So, you’ve decided to take the IELTS test – now, all you need is some guidance to help you come up with an effective plan for your IELTS preparation.
This guide will show you everything you’ll need to consider when preparing for your IELTS exam in 2020.
To begin, I simplify common challenges into three key stages of IELTS preparation. I will then walk you through my step-by-step approach to IELTS preparation, including how to get started, an in-depth understanding of the exam and a strategy for improving your skills.
As you progress through this article, you will also find links to some of the best free IELTS resources and practice materials around. Finally, I will help you develop a plan of action that suits your individual needs.
Doing this properly can save you time, money and energy, ensuring that you get the score you need the first time around. By following my preparation guide, you will equip yourself with all of the tools required to get the score you need.
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 the first time.
There are three main things you need to improve:
- General level of English (Slow)
- Test skills (Medium)
- 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 your 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.
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 principle.
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 wants.
Step-by-Step Approach to IELTS Preparation
1. Decide if you are doing General Training or Academic
2. Understand the Test Format
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 preparation will help you succeed and will ensure that you get the best score you can possibly get, but it does not ensure miracles.
Click here to read our article: How Long Will it Take Me to Get the Score I Need?
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 your test. Click the link below.
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:
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 technique 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.
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:
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 practising 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 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.
How will I know that I’m ready for the IELTS exam?
Hundreds of thousands of students fail the IELTS exam each year for one simple reason:
They book the test before they are ready for it!
In my experience, there is only one question you need to ask yourself to decide whether you’re ready for the IELTS exam.
IELTS Preparation: Pass 3x Faster
One of the most popular questions I get on my YouTube Channel is:
Chris, how can I prepare for my IELTS exam quickly?
Truthfully, the answer to this question will be different for every person reading this article, which makes it difficult for me to give one solution that will help everyone.
However, what I can tell you is how to prepare for your exam PROPERLY!
Find out how to improve your preparation and accelerate your IELTS journey here:
IELTS Writing Task 2 Preparation
Writing Task 2 Skills
Below you will find links to complete guides on the essential Writing Task 2 skills.
- Question Analysis
- Ideas Generation
- Complex Sentences
- Main Body Paragraphs
- Cohesive Devices
Below you will find complete lessons on each of the different Task 2 question types.
- 8 Steps to Success
- Opinion Essays
- Discussion Essays
- Problems/Causes and Solutions
- Advantages and Disadvantages
Below you will find a link to lots of Band 9 samples answers. Use these to compare and assess your writing.
IELTS Writing Task 1 (Academic) Preparation
Writing Task 1 Lessons
Below you will find links to complete guides on the essential Writing Task 1 skills.
- Academic Task 1 Checklist
- 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.
IELTS Speaking Preparation
In part 1 you will be asked questions on familiar topics. Click below for lots of sample questions and answers.
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:
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.
IELTS Speaking Skills
Below you will find a number of posts designed to help you improve your IELTS speaking exam technique:
IELTS Speaking Criteria
It is essential that you understand the criteria examiners use to assess your speaking. Here is a guide:
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 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
- Labelling a Map or Plan
- Best Podcasts for English Learners
Test Day Advice
You are now ready for your test and all of your IELTS Preparation is complete. Here is a checklist to ensure you do your best on test day:
- Get to bed early. You’ll need lots of sleep.
- Eat a good breakfast. Eat more than you normally do so that you won’t get tired and hungry. Protein and fat are better than simple carbohydrates.
- Wear comfortable clothes. This isn’t a time for showing off your fashion sense.
- Don’t forget to bring your ID and essential documents.
- Make sure you know where the test centre is and how to get there.
- Get to the test centre early. Do not throw away all of your IELTS preparation by being late.
- Find out where everything is, including your test room and the toilets.
- Bring some water and some sugary food or drinks. Don’t drink too much because bathroom breaks will take up time.
- Do not panic. Stress is normal. Use that nervous energy to focus, but do not allow it to control you.
- Do not be afraid to ask the staff for help if you need anything. They are there to help you.
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.
We are very lucky to have a huge number of successful students who have shared their IELTS stories with you.
Below you’ll find testimonials from just some of our successful students.
From Failure to Band 8.5 in Just 1 Month
I am very proud of Sana. She failed to get the scores she needed the first time but kept going and managed to get an amazing Band 8.5 overall.
She was kind enough to share her experience with you all in a detailed video.
I crowdsourced the questions from you guys, so thanks very much for that. In the video we look at:
– How to identify your areas of weakness.
– How to boost your level of English.
– How much time did it take to reach 8.5?
– Thoughts on the ‘perfect’ essay.
– How to cope with stress.
– + her advice for listening, reading, speaking and writing.
How This Doctor Went from Band 5.5 to 7.5 in IELTS
Doctor Aidrous is one of the students I am most proud of. He worked extremely hard to get the score he needed and moved from 5.5 to 7.5.
He showed up to all of my classes and steadily improved with each session.
He has kindly agreed to share his experience and give you all some inspiration.
From IELTS Band 6.5 to Band 7 in 2 Weeks
Daniela was in the same position many of you are in. She got 6.5 in IELTS Writing but needed a 7.
She tried going to a big IELTS school in her hometown but didn’t get the help she really needed.
In just 2 weeks, we helped her get to a Band 7 level.
She very kindly shared her experience with you in this video and gave some great advice to anyone struggling with their writing.
How Crystal Achieved Band 8 After Failing her IELTS Test Many Times
I am proud of all my students, but I have to admit I have a soft spot for students who show massive amounts of perseverance, determination and consistency.
Crystal achieved a Band 8 overall after trying and failing many times.
She was kind enough to share her story with you all. In this video we look at:
– How she identified her writing weaknesses.
– How perfectionism was ruining her speaking performance.
– How she achieved a Band 9 in Listening.
– How she improved her vocabulary.
IELTS Preparation Courses
All of the students above attended one of my IELTS preparation courses.
You are probably thinking ‘What makes you different?’
In a nutshell, our students’ success is our success, so we strive to create the best IELTS courses and service in the world.
What also makes us different is our unique system.
- We first help you to identify the exact reasons why you are not getting the score you need. We do this by looking at your work and giving you feedback.
- We then teach you how to fix those weaknesses and turn them into strengths. We do this through our course video platform.
- You will then put what you have learned into practice and we will continue to give you personalised feedback on what you are currently not doing well enough yet.
- We will help you refine and fix any problems until you are able to do everything effectively. You are then ready for the test.
For more information about our IELTS Preparation courses, please visit our VIP Academy. If you’d like to hear what our students have to say, you should read our VIP Academy Reviews. If you have any questions about joining, please feel free to email me- email@example.com
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What is the IELTS exam?
IELTS stands for ‘International English Language Testing System’ and is an English proficiency exam. This exam will test your reading, writing, speaking and listening skills. Click here to read our article that answers this question in more detail.
How much will the IELTS exam cost me?
You can find out by visiting the official British Council website here.
What score do I need to achieve?
We can’t answer this question for you. You need to find out by contacting one of the following:
- Your employer
- Your immigration office
- Your school or university
How can I register for the IELTS exam?
You need to book your exam through an official IELTS body (eg. IELTS, IDP or the British Council). The IELTS website also has a useful online tool that shows you where your nearest test centre is. Check it out here.
Can I get the certificate without taking the exam?
If you are told otherwise, it’s likely that you’re being scammed. Read more here.
How do I begin my preparation?
This depends on how new you are to IELTS. If you’re completely new to IELTS, check out our article for IELTS beginners here. If you have a basic knowledge of the exam and need to organise your studies, check out our IELTS Preparation Guide here.
Do I need a study plan?
No, a study plan is not required to do well in the IELTS exam.
However, If I’m being honest, my most successful students share one key trait in common: the ability to create and follow a study plan. Doing so allowed them to set realistic goals, maintain a positive mindset and organise their studies in a controlled manner.
You can find help with creating your own study plan in this article.
Is it possible to score a Band 8?
Yes, we have helped a large number of students score an overall Band 8 on their IELTS exam. You can watch their stories here.
Should I do IELTS General or Academic?
That depends on your reasons for taking the IELTS exam. You’ll find a useful infographic which describes the difference between the two tests in our IELTS Preparation Guide.