Tips to Prepare for IELTS

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Marwa Abady

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18 March, 2021

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8 mins read

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What is IELTS? What does IELTS Stand for? 

IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. It is a three-hour international standardised test that evaluates your English language proficiency.  

Academic IELTS vs General Training IELTS 

There are two types of IELTS certification; Academic and General Training. You should consider taking the Academic IELTS if you plan to study in a college or university, find a job, or search for an internship in practical fields such as medicine or engineering. This version assesses your readiness for academic study or training in English. 

On the other hand, the General Training IELTS is for those who wish to study, train, work or migrate to an English-speaking country like the UK, Australia, or Canada. This version focuses on assessing your everyday use of the language in the workplace and social situations and as the name suggests, is more general.

The exam sections are the same in both versions, but the reading and writing sections’ content is different. So before applying for the IELTS exam, search and read about the sections in detail to choose what suits you.


Both TOEFL and IELTS assess your linguistic skills in reading, writing, listening and speaking. Nevertheless, they differ in their scoring scale, exam cost, exam duration, and accents you might hear in the listening section.

IELTS is the International English Language Testing System that uses British English during the test. However, TOEFL is the Test of English as a Foreign Language that assesses your linguistic skills in American English. 

Tips to Prepare for IELTS

Preparing for IELTS can be daunting. You might feel overwhelmed about where to start and how to plan, especially if it is the first time you take the IELTS exam. But try to stay calm! We will give you tips and tricks to develop your linguistic skills and maximise your overall IELTS score. Here are useful tips to prepare for IELTS.

1. How do I Improve my Reading Skills for IELTS?

Many IELTS takers think that the reading section is the hardest part of the IELTS exam. It’s true that reading three different sections and answering 40 questions in only 60 minutes requires concentration and a lot of practice. Don’t worry about that! Let’s tackle this part head on! With the following tips to prepare for IELTS Reading, you can expect to get a band score higher than 6.0.

1. Read Frequently

The most important step in preparing for IELTS Reading is reading a page or two every day. Whether you are a fan of reading on-screen or in print, there are thousands of resources you can choose from both online and offline, like blogs, magazines, newspapers, and books. Try to read not only the things you are interested in, but also explore a wide range of topics such as the news, current affairs, history, economics, animals, climate change, science, astronomy, etc. To practice reading, you can access National Geographic, Science Daily, The Economist, BBC, and more.

Additionally, reading aloud is useful as it improves your comprehension, vocabulary, and information processing skills. Besides, it gives you confidence and motivates you to read more.

2. Study Vocabulary

The more you read, the more vocabulary you will become familiar with. Learning vocabulary is not only about knowing the meaning of a word. It is also about learning when and how to use it in a context,  its synonyms and antonyms, and what it means in idiomatic expressions. 

To improve your vocabulary, underline the words that you don’t understand when you read. After reading a page, turn back to the difficult words and see if you understand their meanings in the context. If not, look them up in an English - English dictionary. 

3. Learn How to Skim and Scan

You are not supposed to read the whole passage in detail in the test. Just skim through it in two to three minutes to get its general idea. Then, read the questions and scan the paragraph for the answers. Scanning means your ability to locate particular information quickly. 

When you skim, it is beneficial to underline any keywords you see. This will help you later when you scan the passage for the answer.

5. Familiarise Yourself With the Test Format

It’s essential to practice all question types using authentic IELTS exams. Read the questions and instructions carefully before answering. There are around 10 types of questions in the IELTS Reading section so you should familiarise yourself with all of them before you sit for your exam as you won’t know which types will be in the exam. 

6. Choose Your Test Type:

Consider which test version you are taking and practice accordingly:

  • In the Academic IELTS Reading, you will read texts taken from books, journals, newspapers, and magazines and written for non-specialist readers. The exam contains three long passages which are descriptive, factual, analytical or discursive. A simple glossary is provided if the text includes technical terms.
  • Similarly, the General Training IELTS Reading contains three sections. However, the first one is “social survival” with general factual information like ads and notices. The second is “workplace survival” which might be an extract from a job description or a contract. The third part is “General reading” with descriptive and instructive extracts from newspapers, magazines, fiction and non-fiction books.

2. How to Prepare for IELTS Listening

The second receptive skill is listening. It is possible to get a high band score in listening. Following these tips and tricks, you can achieve the score you need. Here are tips to prepare for IELTS Listening. 

1. Listen to English Every Day

 ”What has she just said?”

“I totally missed what he said!”

If this sounds like you, you need to practice listening well before taking the exam. Before practising your authentic IELTS Listening tests, improve your general listening skills. 

Listen to a wide range of topics in English podcasts, TV shows, documentary programs, lectures, monologues, TED Talks, and YouTube videos. Familiarise yourself with a range of accents since the exam includes different accents, mainly British, American, Canadian, New Zealand (also called Newzild or Kiwi), and Australian (also known as Aussie).

In the IELTS exam, you will have only one chance to listen to the recording. So try to listen to any recording only once to get used to it. To practice your listening, you can use Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab.

2. Practice Multitasking When Listening

It is normal to get lost during a lecture or a conversation, especially when it is in an unfamiliar accent or uninteresting topic. Therefore, when you start practising, it is beneficial to listen to recordings with scripts or to watch videos with subtitles at first. Doing that will develop your listening skills and improve your pronunciation, understanding, spelling and vocabulary.

Later on, you can take notes when you listen to a recording then go back to the audio-script to check your accuracy, understanding and spelling. This way you can be sure you won’t miss anything.

3. Understand the Test Format

In the IELTS Listening, both exam versions are the same. Similar to the types of reading questions, you will find around 10 types you should familiarise yourself with. 

During the test, you will listen to four recordings; the first two recordings deal with everyday life, however, the last two are set in educational and training contexts. The second and fourth recordings will be monologues. The first and third recordings will be conversations.

3. How to Prepare for IELTS Writing

1. Paraphrase What You Have Read

After reading an article, it is useful to paraphrase what you have read. You will ensure that you have learnt new vocabulary and practice them in a context. 

2. Make an Outline

Before starting to write, you should make an outline. Outlining your piece of writing will save you time since it will help you organise your ideas and put them in the correct order. Consequently, you will focus on using appropriate grammar and correct spelling while you’re writing.

3. Stick to the Recommended Number of Words

The IELTS Writing test has nothing to do with the length, quality is definitely more important than quantity.. Stick to the required word count. In Task 1, you should write 150 words or slightly more, and in Task 2, write 250 words or slightly more. Don’t write below the minimum length, as you may lose marks. Also, do not write too much or you will lose valuable time.

4. Watch Your Time

Practice timed writing before the exam to improve your speed. If you are taking the paper-based test, practice your handwriting under time pressure to make sure your handwriting is tidy and neat in the exam. Also, you should stick to formal English in the writing part and not use spoken English.

5. Proofread Your Writing

After each task, leave a couple of minutes to proofread your piece of writing. Check its cohesiveness and edit it for spelling, grammar, capitalisation, and punctuation mistakes. 

6.  Familiarise Yourself With the Test Format

Before the IELTS exam, understand the test format. In the Writing section, there are some differences between the General Training IELTS test and the Academic test. So consider the test version you are applying for. 

There are two tasks in each version; Writing Task 1 and Writing Task 2.

  • In Writing Task 1, you will be asked to write 150 words in both test versions. You will write a letter explaining a situation or requesting information in a personal, semi-formal or formal style on the General Training test. However, in the Academic test, you will summarise, explain or describe the information presented in a table, diagram, chart, or graph in your own words.

  • In Writing Task 2, the minimum required length is 250 words. In both versions, you will write an essay in response to an argument, a point of view or a problem. However, you will write in a formal style on the Academic test and a more personal style in the General Training test.

4. How to Prepare for IELTS Speaking

1. Discuss What You Have Listened to

Similar to the reading and writing sections, developing your listening skills will enhance your pronunciation and, therefore, will improve your fluency in speaking. After listening to a recording or watching a video, discuss the story in front of a mirror or to one of your friends in English.

2. Record Yourself

Record yourself when you are speaking on different topics. Doing so will help you carefully check your pronunciation and feel confident when you speak in public. 

3. Your Answer is Always Right

There are no right or wrong answers. The examiner assesses your use of language, not your opinion. They examine your pronunciation, coherence and fluency, grammatical range and accuracy, as well as lexical resources.

5. Don’t Fear Your Accent

Speak clearly and at a natural pace. The examiner will not assess whether you sound native. Alternatively, they will assess how you choose your words, how coherent your speech is, your use of intonation and stress, and the way you pronounce the words. Try to use advanced vocabulary in the correct way to get a band score higher than 6.0. However, choose simple and commonly-used vocabulary if you are not sure of how to use the advanced word in a sentence. 

6. Vary Your Tone

Always vary your stress and intonation. Speaking in a monotone makes it difficult for you to express your thoughts clearly. Try to make your conversation with the examiner more engaging by pausing at sections and emphasising certain words.

7. Understand the Test Format

IELTS Speaking is the same in General Training and Academic tests. There will be three parts:

  • Speaking Part 1, you will speak for four or five minutes about yourself, your home, interests, family, study, or work. 
  • Speaking Part 2 where you will speak for three to four minutes about a particular topic. 

  • Speaking Part 3 where the examiner asks you further questions to discuss more ideas and issues related to the topic in Part 2 for four to five minutes.

Finally, The British Council website has free diverse resources in learning grammar, vocabulary and the four English skills; reading, writing, listening and speaking. You can also take a free online test to assess your current level and identify your points of strength and weakness. Check that out and remember only to book your test when you are ready. 

Preparing for the IELTS exam takes three to six months. Self-learning is good if you are committed; however, if you are unable to commit, find an institution or a private tutor to make you a study plan and give you feedback. Here are the top IELTS preparation centres In Liverpool.

Good luck with your test!


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