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How to prepare for IELTS: What the experts say

Four experts share some advice on how to prepare for IELTS

I give a lot of advice on this blog about how to prepare for IELTS but I thought for this post I’d share some advice from other specialists in IELTS preparation.

So, apart from becoming familiar with the exam format and improving your English in general, what do the experts say about preparing for the IELTS test?

The secret to success in your IELTS Writing test is… reading

Paul Dixon: IELTS Manager at New Zealand Language Centres

Paul DixonI often meet students who have the IELTS score they need in listening, reading and speaking, but who need to improve their writing. This shouldn’t come as a surprise: if you look at the most recent statistics on IELTS test results, you will notice that writing scores are, on average, half a band score lower than the other three skills. So, what can IELTS test takers do about this?

It is natural to think that the best way to improve your writing is to practise often and get feedback from an experienced IELTS teacher. However, although this is undoubtedly useful, it probably isn’t enough. I believe that the best way to improve your writing is, in fact, to read in English as much as possible.

Reading regularly in English helps improve your writing in three main ways:

  1. It is a great way to learn new vocabulary that other IELTS test takers don’t usually use. This will help improve your vocabulary score because, to get a band 7, for example, you need to use some ‘less common lexical items’.
  2. It gives you an opportunity to see how native speakers use the vocabulary you already know. This will help you to express your ideas in a more natural way, which is what the band score descriptors mean at band 7 when they say the writer has ‘some awareness of style and collocation’.
  3. Reading regularly will help you reduce the number of grammatical mistakes you make because, over time, you will develop a more instinctive feel for grammatical rules, such as those related to articles and prepositions. This will help improve your writing band score because, to get a band 7 for grammar, you need to be able to write ‘frequent error-free sentences’.

So, in short, if you need to improve your writing band score, start reading regularly in English. A good place to start is the NZLC IELTS Flipboard magazines, which we update with new articles every week. The articles are on common IELTS topics, and they are carefully selected to ensure that they are at the right level for our students and use language that you can use in your IELTS Writing or Speaking tests. You can also comment on the articles and even start conversations with our IELTS teachers and students.

Developing the thinking skills needed for IELTS

Guy Brook-Hart: Co-author of the Complete IELTS series published by Cambridge English

Guy Brook-HartThe IELTS Academic Module is not just a test of your grammar and vocabulary. It’s a test of your thinking skills as well.

Academic Writing Task 1 gives you information in graphs, tables or diagrams and always asks you to “Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features and making comparisons where relevant”.

This means you need to spend some time thinking carefully and making a plan before you start writing.  You should:

  • analyse the information to decide what the key features are
  • decide what comparisons you can make
  • decide how you can give a brief overview of the information
  • decide how you are going to organise your summary so that it is clear, logical and easy to follow.

Academic Writing Task 2 is an essay. Before you write, you need to:

  • analyse the task
  • brainstorm ideas
  • form a clear opinion which you can support with logical arguments and examples
  • perhaps express opinions and ideas you don’t agree with and explain why you don’t agree
  • make sure that all the points you express are relevant to the task
  • decide how you are going to organise and express all this logically and coherently with a clear introduction and conclusion so the reader clearly understands what you think.

To improve your thinking skills for IELTS:

  • spend plenty of time thinking about the tasks before you do them
  • discuss tasks with other students and with your teacher – exchange and compare ideas together
  • make and compare plans before you start writing
  • read through what you write and check that it answers the task
  • exchange answers with other students in your class and look to see how well they have dealt with the task. (For example in Writing Task 1: Have they included all the key features? Are some figures quoted to support the features? Is there a clear overview? Is the information logically organised and linked in paragraphs?)
  • get your teacher’s feedback on these points
  • choose a book which gives sample answers to writing tasks so you can compare your answers with the samples and see how to improve your thinking and your writing.
Preparing for the IELTS Speaking test

Louis Rodgers, Co-author of Foundation IELTS Masterclass published by Oxford University Press

Louis RodgersIt’s important to learn how you are graded in the IELTS Speaking test. You are marked in four main areas:

  • Fluency and coherence, i.e. how fluently you speak and how well you link your ideas
  • Pronunciation, i.e. how accurate your pronunciation is
  • Lexical resource , i.e. how accurate and varied your vocabulary is
  • Grammatical range and accuracy, i.e. how accurate and varied your grammar is

The following are some ideas for practicing these key areas on your own.

Tip 1 – Fluency and coherence

Choose one of the following topics and record yourself speaking.

  • How you spend your free time
  • Describe the environmental problems your town is facing
  • What changes should be made to school education

Set a stop watch at the start but do not look at the stop watch. Stop when you think you have spoken for 30 seconds. When you have finished:

  • Look at the time – how long did you actually speak for?
  • Play your recording to a friend – do they think you speak quickly or slowly?
  • Write down what you said word for word. When you have finished, add in full stops and commas. Play back the audio – did you pause in the correct places?
  • Look at the text you have written down – underline any examples you gave, circle any linkers you used, e.g. ‘but‘.

Tip 2 – Pronunciation

Many topics frequently appear in IELTS tests, for example, education, the environment, society, the media, work etc. Create sets of vocabulary in these areas to learn and practice. Use an online dictionary to check you know how to pronounce these words accurately.

Watch short news stories on these topic areas. Many news websites also provide transcripts. Listen to one or two sentences and try to write down what you hear. Compare what you wrote down to the transcript. How similar are they? Play the video again and practice repeating the sentences as you listen.

Tip 3  – Lexical resource

Look at the topic and brainstorm words and phrases you could use to speak about this topic. Compare your list to the vocabulary list below.

  • Have you ever bought anything because of an advertisement?

Possible words and phrases include commercial, banner, link, online advertising, product placement, brand-awareness, billboard, broadsheet, circular, endorse, jingle, infomercial, mass mailing, merchandising, promotion, public relations, logo, slogan, influence, persuasion, judgement, perception.

Tip 4 – Grammar

Choose one topic area common to IELTS, such as family, the environment, the media, health etc. Brainstorm some questions on the topic. Write the questions using different grammatical structures. For example:

  • Who in your family has influenced you the most?
  • How has the role of family changed in your country?
  • Is it better to have a large or small family? Why?
  • How might families be different in the future?

Think about your answers to these questions. What grammatical structures might you use? For example, you might use ‘used to‘ to answer the second question above and say that family used to play a more/less important role than it does now.

How to prepare for IELTS the day before your test

Rob McComish, Head of the IELTS Department at Everest Language School, Dublin

Rob McComishStop studying! On the day before your exam, don’t try to learn anything new. Calmly take the time to review what you already know. Look back over your notes from class and check the errors in your past writing assignments.

Surround yourself with English. The day before your exam and on the morning of your exam, only read, write, speak and listen to English. When you get sick and tired of IELTS watch a TED talk in English, read about your interests in English, chat to someone online in English or listen to a Radiolab podcast.

Plan to plan. The day before the exam, decide how many paragraphs you will write in each writing task. You have very little time to waste when you are in the exam, so decide beforehand which task you are going to write first and how you are going to write it. This goes for the reading too, decide whether you will start with the easiest text or the hardest one. Making decisions in the exam wastes time and energy; make as many of them as you can before the day of the exam.


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6 comments on “How to prepare for IELTS: What the experts say

    1. Thanks for your comment. While I agree that practice is important (necessary in fact), it is also important to understand how you are assessed in IELTS, reflect on how you can better answer IELTS questions, and continue improving your English in ways other than doing IELTS practice tests.

  1. What I found, when you applying for IELTS, do not mention you have degree or higher, and say if you need 7 each to apply ICT category, mention your occupation category, something different which require 7.5 or 8 in each.
    You will get score 7+ as you required in this way. There’s no issue with this on migration process.

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