinion (focused on knowing the extent to which you agree or disagree on the issue in question)

  • Introduction: Your position on the issue
  • Paragraph 2/3: Arguments that support your position
  • Conclusion: It must always be connected to your position you made clear in the introduction, and you must not include any new or additional arguments.

(C) Discussion (advantages and disadvantages of a certain situation)

  • Introduction: Your position on the issue
  • Paragraph 2: arguments that support your position
  • Paragraph 3: present arguments against
  • Conclusion: It must always be connected to your position you made clear in the introduction, and you must not include any new or additional arguments.

Getting a high IELTS score in this section depends on achieving a good result based on each of the IELTS writing evaluation criteria. I recommend that you read them carefully. Remember that these structures are only recommendations.

Section 4 – IELTS Speaking

In this section you will be evaluated on how effective your ability to communicate in English is. In the IELTS speaking test, the following functions of speech will be present in the interview.

  • Give personal information and express a preference
  • Compare non-personal information
  • Express opinions and summarize
  • Explain error correction
  • Suggest and contrast
  • Justifying opinions and narration
  • Analyze and speculate