10 useful IELTS preparation tips

How to prepare for the IELTS exam?

To provide you with the best opportunity for success in your IELTS exam it is vital that you understand the format of the assessment itself. The IELTS Academic exam is split into four sections; listening, reading, writing and speaking. The purpose of this article is to focus on how to best prepare for the listening, reading and writing elements of the exam due to the fact that the speaking component is conducted separately.

Disclaimer: Please note that although this is advice is certainly useful, it is by no means a guarantee that you will receive a good grade in the exam. Unfortunately, there are too many factors involved to assure this, but the advice given here will certainly be a strong foundation for you to build upon.

Let's first understand the structure (format) of these tests, individually:

Firstly, the IELTS listening test consists of 4 recordings which you will be asked to listen to and answer questions on. It takes approximately 30 minutes and there are 40 questions in total. One mark is awarded for each correct answer in this 40-item test.

Secondly, the IELTS reading test consists of reading 3 texts and answering questions about them. The time given is 60 minutes and there are 40 questions in total.

Finally, the IELTS writing test involves writing 2 different pieces of text over a 60 minute period.

Let’s explore each of these in more detail and how to best prepare for them.

1. Preparing for Listening

The best way to prepare yourself for the listening component of the exam is to expose yourself to different forms of media.

Tip 1: The first way to do this is by watching movies. Movies make listening development a little bit easier as it’s possible to use visual clues while the character is talking. This, along with listening for tone, can help you build confidence in your listening skills. As well as this, movies will also help expose you to a range of English accents. This is particularly useful for the IELTS exam as the listening exam could be in any English accent, not just British or American accents.

Tip 2: The second way to use media is by listening to music. Music can expose you to vocabulary and grammar in a new way that makes it memorable. This is because rhyme and rhythm can help you to remember. A good strategy is listening to a song and taking time to write down what you think the lyrics are. You can then check the lyrics to the song to see how much of it you were able to correctly identify.

2. Preparing for Reading

Tip 3: Prior to taking the test, it is essential that you read as much as possible. The best way to do this is by reading at every opportunity. This does not have to be full novels, it could be something as small as reading a poster on the bus, or looking through a magazine while at the doctor’s surgery. It is also important to ensure you read a variety of fiction and non-fiction as the language and grammar will vary between these. This variety will also help you to stay engaged and enjoy reading, which in itself will help you to retain vocabulary and grammar structures to help with the IELTS exam.

Tip 4: After reading a piece of text – whether that is a short article or a chapter from a novel – a useful strategy to help ensure you have understood it is by retelling the story or text in your own words by writing it down. This gives you time to process what it is about and explain it in a way that is meaningful to you, and is also an excellent way to improve your range of vocabulary which is essential for the IELTS exam.

Tip 5: Having been exposed to a range of texts, it is important to prepare for the logistics of the exam itself. As you only have 60 minutes to complete it, it is important to manage your time effectively. A good way to do this is find a text that is 700-1000 words and write down any key information from it after reading it. You can then use this to write a short summary of the text.

Tip 6: To take this a step further, you could create some questions to go with the text. These could be in the form of true or false questions, multiple choice, complete the sentence or matching headings.

Important: Finally, if you do not know the answer to a particular question it is best to move on quickly. You want to make sure you have time to look at every question, and you can always return to the more challenging questions at the end if time permits.

Top IELTS preparation tips infographic

3. Preparing for Writing

Tip 7: As with reading, a good way to prepare for writing is by looking at different genres of text, ensuring these are of high quality. The best place to find such pieces of text is by looking at newspapers or magazines. When doing so, it is worthwhile highlighting different grammar structures that you come across. Identifying grammar structures in this way will make it easier for you to take them and apply them to your own writing.

Tip 8: There are two tasks involved in the writing part of the exam. The first looks at a more technical type of writing, such as a table, diagram, map, or graph. A good resource to help with examples of these is the Financial Times newspaper. The second task is more topical based and will involve you giving your opinion or making an argument on a given topic. The Economist or tabloid newspapers can give some examples of this.

Tip 9: Within the writing part of the exam, sentence structure is especially important. This refers to the way that a sentence is arranged in a grammatical sense. This is your chance to show your confidence in using simple sentence structures such as subject, verb then object and much more complex structures. Variety is key here.

Tip 10: Important: When completing the exam itself, it is vital to remember to manage your time effectively. As Task 1 is one third of the final mark, it would make sense to spend one third of the time, so 20 minutes, on this part to ensure you have adequate time to fully complete task 2 to a high standard, making effective use of the grammar structures and vocabulary you picked up from your prior reading.

In addition to reading these preparation tips, you might also want to check out this list of resources you can use to prepare for your IELTS exam.

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