Introduction to the IELTS test ( Part 2 )

Part 2: For the student: How to prepare for IELTS

In this chapter you will find some suggestions for activities and approaches to help you do your best in the IELTS test. You will probably find it most useful after you have completed one or more of the practice tests in this book.

Analyse your weaknesses

To begin with, read the following statements and tick    any that apply to you.


I cannot listen and read the questions at the same time (E)

I do not understand what the question is asking me to do (E)

I do not understand what I hear (L)


I run out of time and do not answer all the questions (F)

It takes me a long time to read the passages (E)

I do not understand what the question is asking me to do (E)

I do not understand the reading passages (L)


I am not sure what the question means (E)

I cannot write quickly enough (E)

I do not have enough ideas to write about on the topic (L)

I cannot say what I think in English (L)


I get nervous and make mistakes (E)

The examiner asks me questions I have not thought about before (E)

I do not understand the examiner’s questions (L)

I feel threatened when the examiner asks me to speak for 1 or 2 minutes (F)

After each statement you will find a letter: F, E or L. These refer to: Format, Exam Practice and Language Practice. As you read the sections below, you will find suggestions under each heading to help you improve your IELTS score.

Know the Format

An important preparation for the IELTS test is to find out about the structure of the test. What are the sections of the test? Which one comes first? Second ? How much time is allowed for each section? How many questions are there? How long mustI speak?

These are simple questions to answer, but important. Once you are familiar with the test format, you will be more relaxed. You will be able to focus on answering questions well, rather than worrying about how many questions there are, or how much time is left.

You will find the answers to these questions in the introduction to this book, and (in more detail) in the IELTS Handbook, available from test administration centres.

Exam Practice

Once you have found out about the format of the IELTS exam, you need to practise your exam skills. These are techniques to help you show off your language skills during the short time you have in the exam.

The first skill to work on is timing. You will have to practise reading and writing under time constraints. Practise speed reading every day. Try reading a short passage in a fixed time (for example, set yourself  three minutes to read it quickly). You will not understand everything in the first reading, but you will become more used to skimming a text to get a general idea of its main points. Then you can come back to read certain parts of the text with more attention.

Likewise, try writing for a set period of time every day. For this exercise, total accuracy is not necessary; rather you are trying to practise getting your ideas down on paper quickly. Set yourself a different topic each day, such as Computers, the Family, Industry in my country, etc., and write as much as you can for, say, five minutes. Write notes to your friends, or short descriptions of something you have seen. Your speed will improve gradually, and will be very useful in the exam, when you must write a certain number of words for each task in a set period of time.

Another exam preparation is to familiarise yourself with the question types used in the IELTS exam. There are many different types, and they do not all appear in every exam. But by knowing some types, you will be familiar with the kinds of tasks you are expected to do, and you will save time because you can interpret the question more easily.

Start with the exams in this book. Do each test under exam conditions, then afterwards look at the tests again. What kind of questions were asked in each section? Multiple choice? Short answers? Matching parts of sentences? Filling in diagrams? Look at the kinds of questions used, and what they are asking you to do. If you had problems with any of them, do them again, slowly, so that you are sure of what you are doing. Then when you sit the real test, you will be more familiar with the kinds of questions asked, and will understand what you have to do more quickly.

Note: always read the questions carefully. Do not assume they will be exactly the same as the practice tests!

Finally, you might think about sitting a real IELTS test “just for practice”. You will get to know how it works, and get practice working under exam conditions. Then, when you are ready to take the IELTS test in earnest, you will know about the IELTS format, and will have already practised your exam skills.

If this is not possible, you can ask other students who have taken the IELTS test about their experience, and find out which tasks they think require the most preparation.

Language Practice, in class and on your own

This is where the hard work lies. Exam practice and knowing the format will help you in the IELTS test by leaving you free to concentrate on your language skills. However, you will need to work hard to further develop these skills.

The IELTS test measures how well students can perform the language skills needed for study. To do this, it uses the kinds of tasks that might be found in real- life situations. Therefore, you will not be able to simply memorise answers. Your IELTS score will be a reflection of your language ability, and to do well, you will have to work on your language skills. To achieve the IELTS score you want will require hard work, usually with the help of a teacher.

Class Work

In class your teacher will be introducing and extending a range of skills, all essential for the IELTS test. These will include:

Speaking : pronunciation and intonation practice, fluency practice, using and understanding common phrases, interacting with other speakers, speaking for an extended time on a particular topic, discussing that topic.

Listening : recognising voice tone (questions, surprise, etc.), listening for keywords, listening for general information, listening for numbers, listening for discourse markers ( firstly, secondly, Or / could say that another way, the most significant result was that…).

Reading : skimming (to get a general understanding), scanning (looking for specific information), vocabulary development, summarising, determining the writer’s attitude and opinion.

Writing:  adjusting style according to purpose, writing paragraphs, introductions and conclusions, using conjunctions and reference, organising information within a text, using supporting evidence to prove a claim.

Make the most of the work you study in class by reviewing it regularly. Re-read your class notes; note carefully any areas where you had problems. Work on them again and see your teacher if you still have questions. Try to use new vocabulary in your writing compositions, or in conversation. Practise grammatical structures in the same way.

Your teacher knows what you need and will try to help you overcome language problems. By going over lessons you will get the maximum benefit from your teacher’s skills and work.

Out of class work

Most experts agree that the quickest way to improve in a language is to immerse yourself in it. Therefore, to improve your English skills, try to get into as many situations where you and other people are using English.

This may be difficult if you live in a non-English speaking country. However, try to find English interest groups, go to English films and listen to English on the radio. Read English books and magazines.

In an English-speaking country this is much easier. Wherever there are people, you will be able to use and understand English. English books and magazines will also be easier to obtain. Try to spend as much of your day as possible using English.

You will probably end up dreaming in English, too!

A final word

The practice tests in this book are designed to help you understand the nature of the test. You cannot use your results in these tests to accurately predict your performance in a live IELTS test where you will be doing an examination with all its attendant stresses. You can, however, get to know the form of the test very well.

With all this preparation – getting to know the format of the IELTS test, practising exam techniques, class work and private study – you will be ready to do your best in the IELTS exam.

Try also to relax, and do some activities that you enjoy. An occasional break from your studies will give you fresh energy and motivation to continue studying hard.

The day of the test

After all your preparation for the IELTS test, follow these simple suggestions to ensure your test day goes smoothly.

  • Plan to arrive early (perhaps half an hour). Then if you have unexpected transport problems or some other delay, you will have extra time to sort them out before the test starts. There is nothing worse than arriving late, upset and flustered, when you need all your mental energy for the exam.
  • Don’t worry about the parts of the test that are finished, or those yet to come. Concentrate fully on the module you have in front of you.
  • Use your time carefully. Don’t spend too much time on any one answer; if you do, you may not answer the other questions properly. Don’t finish quickly, then sit doing nothing. In the time remaining, check your answers – you might change a wrong answer to a right answer and gain extra marks.

The Listening test

  • Before each listening section is played, read the questions through quickly. The vocabulary (and any diagrams) will give you some idea of what you are about to hear.
  • Note what kinds of questions you must answer: filling in numbers, choosing a description, finding the speaker’s opinion. You will then make the most of w hat you hear, because you will know what to listen for.

The Reading test

  • You have one hour to answer questions on three sections, so divide up your time – perhaps 15 minutes for the first section, 20 minutes for the second section, and 25 minutes for the third section (the sections get harder as you go on, so you might like to spend more time on the last one).
  • As a general strategy, do not start by reading the passage. You do not yet know what information you are looking for, and you will waste precious time if you try to read and understand everything.
  • Firstly, read the heading of the text. This will give you a very general idea of what the passage is about.
  • Secondly, quickly read through the questions. How many questions are there relating to this text? What kind of questions are they? (sentence completion, diagram completion …). This will help you focus when you read the text, as you will have some idea what to look for.
  • Thirdly, turn to the reading passage, and read it through quickly. The purpose here is to get a general understanding of the passage – you do not need to understand every detail.
  • Finally, turn again to the questions and begin to work through them, referring back to the passage when you need to, and reading important sections carefully and slowly.
  • If at any time you cannot answer a question, or it is taking you a long time, leave it and come back to it at the end.

The Writing test

The style and shape of your answer will be covered in more detail in Unit 4 of this book.

On a very practical level, however:

  • write in pen (not pencil), as it is easier to read. Bring several pens to the test with you.
  • do not write a rough draft, then re-write it. You will waste valuable time.
  • use time at the end to check for small errors: verb agreements, plurals, punctuation, verb tense. These things are easily corrected and affect what mark your work will receive.

The Speaking test

Preparation for this test will be covered in more detail in Unit 5 of this book.

Some things to think about:

  • Talk to your friends in English while you are waiting for your interview.
  • Do not simply answer the examiner’s questions; elaborate on your answers. Talk as much as possible. This is not rude; the examiner needs to hear you talk a lot, so he or she can find out your proficiency level.
  • You will find it easier to talk if you have something to say. Use the suggestions in Unit 5 to prepare for the interview. Think about your opinions and your reasons for holding them. Think of important/funny/exciting things that have happened to you and be ready to talk about them.
  • Phase 2 of the test requires you to speak for one to two minutes. Use all the information on the card to help you, and practise with a timer so you know how long you should speak.

If you prepare carefully for the IELTS test using the practice tests and the strategies on this blog, and note the hints for the day of the test, you will show your language skills to their best advantage.

Good luck!

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