How to Prepare for IELTS

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11-08-2019, 16:00
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Updated: August 5, 2019 IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System, and the test includes sections on reading, writing, speaking, and comprehending spoken English. Test takers receive a score that ranges from 1 to 9. A score of 1 is the lowest and 9 is the highest possible score. Whether you are taking the IELTS to study at a university in an English speaking country or taking it to demonstrate English language proficiency for a job, you need a score of 7 or higher to pass. Start preparing for the IELTS early and use targeted strategies to increase your chances of success!

Studying for the IELTS

  1. Begin studying 6 to 8 weeks before your test date. When you feel that your English skills have progressed enough that you want to take the IELTS, book your exam. But make sure to allow yourself at least 6 weeks to study for the test. This will help to ensure that you have enough time to prepare yourself for the test and you won’t have to retake it.
    • Avoid cramming for the exam or trying to take the exam too soon if you don’t feel ready.
  2. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses to decide what to focus on. The IELTS exam includes reading, writing, speaking, and listening sections. Consider what your strengths and weaknesses are to help you decide what you should focus on.
    • For example, if you excel at reading and writing English, but have more difficulty engaging in conversations, then you might want to devote more time to studying for the listening and speaking sections of the exam.
    • If you feel that you are equally skilled in all of the test's areas, then you can divide your study time evenly.
  3. Get an IELTS book or study guide to direct your studies. There are many free study guides and materials available online, or you can check a study book out of your local library, or purchase a study guide from a bookstore or online. Following along with a study guide will help to ensure that you fully understand the layout of the exam, and increase your chances of success. Some good options include:
    • Top Tips for IELTS Academic
    • Official IELTS Practice Materials Volume 1 & 2
    • How To Prepare for IELTS
  4. Find an IELTS prep course to get extra help. There are free and paid IELTS courses available. Some of the courses are in-person, while others are online. Find a course that works for you and enroll in it for some additional study time, guidance, and tips.
    • You can also watch IELTS test prep live streams on Facebook and Youtube. While these won’t provide the same targeted help as a course, you might still find them helpful.
    • Taking an English course is also helpful if you don’t have access to an IELTS test prep course. Enroll in an English language course at your local university or online if this is an option for you.

Focusing on Specific Skills

  1. Practice your English speaking skills as often as possible. The speaking portion of the IELTS only takes about 11 to 14 minutes, but you will be talking with the examiner the whole time. During this portion of the test, the examiner will ask you general questions about yourself and you will need to respond. Then, the examiner will give you a card with a question on a specific topic. You will have 2 minutes to prepare what you want to say and you will need to speak for 1 to 2 minutes. The examiner will follow up by asking a few more specific questions on the topic. Getting regular speaking practice is key to doing well on this part of the IELTS. You can do this by:
    • Speaking English with other native English speakers
    • Practicing with other people who are learning to speak English
    • Joining an English study group
    • Using an English speaking app
  2. Listen to English for the listening portion of the test. The listening section of the IELTS is 30 minutes long and it features 4 recordings of native English speakers having a conversation. The recordings include 2 monologues and 2 conversations set in an everyday social context. Listen to native English speakers talking every day to improve your English listening skills. Some good ways to do this include:
    • Listening to English podcasts, music, and radio shows
    • Watching Youtube videos, movies, and TV shows in English
    • Having conversations with native English speakers
  3. Read English daily to improve your English reading skills. The reading portion of the IELTS test is 60 minutes and features 40 questions on sections that you will have to read. For the general reading test, the sections will include topics such as the workplace, social settings, and everyday reading, such as newspaper or magazine text. The academic reading test will include material that you might encounter in a university course. Some ways you can prepare for the English reading section include reading English:
    • Novels and short stories
    • Textbooks
    • Magazines
    • Newspapers
    • Blogs
    • Websites
    • Social media posts
  4. Write in English to build your skills for the writing section. The writing portion of the IELTS is 60 minutes long and it only has 2 questions. You will need to write a letter making a specific request and an essay in response to a question. Get as much writing practice as possible in your daily life. Some ways you can get writing practice include writing:
    • Emails
    • Letters
    • Essays
    • Notes
    • Social media posts
    • Text messages

Completing Practice Tests and Quizzes

  1. Complete sample test questions for practice. Sample test questions mimic the format of questions on the IELTS using different language and scenarios. Completing sample test questions will help you to become more familiar with the types of questions you will encounter on the test. You can access sample test questions online, in guide books, and in apps for the IELTS.
    • Although sample test questions won’t be exactly the same as the ones you will see on the real test, they will be similar, so you might find them easier to understand and get more points on the test as a result.
    • You can get sample test questions on the official IELTS website: https://www.ielts.org/en-us/about-the-test/sample-test-questions
  2. Take an official practice test for a simulation. You can get an official IELTS practice test online to complete on your own. This is a great way to see what taking the actual test will be like. Time yourself according to the test’s instructions. This will show you what sections you need to spend more or less time on.
    • The total time allotted for the IELTS is 2 hours and 40 minutes, so set a timer when you start your practice test to get a realistic experience.
  3. Download an IELTS test prep app. There are several mobile apps available that you can use to enhance your studies on the go. Download a free app and use it whenever you have a minute, such as while riding the bus, waiting in line, or during a break between classes. Some good options include:
    • IELTS Word Power. Increase your vocabulary with over 100 questions from different categories from business to technology and science.
    • IELTS Word Ready. This app uses personalized vocabulary training to help you prepare for your IELTS.
    • IELTS Prep App. Use this app for free practice tests, exercises, and quizzes.

Getting Ready to Take the Test

  1. Locate the test center about 1 week in advance of your test. To ensure that you won’t get lost on test day, it is a good idea to seek out the test center about a week or a few days ahead of time. This way, you will know how to get there and you will be less likely to get lost on the day of your test.
    • For example, you could drive or walk to the test center about a week before the test. You may even want to identify an alternate route just in case the main route is blocked on your test day.
  2. Read the IELTS terms and conditions before test day. When you register for the test, you will be provided with information on the exam and test center. Read through this information carefully before the day of your test so that you know what you need to bring, when to arrive, and any other important details.
    • For example, the test may specify that you will need to arrive at least 30 minutes before the start of the exam.
    • You will need to bring some sort of photo ID, such as a driver’s license or student ID. Check the terms and conditions to find out what types of ID are acceptable at your test center.
  3. Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep the night before the test. Being well-rested will help you to stay focused and calm during the exam, so try to go to bed early the night before your test. You don’t need to go to bed hours earlier than usual, but try to turn in about 30 minutes earlier than normal. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep so you will be well rested.
    • Avoid the urge to stay up late studying the night before. This will not improve your performance on the test. You won’t retain information that you try to learn at the last minute and you will have a harder time concentrating if you are tired.
  4. Eat a good breakfast on the day of the test. Being hungry during the exam will distract you and make it hard to stay focused. Eat something on the morning of your test that will sustain you during the exam. If you’re taking the test in the afternoon or evening, then have lunch or a snack before you head out for the test.
    • Try having a bowl of cereal with milk and fruit, or eggs and a couple of slices of toast.
    • Drink coffee or tea with your breakfast if you like, but don’t skip breakfast and only have coffee or tea. This is likely to make you feel jittery.
  5. Turn off your mobile device and put it away for the test. Before you enter the test area, make sure to turn off your mobile phone and store it out of sight. Taking it out during the exam may not be permitted and you may be accused of cheating if you do so. Err on the side of caution and do not take out your phone during the test.
    • Some test centers may require you to check in your mobile device at the front desk or store it in a locker during the test. Make sure to check with the test center for their policies.
  6. Try to stay calm and take deep breaths if you get nervous. It is normal to get nervous during a test, but don’t let anxiety take over. If you notice that you are feeling nervous, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths in and out. Remind yourself that it’s just a test and everything will be okay.
    • Repeat this as needed during the test to stay calm.
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