IELTS preparation is key to getting a good score in the exam and achieving a high band. The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is an English proficiency test widely used by non-native English speakers for study abroad, employment or immigration purposes. Sound IELTS preparation helps test takers become familiar with the test pattern and practice the exam sufficiently to get the score they need.
In this article, we shall look at how test takers can optimize their IELTS preparation by becoming familiar with the IELTS Test pattern and syllabus, practice taking the IELTS in test conditions, and use specific tips about the sections in the IELTS test to improve their score.
IELTS Preparation: Understanding IELTS Test Pattern
To make the most of their IELTS Preparation, test takers need to familiarize themselves completely with the IELTS test pattern and the type of questions that are presented.
There are two versions of IELTS available for test takers – IELTS Academic, and IELTS General Training. The difference between the two relates to the purpose of the test taker. IELTS Academic is used for university admissions or professional registration in an English-speaking country, while IELTS General Training is taken mainly for migration purposes.
Though the content for the Reading and Writing sections is different for the IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training, the test format is largely similar. For both versions, the Listening, Reading, and Writing tests are conducted in a single sitting, while the Speaking test is conducted face-to-face with an examiner on a separate date.
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|IELTS TEST PATTERN|
|Listening||Paper-based/Computer-Delivered||30 mins||40 (4 sections)|
|Reading (Academic)||Paper-based/Computer-Delivered||60 mins||40 (3 sections)|
|Reading (General Training)||Paper-based/Computer-Delivered||60 mins||40 (3 sections)|
|Writing (Academic)||Paper-based/Computer-Delivered||60 mins||2 Tasks|
|Writing (General Training)||Paper-based/Computer-Delivered||60 mins||2 Tasks|
|Speaking||Face-to-face||11-14 mins||3 Parts|
The IELTS Listening section is designed to assess the listening skills of test takers, especially when it comes to understanding the accents of native English speakers. The content for this section is common for both IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training. The duration of the listening test is 30 minutes and it consists of a total of 40 questions. Test takers are provided headphones to listen to pre-recorded conversations or monologues in English and must answer questions based on them. It is important to note that test takers get only a single chance to listen to the recordings and cannot play them back.
|IELTS LISTENING TEST|
|SECTION||NO. OF QUESTIONS||TYPE OF LISTENING|
|1||10||An everyday English conversation between two people about a general topic|
|2||10||A monologue on a general topic|
|3||10||A conversation between two to four people in an academic setting|
|4||10||A monologue on an academic topic|
Test takers must listen to four separate recordings and note down their answers to the questions presented. The first recording is a conversation between two people set in an everyday social situation, followed by the second recording which is a monologue set in an everyday social situation. The third recording is set in an educational or training context with up to four people in a conversation. The last recording is a monologue on an academic subject. Each recording has 10 questions associated with it that test takers must answer based on what they listened to. These questions could be multiple choice, filling in blanks, labelling or completing flowcharts, tables, or diagrams, or other such questions based on the content of the recordings.
The IELTS Reading Section assesses the reading skills of test takers in the English language. Test takers must not only be able to understand the general sense of the text and its main ideas, but also demonstrate their ability to understand inferences and implied meanings, pick up details from the content, and recognize opinions and purpose of the text. The test lasts 60 minutes during which test takers need to read three separate passages and answer 40 questions based on these passages.
The content of this section is different for IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training test takers. In the Academic version, there are three long texts taken from books, journals, magazines and newspapers. The content is related to academic topics and are apt for those seeking undergraduate or post-graduate education, or seeking professional registration in an English-speaking country. The texts may also be accompanied by diagrams, graphs or illustrations. In the General Training version, the texts are extracted from notices, advertisements, company handbooks, official documents, books, magazines and newspapers. Most of the content is of the nature that is likely to be encountered on a daily basis in an English-speaking country.
A variety of questions may be posed to test takers in the reading section, as detailed in the below table.
|IELTS READING TEST|
|TYPE OF QUESTION||DESCRIPTION|
|Matching Headings||Test Takers match headings from a provided list with a section or paragraph of the text|
|True/False/Not Given (Alternatively, Yes/No/Not Given)||Test Takers need to decide whether a given fact or viewpoint matches the content in the text|
|Matching Paragraph Information||Test Takers need to choose which paragraph of the text alludes to the information provided|
|Summary Completion||Test Takers have to complete the given text’s summary by filling in words given in a box|
|Sentence Completion||Test Takers need to complete sentences by filling in the blanks with words from the text|
|Multiple Choice||Test Takers need to select the correct answer from 3 or 4 given options|
|List Selection||Test Takers need to choose the correct option from a list of words, information, or names|
|Choosing a Title||Test Takers must choose the most appropriate title from a list|
|Categorization||Test Takers have to decide which category the information belongs to, choosing from a provided list of options|
|Matching Sentence Endings||Test Takers need to match the start of a sentence with its correct ending|
|Table Completion||Test Takers are provided with a table they need to complete using the correct word/s from the text|
|Flow Chart Completion||Test Takers are provided with a flowchart they need to complete using the correct word/s from the text|
|Diagram Completion||Test Takers are tasked with labelling a diagram correctly|
|Short Answer||Test Takers answer questions related to details in the text|
The IELTS Writing Section is designed to assess the English writing skills of test takers. Candidates must be able to write appropriate responses to the tasks in the test, organizing their ideas and arguments coherently, while displaying their range of vocabulary and accurate grammar. The writing test has two separate tasks which need to be completed in the given duration of 60 mins. Task 2 is given twice the weightage of Task 1 while scoring, and hence, test takers should devote 20 minutes to the first task and 40 minutes to second. However, considering there is no break between the tasks, test takers should efficiently manage their own time.
The content for the IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training versions is different for the writing test. Test takers for IELTS Academic are given a table, graph, chart or diagram as part of task 1, and asked to describe or summarize the provided information in their own words. On the other hand, those taking the IELTS General Training version are required to write a letter for a given situation as part of task 1. Task 2 is similar for both versions, where test takers must write an essay as response to a problem, or point of view. The difference lies in the writing style, where those taking the Academic version need to write in a formal style, while those taking the General Training version can use a fairly personal style of writing.
|IELTS WRITING TEST|
|Test Type||Task No.||Task Description||Minimum Word Count||Recommended Duration|
|Academic||Task 1||Describe a graph, table, chart or diagram||150 words||20 mins|
|Academic||Task 2||Write an essay giving your opinion with justifications||250 words||40 mins|
|General Training||Task 1||Write a letter on a given topic||150 words||20 mins|
|General Training||Task 2||Write an essay giving your opinion with justifications||250 words||40 mins|
Unlike the three previous sections, the Speaking test is conducted on a separate date. It is conducted in a face-to-face session with an examiner where test takers are expected to demonstrate their English language speaking skills. Test takers must be able to clearly communicate their opinions and ideas in English, while displaying their grasp over the language, using precise pronunciation and accurate grammar.
The test takes an average of 11 to 14 minutes to complete and is divided into three parts. Test takers do not need to manage their time during the test since the examiners would themselves be in control of the process, and guide the test takers from one part to the other.
|IELTS SPEAKING SECTION|
|1 – Introduction and Interview||Interviewer asks basic questions about family/work, etc.||4-5 mins|
|2 – Individual Long Turn||Interviewee must speak for 1-2 minutes on a given topic||3-4 mins (Including 1 minute of preparation time)|
|3 – Two-way Discussion||Interviewer discusses in detail issues related to the topic in part 2||4-5 mins|
IELTS Preparation: Tips to ace the exam
The only foolproof way to prepare for the IELTS is to practice your English in the months and weeks leading to your test and develop your language skills across all its components: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. That being said, to help you excel in each component of the test, here are a few helpful insights and tips that you can incorporate in your IELTS preparation strategy:
Tips for Listening Test
- Do test your headphones before you begin the section. In case you face any difficulty in hearing the audio clearly, inform the invigilator immediately.
- The IELTS is a dynamic test and hence, there may be changes from previous versions. Be careful while reading the instructions before you begin.
- It is important that before you start the recording, you have a look at the questions in the test. This will help you in anticipating when the information you need will be spoken during the recording.
- As stated earlier, you can only play the recording once, so keep making notes while you listen to make sure you do not miss out on the necessary information.
- There is no negative marking in the exam, so you must attempt all the questions. However, it is also important to manage your time effectively, and hence, you should not get stuck on a single question for long.
- Multitasking is an important part of this section – you must read the questions, listen to the recording and write down your answers all at the same time.
- Be careful about your grammar and your spelling. You can lose marks, for instance, for answering in the singular form when the correct response calls for the plural form.
- Finished before time? Do not forget to check your answers once before submitting. This can help you avoid silly errors or typographical mistakes.
- It is important to practice listening to different accents before you take the exam. Watch movies or listen to music in English, without subtitles, to increase your listening proficiency
Tips for Reading Test
- Begin with a speed read of the text to understand its general theme and idea, as well as to recognize its structure.
- Next, read the questions to find out the information you need to extract from the text to answer correctly.
- Do not worry if the text content is complicated or unfamiliar. Remember, you only need to answer the specific questions asked and not understand all the arguments presented.
- Label the paragraphs on the question paper in response to questions where you need to indicate where in the text certain information is presented. This may help you in subsequent questions as well.
- Use underlining and highlighting liberally to mark where certain information occurs in the text.
- Be careful while reading the questions and answer only what is asked. For instance, do not exceed the number of words specified. If you need to fill in only one word in a blank, do not fill in more than that.
- Check your spelling and grammar as you go. Remember, answering in plural when the correct response is singular will result in an incorrect answer.
- Again, there is no negative marking so do try to attempt all the questions without wasting much time.
- You will be required to answer 40 questions based on three passages. Manage your time effectively and do not spend more than 20 minutes on a single passage.
- You should leave yourself enough time to revise and correct any inadvertent mistakes.
- In case you are unsure of your response for certain questions, give yourself enough time in the end to re-read the text in order to answer these.
- Remember, you do not need to read and know the meaning of every single word in the passage as long as you understand it in its general sense and can identify and correlate it with the questions asked.
- Most importantly, of course, go into the test with enough practice and preparation to be confident of your reading abilities. Reading an English newspaper daily in the days leading up to the test can be significantly helpful.
Tips for Writing Test
- Read the task carefully to understand what is expected of you.
- Make notes and structure your answer before you begin writing.
- An important part of this test is structuring your sentences, organizing your thoughts and using paragraphs to convey the information. Incorporate these in your essays by creating an outline.
- To get a high score, you should use complex sentence structuring effectively and showcase a wide vocabulary. However, only attempt this if you are confident of being grammatically accurate.
- Manage your time effectively and try to leave more than 40 minutes for the second task which has a higher weightage.
- Each task has a minimum word count and you will be penalized if you do not achieve it. Make sure to write at least 150 words for the first task, and 250 words for the second.
- You are required to use formal language in this test, and hence, you should actively avoid using contractions such as don’t, wouldn’t, can’t, etc. Write instead – do not, would not, cannot, and so on.
- Leave enough time to revise and go through your response at the end to be able to correct any inadvertent errors.
- Practice writing essays on different subjects based on past papers during your preparation.
Tips for Speaking Test
- Be calm and composed as you enter and greet the examiner with a smile.
- Speak slowly and carefully to ensure your enunciation isn’t affected.
- Prepared responses wouldn’t work in the structure of the test and so you are advised to be spontaneous.
- You can pause to think about your response but shouldn’t stay silent for too long. Try to keep talking with filler words even as you structure your response in your head.
- Fully utilize the 1-minute preparation time for part 2 of the test and structure your monologue with a clear beginning, middle and end.
- Do not be unnerved if the examiner cuts you off and asks a different question all of a sudden.
- Keep talking for as long as the examiner expects you to, looking for non-verbal cues in their expressions.
- There are no wrong or right opinions in this test. You will only be judged on your ability to express yourself clearly.
- Do not forget to listen to the examiner. In case you do not understand a question, do ask the examiner to clarify what they meant.
- Practice with fellow English speakers before taking the test. The more you speak in English, the more comfortable you will be on the day of the test.
IELTS Preparation: Practice Tests and Free Preparation Material
Getting a good IELTS score can be crucial for test takers, and in order to make the most of their IELTS preparation, many of them choose to sign up for various classes – online or offline. Fortunately, even for those who do not wish to pay for their preparation, there are many free resources and practice materials available online that they can utilize.
For authentic test preparation, close to the actual test, it is advisable to utilize the official sources. IELTS is offered in India by British Council and IDP, both of whom are co-owners of the test and responsible for its administration.
For those who register for the exam through IDP, the organization provides 30-days of free access to online preparatory material. The content provided is limited, though, and candidates must purchase additional material, available on a 50% discount. In addition, everyone who registers through IDP also receives a booklet and a CD-ROM with four complete tests for practice.
The British Council website does provide plenty of free preparatory material for test-takers, including free practice tests. Test takers can also benefit from the official British Council online course for IELTS which also has a free version. Additionally, the British Council also offers an online course for those interested in taking the test, called the IELTS Coach. Delivered by expert British Council teachers, this interactive course combines live online classes with mobile-app based practice to help test takers with at least B1 level English proficiency.