IELTS Preparation- The Ultimate Guide

So, you’ve decided to do the IELTS test- now all you need to do is come up with an effective plan for IELTS preparation. Doing IELTS preparation the right way can save you time, money and ensure that you get the score you need.

This guide will show you exactly what you need to think about and how to prepare.

Below we will look at why IELTS preparation is so hard and solutions to that problem. We will look at each area of the IELTS test in detail and I will give you links to all of the best online resources.

Finally, I help you develop a plan of action that suits your individual needs.

Why is IELTS Preparation So Difficult?

Quite simply, there is so much information out there and students do not know which sources they can trust. IELTS can take months (sometimes years!) of hard work and thousands of dollars in tuition and test fees, so there is a lot of pressure to get it right first time.

There are three main things you need to improve:

  1. General level of English (Slow)
  2. Test skills (Medium)
  3. Knowing how the test is marked (Fast)

General Level of English

IELTS is essentially an English language test, therefore, the higher your level of English, the better your score should be. Simply studying IELTS skills and doing practice tests will not be enough if your level of English is not high enough.

As indicated above, this is probably the slowest part of IELTS preparation. Most English schools recommend at least 6 months to improve a student’s level of English by the equivalent of 0.5- 1 band score.

I will show you how you can improve your general level of English, at home, below.

Test Skills

There are four parts to the IELTS test- Writing, Speaking, Reading and Listening. Each of these parts has many different possible questions and each of them has a specific skill that you need to acquire.

For example, academic students can expect to see one of seven different types of question in Task 1 Writing. Each of these different types of question requires differing skills.

The Listening and Reading tests have over 10 different types of questions each. Again, all of these questions requires a different strategy and set of skills.

The majority of your IELTS preparation should be spent learning these skills and when these are combined with a high level of English it should result in a high score.

Learning these skills does not take as much time as learning the language itself, but does take a significant amount of time. Most schools recommend spending 2-3 months learning these skills.

I will address how to improve these, at home, below.

Knowing How the Test is Marked

The fastest and most effective way to improve your score is knowing exactly what the examiners want and giving it to them. Most of my teachings are based on this principal.

However, you can’t simply learn this and get a high score; they should be combined with improving your level of English and test skills.

Below we will look at the official marking criteria to help us understand what the examiner want.

Step-by-Step Approach to IELTS Preparation

  1. Decide if you are doing General Training or Academic

IELTS preparation 1

2. Understand the Test Format

IELTS Preparation test format 1

3. Set Realistic Goals

The keyword here is ‘realistic’. There is a big difference between the score you want and the score you are realistically going to get.

Effective IELTS preparation will help you succeed and will ensure that you get the best score you can possibly get, but it does not ensure miracles.

4. Understand Marking Criteria

The article below will explain what the band scores mean, how examiners decide them and the official marking criteria used to mark you test. Click the link below.

IELTS Scores

5. Understand the Different Question Types

There are more than 10 different types of question for Reading and Listening. Again, there are more than 10 different kinds of question on the Writing test.

Knowing these will give you a huge advantage because each of them requires a different approach and strategy. I have them all for you in each of the skills sections below.

6. Perfect Your IELTS Skills

As mentioned above, there are many different approaches and strategies that you need in order to succeed in IELTS. For example, do you know how to write an effective introduction and conclusion? Do you know how to develop your answers in the speaking test? Do you know how to quickly locate the correction information in the reading test?

All of these skills will be addressed below.

7. Improve Your Vocabulary

Vocabulary is a huge part of the IELTS test. It covers 25% of your total mark in Speaking and Writing. It is also tested in the Reading and Listening tests.

You should implement a vocabulary improvement plan as quickly as possible. Click below to download one now.

8. Practice English Every Day

When it comes to improving your English, there really is no substitute for practicing a little every day.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways you can practice every day and it doesn’t have to be doing boring IELTS tests. My most successful students have all found something that they enjoyed doing in English and then did this regularly. The more you use English, the more your skills will improve and the higher chance you have of getting the score you need.

Below are lots of ways to improve your English at home:

25 Free Online Language Learning Tools

7 Great Ways to Learn English at Home For Free

You can also combine learning English with the most common IELTS topics. There are some topics, such as the environment, education and technology, that come up again and again. Reading and listening within these common topics is a very powerful technigue that will help you improve your vocabulary and your ideas, all at the same time as improving your English.

Below you will find links to the most common IELTS topics.

Common Essay Topics

Speaking Topics

9. Practice Tests

You should do IELTS practice tests in order to establish what your current band score is and also to familiarise yourself with the test.

However, there are two things that I should warn you about before doing these.

The first thing is that there are lots of fake tests. These tests can be found online or in your local bookstore. Where I live there are hundreds of books in my local store all claiming to offer ‘official’ tests. The problem with this is that they are often written by people who know nothing about IELTS and are simply looking to make a few dollars.

Fake tests can be very misleading and often prevent students from understanding what the real test is like.

You should only do tests from official and trustworthy sources. The best sources of past papers are the Cambridge Past Papers books.

Below are other reliable sources of practice tests:

British Council

IELTS Essentials

IDP

The second thing I would like to warn you about is don’t make these the only part of your IELTS preparation. Lots of students that I know do IELTS practice tests all day, every day and most of them improve very little. They should only be used as a test of your current ability. You should spend most of your time improving your level of English and your IELTS skills.

If you are practicing all week, you should only be really doing 1 or 2 practice tests. In other words, they should be a very small, but important, part of your IELTS preparation.

10. Get Your Speaking and Writing Assessed

It is very important that you get a qualified teacher to assess your speaking and writing. They will be able to tell you your current level, but more importantly, they will be able to tell you what your weaknesses are.

This is probably the most important part of your IELTS preparation. If you do not know what your weaknesses are, you are really wasting a lot of time because you have no idea what to focus on. You must focus on the things that you are not good at in order to improve.

The most effective strategy for IELTS preparation is to find out your weaknesses, go away and work on them and then come back and have your work assessed by an experienced IELTS teacher. They can then tell you if you have improved or not and then advise you on what to focus on next.

If you would like me to assess your writing, please click the link below.

Essay Correction Service

IELTS Writing Task 2 Preparation

Writing Task 2 Skills

Below you will find links to complete guides on the most essential Writing Task 2 skills.

Planning

Question Analysis

Ideas Generation

Complex Sentences

Introductions

Main Body Paragraphs

Conclusions

Cohesive Devices

Full Lessons

Below you will find complete lessons on each of the different Task 2 question types.

Structures

Opinion Essays

Discussion Essays

Problems/Causes and Solutions

Advantages and Disadvantages

Sample Answers

Below you will find a link to lots of Band 9 samples answers. Use these to compare and assess your writing.

Sample Answers

Summary

IELTS Writing Task 2 Steps

IELTS Writing Task 1 (Academic) Preparation

IELTS Academic writing Task 1 Infogram

Writing Task 1 Lessons

Below you will find links to complete guides on the most essential Writing Task 1 skills.

Task 1 in 5 Easy Steps

How to Paraphrase

How to Write an Overview

Charts Lesson

Maps Lesson

Multiple Graphs Lesson

Process Lesson

Grammar and Vocabulary Guide

IELTS Writing Task 1 (General) Preparation

Below you will find all the help you need to prepare for Task 1 if you are doing General Training.

How to Write an Informal Letter 

How to Write a Formal Letter 

Letter Writing Tips

GT Task 1 Strategy

IELTS Speaking Preparation

Part 1

In part 1 you will be asked questions on familiar topics. Click below for lots of sample questions and answers.

Part 1 Common Topics and Sample Answers

Easy Ways to Extend Your Answers

Part 1 Dos and Don’ts

Part 2 

This part of the test allows you to speak for longer on a given topic.

You will be given a card with a particular topic on it, and this will include key points that you should talk about.

You will be given one minute to plan and then you will talk for between 1-2 minutes.

Below are some tips that I give to all of my IELTS Speaking classes:

Speaking Part 2 Tips

Speaking Part 2 Strategy

Part 3 

In part 3 test the examiner will ask further questions which are linked to the topic talked about in part 2.

This part of the test is designed to give you the opportunity to talk about things in a more abstract way.

Part 3 The Ultimate Guide

Part 3 Common Questions

Part 3 Tips

IELTS Speaking Criteria

It is essential that you understand the criteria examiners use to assess your speaking. Here is a guide:

Speaking Criteria

IELTS Reading Preparation

There are several different types of questions on the IELTS reading test and each one has its own problems and strategy. Click on any of the links below for a full step-by-step guide.

Short Answer Questions

Multiple Choice 

Summary Completion

Matching Sentence Endings 

Sentence Completion 

True, False, Not Given 

Matching Headings Tips and Strategy

Labeling a Diagram 

Matching Names 

Matching Information to Paragraphs

Secret to Getting a 9 on Your Reading Test 

Top 10 IELTS Reading Tips 

IELTS Listening Preparation

Below is a list of resources to help you prepare for the IELTS listening test at home.

Summary Completion Lesson

IELTS Listening Overview and Tips 

IELTS Listening Form Filling Question Tips

IELTS Listening Practice

Multiple Choice Questions

Labeling a Map or Plan

Best Podcasts for English Learners

Action Plan

Now that you know what to do, it’s time to make a study plan.

Everyone will use do this differently; however, below are some of the things you need to consider when making your study schedule:

1. The date of your test:

How many days/weeks before your test?

Is it flexible i.e. can you change the date?

2. How much time do you have per day to study?

You should aim to be able to study in peace and quiet and totally focus on what you are doing.

Do you have more time on particular days, such as Saturday and Sunday?

What other commitments do you have?

Are there any commitments that you can stop doing until you do your IELTS test? This will free up a lot of time.

You should be realistic with this. Be honest with yourself.

3. What is your current English level?

The higher your general level of English, the faster you will be able to complete this course.

4. What is your learning style?

Can you normally understand everything first time or do you have to go away and think about it alone.

Do you prefer to study with other people or by yourself?

I recommend sitting down with a calendar and filling out all of the days you want to study on with the things you need to do above. This will help you stay organised and reduce any stress you have about preparing for the test. This will also give you an idea about how much work you will have to do each study day.

You can do this with a paper calendar or you can use one of the many apps available online.

The more organised you are now, the easier your preparation will be.

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