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1. Short Summary

So, you’ve decided to do the IELTS test - now all you need to do is come up with an effective plan for IELTS preparation. Doing IELTS preparation the right way can save you time, money and ensure that you get the score you need. This guide will show you exactly what you need to think about and how to prepare. We will look at why IELTS preparation is so hard and solutions to that problem. We will look at each area of the IELTS test in detail.

Finally, I help you develop a plan of action that suits your individual needs.

IELTS stands for International English Language Testing SystemIt is a test of English language skills designed for students who want to study in the medium of English either at university, college or secondary school.

There are two versions of the test: the Academic Module and the General Training Module. Students wishing to study at postgraduate or undergraduate level should take the Academic Module. The General Training Module is designed for those candidates who plan to undertake training or secondary school education. The General Training Module is also used in Australia and New Zealand to assess the language skills of incoming migrants. Candidates must decide in advance which of the two modules they wish to sit as the results are not interchangeable. Both are graded in exactly the same way.

You will take the first three parts of the test all on one day in the following order: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. There are no breaks between the first three tests. You will take the Speaking test either on the same day, or 7 days before or after that, depending on local arrangements.

A range of native-speaker accents (North American, Australian, New Zealand and British) is used in the Listening test, and all standard varieties of English are accepted in responses in all parts of the test 

Performance is rated on a scale of 1-9. Candidates receive a Test Report Form (TRF) which shows their overall performance reported as a single band score as well as the individual scores they received for each part of the test. 

The bands are:

9 = expert user - Fluent and functional English. Understands well, and can express what he wants to say. (Notice that you do not need perfect English to get a band 9 mark).

8 = very good user - Makes only occasional mistakes, and mostly these do not affect understanding. Can read and explain fairly complicated ideas.

7 = good user - Makes mistakes, and sometimes uses ungrammatical language. There are occasional misunderstandings, but someone at this level can generally use and understand complicated sentences.

6 = competent user - Can use complicated language, but only in areas which he knows well. Makes mistakes and sometimes uses the wrong words or expressions. Sometimes does not understand complicated English.

5 = modest user - Makes mistakes often, but though he does not understand every word, usually understands what he is hearing or listening to is about. Can use and understand English adequately only in some situations.

4 = limited user - Cannot make or understand complicated English. Does not understand complicated explanations, makes many mistakes. But he can usually communicate and understand basic ideas.

3 = extremely limited user - Has difficulty in saying what he wants in English. Often does not understand what he hears or reads.

2 = intermittent user - Only understands some words, and has trouble making them into basic sentences. Can only communicate basic ideas with difficulty.

1 = non-user - Understands a few English words, but not enough for communication.

0 = no attempt - Did not attempt the test

IELTS and the CEFR

Test users may find the Council of Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) helpful. The framework is a series of descriptions of abilities at different learning levels that can be applied to any language. It can provide a starting point for interpreting and comparing different language qualifications and is increasingly used as a way of benchmarking language ability around the world.

To help test users understand the relationship between IELTS band scores and the six CEFR levels, Cambridge Assessment English has conducted several studies to map the IELTS 9-band scale to the CEFR, drawing on the interrelationship between IELTS and other Cambridge Assessment English qualifications and the known relationship of these latter qualifications to the CEFR.

In fulfilling its purpose as a common reference tool, the CEFR was not designed to provide the basis for precise equating, nor was it intended to be a prescriptive tool to impose standardised solutions. Rather it was designed as a common framework of reference, primarily intended as ‘a tool for reflection, communications and empowerment’, as described by John Trim, its co-ordinating author (Saville, N 2005).

Therefore, we would recommend that all recognising institutions should look at the IELTS band score descriptors and use the IELTS Scores Guide DVD to ascertain the appropriate level of language ability required for their institution or course.

2. IELTS Structure

(played once only, total 30 mins)
Items - 40
Discourse types
Question types (up to 3 per section)
Target Listening Skills
Section 1
A dialogue – social or transactional
- short answer
- multiple choice
- sentence completion
- notes/summary/diagram/flow
- chart/table completion
- matching
- classification

- specific info
- main ideas and supporting points
- understanding speakers’ opinion
Section 2
A talk or short speech – topic of general interest
Section 3
A conversation – education/training context
2 - 4
Section 4
A lecture – academic style
Academic Reading (60 mins)
Items - 40
Text types (total of 2 000 – 2 750 words)
Question types (up to 4 per passage)
Target Reading Skills
Passage  1
13 - 14
Academic texts – journals, newspapers, text books and magazines representative of reading requirements for postgraduate and undergraduate students.
General interest rather than discipline specific. Graded in difficulty.
- paragraph headings
- short answer
- multiple choice
- sentence completion
- notes/summary/diagram/flow chart/table completion
- matching lists/phrases
- classification
- identification of writer’s views/claims
- Yes, No, Not Given
- True, False, Not Given
- scanning and skimming
- understanding main ideas
- reading for detail
-understanding opinion and attitude
Passage  2
Passage 3
Academic Writing (60min)
Tasks - 2
Text types
Task types
Target Writing Skills
Task 1 (20m.)
150 words
A descriptive report based on graphic or pictorial input
Information transfer exercise (No analysis required)
- present, describe, interpret, compare given data
- describe a process or how something works
- use appropriate and accurate language
Task 2 (40m.)
250 words
An extended piece of writing or discursive essay
Candidates are presented with a given point of view or problem on which to base their writing.
- argue, defend or attack a point of view backed by evidence.
- present the solution to a problem
- compare and contrast opinions drawing on personal experience.
Speaking (11 - 14 min.)
Parts - 3
Format (Examiner & Candidate)
Nature of interaction
Target Speaking Skills
Part 1
4 - 5 m.
Introduction and interview
Examiner interviews candidate asking questions based on familiar topics, using a set framework.
- giving personal information
- talking about familiar issues and habits
- expressing opinions
Part 2
3 – 4 m.
Individual long turn
Candidate is required to speak for 1-2 min. on a topic presented in the form of both a written and verbal instruction. Candidate is given 1 minute to prepare.
- sustaining a long turn without interlocutor support.
- managing language organization and expression of ideas
Part 3
4 – 5 m.
Examiner introduces a discussion thematically linked to Part 2 topic and encourages the candidate to develop language of a more abstract and academic nature.
- expressing and justifying views
- explaining
- displaying understanding of the conversational rules of English.


IELTS TOP 20 Questions

1. What level of English do I need to take IELTS?

IELTS can provide a test result for all candidates from beginner to very advanced. Remember, however, that the examination is pitched at intermediate level and above.

2. How often can I sit IELTS?

There is no limit to the number of times you may sit IELTS. However, you are not permitted to re-sit the IELTS test within three months at the centre where you last took it, or at any other centre in the world.

3. How often is IELTS available?

There are not set dates for IELTS. Most test centres offer the test at least once a month and busy centres may conduct more sessions at peak times of the year.

4. Where is IELTS available?

There are over 1000 approved test centres in over 140 different countries. Contact UCLES, the British Council or IDP Education Australia for an up-to-date list of centres. 

5. Do I receive a certificate?

No. You will receive a Test Report Form (TRF) from the centre where you sat the test showing your band score in each part of the test.

6. How long is a test score valid?

As with all language proficiency tests, a result has a maximum “shelf life” of two years.

7. What score do I need to get into university?

This depends upon the institution to which you are applying. While some will accept you at Band 5, most universities require a minimum score of 6.5 - 7 overall with a minimum score of 6 in each sub-test. Some courses with a heavy emphasis on language may ask for a higher score. You should seek advice from the Faculty or University to which you are applying.

8. Do I need to pass each paper to pass IELTS?

There is no actual “pass mark” for IELTS. You will receive a TRF which shows your performance on the 9 band scale in each of the four modules. These four scores are then combined to produce your overall band score. There are no IELTS certificates – just this form.

9. How long does it take to get an IELTS result?

You will receive your result within two weeks of sitting the test. The result will come from the centre where you sat the test. You check it on the internet.

10. If I reach a satisfactory level in one part of the test but not in other parts, do I have to sit the whole test again?

Yes, you have to sit all four Modules each time you sit IELTS.

11. How long does it take to go from one Band level to the next?

This depends on your personal circumstances – your motivation to learn, your exposure to English and the amount of time you spend studying. Studies show that it can take 250 hours of study to improve by one IELTS band.

12. Do I have to study at an English language school before I take IELTS?

No. However, it is important to be familiar with the types of questions you will meet in the test. Spending time in an IELTS preparation class with other students will certainly be helpful because IELTS differs from other English examinations.

13. Do I have to sit all parts of the test on the same day?

The Listening, Reading and Writing modules are taken on the same day. The Speaking test is usually on this day but may be held up to two days later – at the discretion of the centre.

14. Is IELTS available on computers?

A computerized version of IELTS – known as CBIELTS – will be available at some centres for the Listening and Reading tests. You can choose whether to take the Writing test on screen or on paper. However, you will always be able to take the pen and paper version of the test at all centres.

15. What age must I be to sit IELTS?

IELTS is not recommended for candidates under the age of 16.

16. Is there a difference between an Academic and a General Training IELTS score?

Yes. The Academic module is designed to assess whether you are ready to study in an English language medium at undergraduate or postgraduate level. A General Training score cannot be used for entry to a university as the emphasis of GT is on basic survival skills in a broad social and educational context. The results are not interchangeable.

17. Which module should I sit if I want to emigrate to Australia or New Zealand?

You should sit the General Training Module. A score of 5.5 is generally required.

18. How many times will I hear the Listening module?

There are four sections to the Listening module and you will hear each part ONCE only.

19. Will I be penalized if I cannot spell a word properly in the Listening test?

Poor spelling and grammar in your answer will be penalized though minor misspellings are overlooked. Both British and American spelling is accepted, however.

20. Is there a choice of questions in the Writing Test?

No. There will be one Task 1 question and one Task 2 question. You must answer both questions in the time allowed.

4. 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 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)

1. 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 IELTS preparation. Most English schools recommend at least 3 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 in the next section.

2. Test Skills
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.

3. 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 principal. 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.

In this course we will look at the official marking criteria to help us understand what the examiner want.

5. 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 IELTS preparation will help you succeed and will ensure that you get the best score you can possibly get, but it does not ensure miracles.

4. Understand Marking Criteria
The article further will explain what the band scores mean, how examiners decide them and the official marking criteria used to mark your test. Click the link. IELTS Scores

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?

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. 

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 technigue 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 testHowever, there are two things that I should warn you about before doing these.

1. 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:

2. 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 practicing 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 IELTS 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.