IELTS Exam Prep

What is IELTS?

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is designed to help you work, study or migrate to a country where English is the native language. This includes countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and USA.

Your ability to listen, read, write and speak in English will be assessed during the test. IELTS is graded on a scale of 1-9.  

IELTS is jointly owned by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge Assessment English.

Why take IELTS?

If you are looking to work, live or study in an English-speaking country, then you must be able to demonstrate a high level of English language ability.

English is the third most spoken language in the world, with 379 million speakers worldwide.

Being able to communicate in the native language of the country you wish to work or study in, has a wide range of benefits. It is also essential for job opportunities as well as integration into the community.

IELTS is the most popular test for those looking to migrate to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK. It is globally recognised by more than 11,000 employers, universities, schools and immigration bodies including 3,400 institutions in the USA.

IELTS Score Scale

Band Score

Skill Level

Description

9

Expert user

The test taker has fully operational command of the language. Their use of English is appropriate, accurate and fluent, and shows complete understanding.

8

Very good user

The test taker has fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriate usage. They may misunderstand some things in unfamiliar situations. They handle complex and detailed argumentation well.

7

Good user

The test taker has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings in some situations. They generally handle complex language well and understand detailed reasoning.

6

Competent user

The test taker has an effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings. They can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.

5

Modest user

The test taker has a partial command of the language and copes with overall meaning in most situations, although they

4

Limited user

The test taker's basic competence is limited to familiar situations. They frequently show problems in understanding and expression. They are not able to use complex language.

3

Extremely limited user

The test taker conveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations. There are frequent breakdowns in communication.

2

Intermittent user

The test taker has great difficulty understanding spoken and written English.

1

Non-user

The test taker has no ability to use the language except a few isolated words.

What IELTS score do I need?

The higher you can score in your IELTS, reflects a better understanding and ability to communicate in English. Each immigration body, university, workplace or institution will have specific IELTS score requirements. The score you need will depend on what you are looking to do in the country, i.e work or study. 

How IELTS is developed?

IELTS is developed to provide a fair and accurate assessment of English language proficiency.

Test questions are developed by language specialists from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the USA. The test covers four sections: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. 

IELTS test content reflects everyday situations. It is unbiased and fair to all test takers from all backgrounds.

Listening

The IELTS listening test is around 30 minutes long. There are four sections of increasing difficulty and there are 40 questions. The first two sections are on topics of general interest.

Section one is a dialogue (2 speakers), section two a monologue (1 speaker). Sections three and four have an education or training focus. In section three there will be a discussion involving 2 main speakers, and in section four a monologue on an academic subject.

You will hear the sections once only, but you have 10 minutes at the end of the test to transfer your answers from the question booklet to the answer sheet.

Your main difficulty with this test is being unable to check your answers or fill in answers you didn’t catch by listening a second time. Here are some tips to help you overcome this problem.

General Tips

Before the test, make sure you ‘rehearse’ with timed practice tests. This will enable you to deal with the appropriate kind of questions and note your answers as you listen. The more you practise, the more confident you will feel. 

During the test, there are occasional 30 second pauses for you to examine the questions. Look ahead at the next section, especially the next 3 or 4 questions and keep them in mind as you listen. This will help you focus your concentration and enable you to pick out the information you need.

Marks are not deducted for a wrong answer, so always have a guess. With multiple choice questions, mark the most likely alternatives if you are not sure of the answer. For other types of question, you can make notes on the paper. Then if necessary, you can make a sensible guess at the end when you transfer your answers to a separate sheet.

Reading

You have one hour for the IELTS reading test. You need to read 3 texts of between 500 and 900 words each and answer around 40 questions, which vary in type and increase in difficulty. You write your answers on the answer sheet. There is no additional time to transfer answers from the reading booklet so you must write your answers directly onto the answer sheet. 

The most common difficulty with the Reading test is time: it’s easy to run out of it! Here are some tips to help your time management.

General Tips

Preparation

  • Do several timed practice Reading tests before the real exam. These ‘rehearsals’ will give you a feel for how long you can take and will develop your skimming (reading for gist) and scanning (reading for specific information) skills.
  • In the weeks before the exam, read as much English text as possible, in newspapers, comics, magazines, whatever you enjoy.
  • With newspaper or magazine articles, think of a heading which summarises the main point of each paragraph. This focuses your understanding of the content and practises one type of possible reading exercise.

During the test

  • You have 20 minutes per text to read and answer the questions. If you haven’t finished one section after 17-18 minutes, make an intelligent guess at the remaining answers and go on to the next section. Remember, the sections get more difficult, so if possible, save time on the early ones.
  • Read the questions carefully before you read the text so you know what information you are looking for. You could organise your 20 minutes per text like this:
  • Use 3-4 minutes to read the questions.
  • Then use 10-12 minutes to read the passage and to answer where you can.
  • Use the last minutes to find the answers in the text that you did not find when you first read the passage. The answers are usually in order in the text.
  • Remember to read the instructions carefully. If you are asked to answer a question in three words or less, don’t give an answer with more words!

On the Reading paper there are 11 different types of task: multiple choice, identifying information, identifying writers views or claims, matching information, matching headings, matching features, matching sentence endings, sentence completion, note completion, table completion, flow chart completion, diagram label completion, and short answer questions.

Speaking

The Speaking test involves the candidate and one examiner and lasts around 11-14 minutes. There are 3 parts to the test. First watch this video to get an overview of the test.

In the first part, the examiner will ask you to talk about EITHER where you live OR your studies (or job if working). They will then move on to 2 other topics, chosen from a range including your interests, family life, popular activities such as sport, films or shopping; or other universals such as food, festivals or public transport. You cannot choose these topics, but the examiner will ask general questions and interact with you to encourage you to speak. The tone is one of an informal, if slightly one-sided, conversation.

In the second part, the examiner will give you a booklet with a topic. After reading the topic, you will have one minute to think about what you are going to say. You may make notes on paper at this stage. The examiner will tell you when your preparation time is up, and you must talk on the subject for 1-2 minutes. They will not interrupt you unless you exceed the allotted time, or do not speak long enough. You will likely be asked a short follow-up question to the topic after you finish speaking. This is your chance to demonstrate a range of vocabulary and sentence structures. You will continue to discuss matters related to the subject in Part 3.

The third part is a discussion of issues connected to the topic in Part 2. The examiner will expand the topic in some way to guide you, and may ask you to describe, comment on, compare, speculate or theorise about related themes. They will interact with you, and may lead the discussion into more abstract or ‘difficult’ areas towards the end, in order to really pinpoint your language ability. (If they do this, you have already done well!)

The examiner is responsible for timekeeping and moving from one part of the test to another.

Grading criteria

The test grades general communicative ability based on 4 criteria:

  • Fluency and coherence: your ability to keep going in a monologue or dialogue without stopping or hesitating too much and the way you put your discourse together so the meaning is clear.
  • Lexical resource: this refers to your use of appropriate and varied vocabulary; your choice of words to express yourself.
  • Grammatical accuracy and range: your ability to use correct tenses and appropriate structures and to demonstrate that you can use more complex language such as conditionals, phrasal verbs, subordinate clauses, etc.
  • Pronunciation: how easily you can be understood, correct pronunciation of individual words and natural patterns of stress and intonation within sentences and discourse.


The most common problem with the speaking test is probably that candidates do not demonstrate their actual ability, because of nervousness or lack of extended speaking practice. The examiner can only grade you on what s/he hears, so if you only use common words and simple sentences, they won’t know you have a great vocabulary range and can use all kinds of structures!

General Tips

Here are some tips to help you maximise your speaking grade.

  • Preparation is vital for the speaking test. PRACTISE speaking, with your friends, family, people in social gatherings, anyone you can! Practise talking about general topics, practise talking for a minute or two on any topic you know about, ‘rehearse’ dialogues in your head while travelling around.
  • Also practise LISTENING to people: you need to understand what the examiner says to be able to hold a conversation. Listening to English conversations on T.V, video, radio, public transport etc. gives you a variety of native speaker models for pronunciation and intonation and increases your exposure to a wider vocabulary range.
  • Actively gather vocabulary on a variety of topics (check out the vocabulary web pages on this site). Assimilate them into your own vocabulary range and practise using them in conversations until you are comfortable with them.
  • Record yourself speaking and play it back. Practise until you sound fluent, confident and relaxed and your pronunciation and intonation is clear and natural. 
  • If you have areas of grammar that you are unsure of, take the time to check them out.
  • Eliminate any mistakes you know you make. Don’t overuse certain structures (e.g. ‘Actually’ at the start of many sentences). Listening to yourself or asking a CILL teacher to listen will help you to pinpoint these.

This website can help you to practise the speaking task types and expand your vocabulary range in relevant topics. Tips in how to maximise preparation effectiveness and in exam techniques are also given

Writing

You have one hour for the IELTS Writing test. You need to produce two pieces of writing. First watch this video to get an overview of the test.

Task 1 is a short piece of writing (at least 150 words) using data or information given on the question paper. This information is in graphical form and could be any of the following: graphs (bar or line), pie charts, tables, maps or process diagrams. Two different sources may also be given. You should spend around 20 minutes on task 1.

Task 2 is an essay (at least 250 words) on a given topic. There is no choice of topic, but it generally involves discussing two points of view and giving your own opinion. You should spend around 40 minutes on task 2, which has more influence on your final band score than task 1. Both tasks are discussed in detail below, but here are a few general tips:

General Tips

Before the test

  • Scientists and statisticians usually prefer Task 1; humanities students Task 2. It is very important to practise BOTH types of task until you are confident; however, during the test, you could start with the type you are most familiar with. That way, if you finish it with time to spare, you have more time to spend on your least favourite. Conversely, maybe it’s better to do the most difficult first, on the grounds that you can produce the other more easily!
  • When reading English, notice useful vocabulary and phrases and pay attention to the grammatical structure of sentences and the way in which sentences are linked in longer paragraphs. Use good reading text as a model for your own writing.

During the test

  • Use full sentences and structure your writing into paragraphs. Don’t use WhatsApp or text messaging style English.
  • Spend a minute or two before you start writing to make a basic plan or outline, especially for Task 2. If you are short of time, this stops you getting flustered and keeps you on track as you write.
  • NB: If your text is shorter than the number of words required (Task 1 = 150 words or more, Task 2 = 250 words or more), then you will be penalised. Practise writing by hand (maybe you haven’t for a while) and count the average number of words you write per line. That way, you know how many lines you need to produce in the test.

This website focuses on specific language items relevant to each task as well as strategies and advice for structuring your writing and tips and techniques for doing your best in the exam.

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