How to prepare for IELTS is one of the first questions candidates planning to take the test usually ask.
It can be difficult to know where to start as there are four modules and there are a lot of tips and strategies to learn. So where do you start?
This advice takes you through 5 essential steps on how to prepare for IELTS and some important questions you need to ask yourself before you start.
Before you think about how to prepare for IELTS, the first thing that you want to do is to make sure you know which type of IELTS test you need to take.
There are two versions: IELTS Academic and General Training. They are slightly different so you need to make sure you prepare for the right one!
You take IELTS Academic if you are intending to apply to study abroad in an English speaking university or school, or some other form of education. General Training is for those intending to work abroad or immigrate to another country.
A lot of the elements of the tests are the same but the reading modules are completely different and part of the writing module is not the same.
You can learn more about how they vary on the IELTS Information page.
The next thing that you want to do to know how to prepare for IELTS is to get to know what the general format of the test is.
First it’s useful to know how the scoring of IELTS works. It's based on band scores and you need to know which one you are aiming for and how they are calculated across the modules.
You can check that out here:
Also have a look at the official IELTS public band descriptors so you know what the examiner uses to grade your speaking and writing:
Then you should go through one practice test for each of the modules so you know exactly what you have to do in each part of the test. You can do by using the official Cambridge tests which has one practice test for each module.
You can find links to them here:
When you first do this, don’t worry about timings or specific skills, just have a go at a reading and listening test so you know what it involves.
Have a read through some speaking tests to see what the format is and what kinds of questions you are asked.
Look at some sample writing questions and try writing an essay and graph (academic) or letter (general training).
From going through step 2, you now know what to expect generally in each module.
But there are lots of different types of questions so it’s a good idea to get to know more about the different question types and the ways that people answer the questions.
There is no point in looking at model answers for reading and listening as they are fixed answers that are right or wrong. But for the speaking and writing there are a variety of ways that you could answer each question.
So for these it is a good idea to look at sample answers and models. We have many on this site and you can check them out here:
Now it is time to delve deeper into the specific strategies of how to answer specific question types for all modules of the test: speaking, writing, listening and reading.
IELTS buddy has prepared a great set of lessons for you to learn how to do well in the test, with all the strategies, tips and techniques you need to get a high score.
Check them out here:
Try to work on a different skill each day so you don't get bored with the same thing, or if you have the whole day free, spend the morning on one skill and the afternoon on another.
And of course it is ultimately an English test so don't become obsessed with just studying IELTS.
Immerse yourself in other English activities as these will all help with the test, such as watching English speaking films and You Tube videos, reading books and magazines, and of course speaking English if you can.
You don't need to spend all your time on IELTS based activities and if you do you will get very bored.
It is essential that once you have started to understand the test format and the strategies you can use to get a high score, you practice under test conditions.This is an essential part of how to prepare for IELTS.
Finishing on time is one of the major problems that candidates have in the reading and writing tests. So get some reading practice tests and writing task 1 and task 2 questions and do a lot of practice keeping strictly to the times allocated in the test – one hour for the reading, and one hour for the writing (with 20 minutes spent on task 1 and 40 minutes spent on task 2).
We have practice tests here:
Candidates have particular problems finishing the writing in the allotted time so make sure you spend plenty of time practising the Task 1 and 2 using a variety of question types.
You should follow the above steps but when thinking about how to prepare for IELTS there are some other important questions that play an important part in the way that you should approach your study.
Ask yourself these questions:
How long do you have to prepare for the test?
How to prepare for IELTS will very much depend on how much free time you have and when you are taking the test. This will also depend on your skills (see below).
This is some advice on some possible things to think about if you only have limited time, such as one week, one month, or three months.
How good are your current English skills?
This is another very important point when you think about how to prepare for IELTS.
You have to remember that the IELTS exam is a test of your English ability. Although learning tips and strategies and practicing for the test can of course increase your score and improve your English skills, if you are weak in English, then this is going to affect your score.
If someone is very good at English already, then the main thing that they will be doing when they think about how to prepare for IELTS is focusing on the various tips and strategies of the exam, not improving their actual English. They could probably prepare for the test in a few weeks and may still do well.
However, if you also need to improve your English skills, it is going to take you much longer.
For example, you could be well prepared for what happens in each part of the speaking test and knowledgeable on the various types of question you could get, but if the examiner often has difficulty understanding you because of poor pronunciation your score will be affected.
Or you may be well prepared for the different types of essay question and graphs, but if you are making a lot of grammar errors, again your score will be reduced.
Improving such things as pronunciation and grammar take time!
So when you are thinking about how to prepare for IELTS, think about how good your English ability is. If it needs improving then you will need to put more time and effort into getting a good score.
You may need to think about face-to-face lessons with a teacher so you can really focus on your speaking skills and grammar and have somebody to check and advise you on your errors and weaknesses.
What band do you need?
The IELTS band that you need will also affect how to prepare for IELTS.
It is of course much easier and will take much less time to move up half a band than to move up one or two bands.
So for example, if you are currently a band 5.5 and you need a band 6, with the right training and some hard work, you may be able to get the band you need in 3 months. This does still depend on other factors we have already looked at, such as how much time you have to study and how good you are at learning languages.
But if you are 5.5 and need to get to a 7 or higher, this is a very big jump in English ability. According to the IELTS descriptors of the band scores, somebody around the 5 bands is a ‘modest’ user of English and may make ‘many mistakes’, whereas someone who is a 7 or 8 is a ‘good’ or ‘very good’ user and can use complex language and makes few mistakes.
Be realistic with yourself and ask yourself how long it takes to learn a language. It can take some people years to learn a language. So think about what level you are now and where you need to be.
You may need to take a mock test to find your current level, or if you can afford it take a real IELTS test to find out your band score. If you need to move up a few bands, then set more long term goals to achieve it.