Recently I received an email from one of the readers of this site asking me for a list of my top ten best IELTS tips.
Obviously everyone who sits the IELTS Test wants to maximize their score so I’m going to share with you ten of the tips I have shared with my students over the years. Please note that these tips are in no particular order.
Best IELTS Tip One
Prepare, prepare, prepare! The best IELTS preparation is divided into two parts; you need to both improve your English language and understand and know the layout of the test.
These two factors are equally important as obviously it’s your English language ability that’s being tested here but let me tell you, I know many native speakers who would find taking the IELTS Test challenging because they are not aware of how the test operates.
So, my suggestion? Find yourself a good teacher; either at a language school or online (keep your eye on this site for an online IELTS tutoring course early next year. Secondly, make sure you do plenty of practice tests and exercises before you sit the test.
Best IELTS Tip Two
Read the instructions to each part of the test. A lot of candidates think they can save time by skipping reading the instructions but this is a foolish move as the instructions often contain necessary information on how to answer the questions correctly; for example in the Listening Test, the instructions often tell you where the conversation is taking place or in the Reading Test, the instructions may tell you how many words to use in an answer (NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS).
Best IELTS Tip Three
In the IELTS Reading Test and the IELTS Writing Test, do NOT take any notice of what the other candidates are doing. Work at your own pace, follow my tips for writing a plan for your writing; don’t just dive in. If you’ve done some timed practice tests as I always suggest, you should have an idea of how to manage your time in the hour long test.
Now, I’m about to say the opposite for the IELTS Listening Test! One of the most common problems that students who’ve taken the IELTS Test report back to me is that they ‘got lost’ in the Listening Test. It’s not always a question of language here; sometimes you simply lose concentration for a second and ‘Oh know’, you’re lost! Okay, don’t panic, try and catch up and listen out for what the other students are doing. If you hear lots of people turning the page, then guess what? They’re on to the question at the top of the next page. I actually had a student in this exact situation; he lost concentration during the Listening Test (he wasn’t very good at listening in his native Punjabi either) but he managed to salvage the situation and get back on track when he heard the other candidates turn the page.
Best IELTS Tip Four
One of the most common complaints I hear about the IELTS Reading and Writing Tests is that there isn’t enough time. Well, the test is what it is so we’ve got to learn techniques to deal with it.
You should read as much as possible and train yourself to pick out the main ideas as quickly as possible. Some students of mine have had success with books on speed reading techniques (this, of course, depends on how much time you have at your disposal). In any case, you do need to do plenty of timed IELTS practice reading tests.
I always tell my students to write a quick plan for their IELTS Writing. Students often feel; ‘I don’t have time to write a plan; it will slow me down’. In fact the opposite is true; if you’ve laid out a short plan, you know exactly what you’re going to write about and can get right into it. If your native language does not have the same script (alphabet) as English, it can sometimes be more difficult to write quickly. I always give my students timed exercises where they have to copy out paragraphs in English. Remember that in Task 1, for example, you have to write about 150 words in 20 minutes.
You should listen to English as much as possible; you can listen to the radio in English or select the English language option (without subtitles) on a DVD. If you live in a country where English is the native language, you should try to spend as much time with English speakers to improve both your listening and speaking. If you are studying in your own country, why not get a group together and organise one evening a week where you speak only English.
Best IELTS Tip Five
Never leave an answer blank in the Reading and Listening Tests. There are many different question types you may have to answer such as multiple choice and short answer questions. If you really don’t know the answer, try to make an ‘educated guess’; that is, use logic to work out the answer. If you leave a blank, you have definitely not scored a point, if you guess well, you will! Make sure you follow the rules of the question, for example NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS means just that!
Best IELTS Tip Six
Try to eliminate simple grammar mistakes before the test; for example the use of tenses and articles. You can revise the rules about articles in this post Best IELTS Grammar for Writing and Speaking – Articles.
Best IELTS Tip Seven
In the Speaking Test, if you are asked a question give more than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Be helpful and willing to answer questions. This is your chance to shine! Don’t waste the opportunity. The Examiner wants to hear YOU speak, not his/her own voice! You should aim to be speaking about 75/80% of the time. Before your test, check out the Speaking Band Descriptors and think about how to be as fluent as possible whilst maintaining good grammar and pronunciation features.
Best IELTS Tip Eight
Keep up to date with current affairs; read a newspaper in English every day if possible. Not only will this improve your English, it will also help you to answer questions in a more interesting way in the Writing and Speaking Tests. In my opinion, only by reading widely can you improve your vocabulary which will help in all four parts of the test.
Best IELTS Tip Nine
Make sure you follow the guidelines in the IELTS Writing Test; 20 minutes and 150 words for Task 1 and 40 minutes and 250 words for Task 2. Task 2 carries two-thirds of the marks so do not cut into your Task 2 time, by writing pages and pages on Task 1!
As a general rule, I usually recommend that my students write between 150 and 180 words for task 1 and 250 and 300 words for task 2. The ideal would be to write just a little more than the minimum number of words required for each task.
Best IELTS Tip Ten
Make sure you are in ‘peak condition’ for your test; get a good night’s sleep the night before, eat a good breakfast on the day (and make sure you take your lunch if your Speaking Test is in the afternoon). Plan your trip to the IELTS Test Centre so that you arrive in plenty of time.
You also need to learn to relax as much as possible (easy to say I know!); I know that the IELTS Test is very important to you but as my late grandfather used to say to me; ‘it’s only an exam’. You need to enter the test in a calm frame of mind; ‘OK, this is only a test; I’m going to do the best I can, hopefully get the band score I want but if not, I’ll learn from the experience’.
Here’s to the best IELTS score possible!