Category Archives: IELTS Information

Best IELTS Online Preparation course (Academic) launched in 2016!

info-31185_1280As some of you know, I plan to launch my IELTS Online Preparation course (Academic version) this year.  It will be a members only area on this blog.   The General Training course is already up and running, and the feedback has been positive.

Both these courses contain targeted information and practice to aid you in a successful result.

Here’s to the best IELTS score possible!

Best IELTS top ten tips.

info-31185_1280Recently 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!

Best IELTS Last Minute Test Tips.

info-31185_1280A few days ago I got an email from a visitor to this site asking me for any last minute IELTS tips to help him get the best IELTS score possible when he takes the test in a few weeks.

In this post, I’ve put together a list of general tips that I give my students. You can find tips specific to the different skills tests (listening, reading, writing and speaking) in the relevant sections under ‘IELTS Preparation’. I have divided the tips into three sections; before the test, during the test and after the test.

I apologise in advance if any of my tips make me sound like I am your mother; I’m a mother too!

Before The Test

The aim before test day is to prepare yourself as well as possible and hopefully help reduce your stress and nervousness in the process.

Some of the tips in this post may seem obvious but they are often forgotten:

1. Find out as much as possible about IELTS Test procedure so that you know what to expect; this will make you feel much more in control and relaxed. If you still have any questions after reading this post, contact the Test Centre where you are sitting the test and I’m sure they will be able to help you.

2. You should have done various practice tests before the test to give you some kind of an idea of where you sit on the IELTS Band Scale. If you are taking lessons, you teacher should be able to help you with this. If you are interested in me marking some writing tasks for you or conducting a practice interview over skype, please contact me.  The reason I think it’s so important to have an idea of your approximate level before you take the test is so that your expectations are as realistic as possible and you know what work needs to be done, should you have to re-sit the test.

3. The day before the test you should get everything you need together, re-read the instructions that the IELTS Test Centre sent you, the ‘Rules and Regulations’ and ‘Advice and Information’ from the application form. In particular you should make sure you take the same ID that you used for the application or you will not be allowed to sit the test.

4. OK, here’s the ‘mum bit’! Make sure you get a good night’s sleep the night before the test and don’t sit up all night ‘studying’. As with any language test, the IELTS Test is not an exam you can cram for. The best thing to do would be to try and relax. If you really feel you must do something ‘constructive’, then watch a DVD in English or read an English magazine (something relaxing that you enjoy).

Test Day

OK, so now the ‘big day’ is here. You need to be as relaxed as possible, which, I know, is easier said than done. If you know any good ways to make you feel relaxed, for example yoga or meditation, put them into practice. Try not to spend your time before the test drinking lots of coffee and chain-smoking!

1. Eat a substantial breakfast!

2. Make sure you leave for the test in plenty of time. You don’t want to arrive at the test centre rushing and stressed or worse, late and not permitted to sit the test.

3. You are not allowed to take your belongings into the exam room; you have to leave them outside. The test centre will look after your things carefully but for your own peace of mind, if you are the kind of person who worries a lot (like me!), try not to take anything valuable with you on the day of the test. You do not want to be thinking about the possibility of your valuables being stolen when you should be concentrating on the test.

4. Make sure you visit the toilet before going in to the exam room. Ideally, you don’t want to waste valuable time during the test, being accompanied to the toilet by an IELTS member of staff.

After The Test

Don’t do a ‘post-mortem’ of the test by discussing it with other candidates; you can’t change anything now.

It’s probably not a bad idea, however, to spend a little time on your own reflecting how you think you did in each test and making a few notes about things you found problematic or that might affect your score. This will help you analyse your results and in your future preparation should you unfortunately find yourself in the position that you have to re-sit the test. You should then put your notes away somewhere sate and try to forget about the test until you get your results.


My students have found these tips to be ‘good, sensible advice’. I hope you find them useful.


Here’s to the best IELTS score possible!

Band 9 – The best IELTS score possible.

info-31185_1280I am very proud of the fact that the majority of my students achieve the IELTS Band Score they need first time.  I have also received some excellent feedback in emails from people who have either done a practice IELTS Speaking Test with me on skype or have had some of their IELTS Writing corrected by me.

I really do think that some feedback from a qualified IELTS tutor (either online or offline) is very valuable, even if you have decided to study by yourself or know that your English is of a very high standard already.  To do well in the IELTS test, you need to concentrate both on your level and on the necessary strategies to do the test well.

Recently, I conducted a couple of lessons with a native speaker of English!  Jon is from Liverpool, UK (coincidentally, my hometown, although we didn’t know each other before coming to Australia) and is a psychiatric nurse.  He needed to sit the IELTS General Training test for his permanent residency visa (as a skilled migrant) and felt quite nervous about the test. Needless to say, he’s just scored 9 in his test.  This example does show, though, that even someone with a very high level of English saw the benefit of getting feedback from a qualified IELTS tutor to understand the layout of the test and the necessary strategies.

So, here are some of the pointers I gave Jon that he said he found particularly useful.


•    Make sure you note down all your answers on your question paper while the recording is playing.  You can use shorthand and abbreviations if you want to, to make it quicker, you don’t have to worry about it being neat (the Examiner doesn’t see your question paper) but make sure that YOU can read your own handwriting as you are given 10 minutes transfer time at the end of the test to copy your answers to your answer sheet.  Make sure your handwriting on your answer sheet is neat and legible (the Examiner does read this part!)

•    Even native speakers need to concentrate quite hard in the listening test as you only hear it once and if you let your mind wander you can miss hearing an answer.  If your centre uses headphones, make sure that the volume is high enough to block out any distractions but not so loud that the sound is distorted.


•    Never, never, never leave an answer blank.  As a teacher in class, I’d tell students to make sure they understand all their answers fully so that we can talk about why a particular answer is correct / incorrect but this isn’t a lesson; it’s the test.  Remember that if you don’t write anything, you’ve got a 100% chance of scoring zero for that question.  If you write something, it might be correct.  Make an educated guess. (This also applies to the listening test).

•    Underline the key words in each paragraph before you answer the questions.

Writing (Task 1)

•    Make sure you answer the question!  Include all the information required in the bullet points.

•    Try not to include lots of irrelevant details.

Writing (Task 2)

•    Write at least 4 paragraphs (introduction, body and conclusion).  The neatest and most common way to separate paragraphs nowadays is to leave a blank line between paragraphs and to start a new paragraph at the beginning of a line. (When I and the psychiatric nurse were at school, the common trend was to indent the first line of a paragraph).

•    Make sure you plan and write notes (about 8 – 10 points).  Think about how you will connect these points in the essay, make sure they are relevant to your argument and make sure you can explain them or support them with examples.  Writing the points down before you write the essay will keep you focussed and ensure that you don’t forget to write about them.

•    Make sure you don’t write less than 250 words; conversely do NOT write too much (try to set yourself an upper limit of about 280 words, certainly do NOT write more than 300 words).  Your aim is to write a well-structured, grammatically correct essay, more words do not mean more points!

•    Be aware of using appropriate idioms and expressions in your writing (there is a difference between spoken and written English).  For non-native speakers, I would also add that you shouldn’t use a phrase or idiom if you’re not about what it means or how it is used.


•    Maintain eye contact with the Examiner (this is good manners and also helps establish a relationship).

•    Try not to be nervous and be as confident as possible.

•    Use the one-minute preparation time in part 2 to think about what you are going to say and make a few notes.

•    Try to speak about all the points on your card in part 2.

•    If you’re not sure if what you are about to speak about in part 2 really answers the question, tell the Examiner; ‘I’ve been asked to speak about ‘blah’, I’m not sure if this is completely related, but I’m going to speak about ‘blah, blah’.

•    Remember that the Examiner is not trying to ‘catch you out’. You want to do your best and the Examiner also wants you to speak to the best of your ability.  Relax and enjoy it!

Here’s to the best IELTS score possible!

Create a good impression on the examiner in your IELTS test.

info-31185_1280I remember when I was at school and then at university, I always had an image of examiners as just ‘examiners’.  What I mean to say is that it never used to enter my head that they were just normal people, who loved their family and had hobbies and a life outside of examining.

Just remember that IELTS examiners are simply normal people whose field of expertise is assessing your English language level, in the same way that your field of expertise may be engineering, medicine, hairdressing or being a homemaker.

Bearing in mind that your examiner is a normal human being, you’ve got to consider certain psychological factors.  Of course, what I’m about to do is merely make some observations about human beings in general; these observations are non-official and are in no way part of the IELTS assessment process. I just want you to consider your examiner both ‘as an examiner and a human being’.

Examiners are trained to assess your level of written and spoken English using set criteria from the IELTS examining body.  They are obliged to follow the IELTS assessment criteria strictly but there will always be cases where for example, the examiner may be wavering between giving you a band score 6 or a band score 7 and it could be the tiniest of factors that nudges him/her into giving you the higher (or lower) band score.

So, here we go.  I’m going to give you some tips in no particular order.

Let’s consider the IELTS Speaking Test first:

  • Arrive on time for your Speaking Test; this is common courtesy.  You expect your examiner to be on time, don’t you?

When you are late, it often makes you flustered and stressed, which obviously affects the way you perform in your test.

I’m sure that it can also be quite irritating for the examiner.

Bear in mind that IELTS Speaking Test interviews are scheduled every 20 minutes so if you arrive 15 minutes late, it makes things difficult.

I once heard of a candidate who arrived 40 minutes late and was then rude to the examiner!  Now, the majority of centres will not test a candidate who arrives this late but even if the centre let you take your test; imagine the impression you create if you arrive 40 minutes late and then are rude to the examiner?!

Now, all IELTS examiners are professionals but psychologically, what do you think might happen if the candidate in the previous example were on the border of band 6 and band 7?


As in any interview in life, you’re trying to create a positive image of yourself in the mind of the interviewer.  That doesn’t mean you have to be deferential; the interview is a meeting of two equals, but you should be polite, pleasant and confident.

  • Don’t forget that the Speaking Test is a meeting of two equals; you’re on the same side!  You want to do well in this test and the examiner wants you to perform to the best of your ability so try to relax and enjoy the process.

Inform yourself about what is expected in the different parts of the test; you can find this out on the official IELTS website, then follow the examiner’s cues.

Give full but relevant answers so not only can the examiner see your ability but it helps the interview flow.  The psychological impression you want to create for both of you is that of a team working together on a common project for the next 11-14 minutes.

Let’s move on to talk about the IELTS Writing Test:

  • Remember how your teacher at high school used to tell you to be careful with your handwriting?  Well, clear handwriting creates a positive impression on people in life.  I have terrible handwriting and constantly try to write more neatly as I’m aware of this fact.

Now, handwriting does not affect your band score but again, let’s think about the psychology of the reader.  How do you think someone feels if they’re painfully trying to read a barely legible essay?  Your terrible handwriting could be hiding some of that fantastic vocabulary and grammar you’re using!

  • In my last post, I talked about the descriptors your examiner will be using to mark your writing; see the public versions of these descriptors for Task 1 and Task 2 at  You will notice that one of the criteria for assessment, in both Task 1 and Task 2 writing is Coherence and Cohesion.


So here, you’re trying to strike the balance between your writing sounding ‘babyish’ and stilted because you don’t use any cohesive devices and your writing sounding contrived and strange because you overuse or misuse them.


Try to use cohesive devices appropriately.  When you use the word ‘moreover’ do you really mean ‘moreover’.  Don’t just learn a ‘list of good cohesive devices to use’; trust me; I’ve known a lot of people who do this!  Always learn cohesive devices in context and practise using them in context.  Ask native speakers what they understand by the sentence you’ve just written.


Equally important, in my opinion, is to use idiomatic expressions appropriately.  Ask native speakers BEFORE you take the exam about typical idiomatic expressions in English.

As a teacher, I frequently read the expression ‘Every coin has two sides’ in my students’ writing and found myself constantly saying, ‘I know what you mean, but we don’t say it like this in English.’

Do your research!

Here’s to the best IELTS score possible!

Frequently Asked Questions about the IELTS test part 3.

info-31185_1280In the last two posts, I’ve been answering some frequently asked questions about IELTS.  I’d like to continue to do so in this third and final post on the subject of FAQs about IELTS.  Let’s get on to the next question straightaway.

·         How soon after sitting the test will I get my IELTS result?

The centre where you sat the test will send you your result, usually 13 days after sitting the test; so you receive your results 2 weeks after sitting the test..

I know that waiting for results is horrible but please do try to be patient.  Don’t ask the examiner, ‘Well, how did I do?’ at the end of your speaking test. The examiner will answer ‘You will receive your results in two weeks’ time.’

·         How does IELTS compare with other English language tests?

Over the years, I have had many students ask me how IELTS test scores compare with those of other tests.

The following table shows what is generally expected.

Language School Level * CEF level Cambridge ESOL exams IELTS band TOEFL ® iBT TOEIC ®
Advanced C2 Certificate of Proficiency in English 7.5+
Pre-Advanced C1 Certificate in Advanced English 6.5/7.0 110-120 880
Upper-Intermediate B2 First Certificate in English 5.0/5.5/6.0 87-109
Intermediate B1 Preliminary English Test 3.5/4.0/4.5 57-86 550
Pre-Intermediate A2 Key English Test 3.0
* Please note that different language institutions often have different criteria for their class level placement and different terminology for their levels.

·         How many times will I hear the Listening test?

You will hear the IELTS Listening test only once.  The test is given in stages and the audio pauses to give you time to read the next set of questions before it continues.  There are four sections and you are given one minute at the end of each section to check over your answers etc.

You write your answers onto the question sheet while you are listening and then at the end of the test, you are given ten minutes to transfer your answers to the Answer Sheet.

·         Will I be penalised if I make a spelling mistake in the Listening test?

It depends.  In general, spelling is not important in the Listening test, providing that the spelling mistake is minor and it is clear that you have understood the audio.  If a word is spelt out for you, however, you must spell it correctly.

·         Do I have a choice of questions in the IELTS Writing test?

No, there are two questions and you must answer both of them.  To score well, you must COMPLETE both tasks.  I have seen many cases where candidates have spent too much time on Task 1 and therefore only written a few lines for Task 2.

Your writing Band Score is an average of your Task 1 score and your Task 2 score so it’s important to spend only 20 minutes on Task 1 and leave yourself 40 minutes for the longer Task 2, which accounts for 60% or your overall score.

·         Is it possible to take a computerised version of the IELTS test?

At the time of writing, a computerised version of the test () is available for the Academic Module only (not for the General Training Module) at certain centres.

The centres offering CB IELTS are listed below.  You should contact the centre for further details.

Bangladesh, Dhaka – British Council more information
Egypt, Alexandria – British Council more information
Egypt, Cairo Agouza – British Council more information
India, New Delhi – British Council more information
India, New Delhi – IDP Education Australia more information
Italy, Milan – British Council more information
Jordan, Amman – British Council more information
Kenya, Nairobi – Australian University Studies Institute  more information
UAE, Abu Dhabi – British Council more information
UAE, Dubai – British Council more information
Vietnam, Hanoi – British Council more information

The listening, reading and writing tests are taken online but the speaking test is conducted with an interviewer face to face.

The listening and reading tests are marked by computer and the writing responses are marked by qualified IELTS examiners.

There is absolutely no advantage to taking either the paper version of IELTS or CB IELTS; the fees are the same, the writing and speaking are assessed in the same way and the results are sent out at the same time.  It is purely a matter of personal preference.

Hope that’s answered some of the questions that you may have.  If you have any more questions that I haven’t answered here, please feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Here’s to the best IELTS score possible!