How to prepare for the IELTS
The idea of having to take an exam is nerve-wracking in any situation, and taking the IELTS exam is no different! There’s often a lot of stress and a high amount of pressure involved: if you are taking the Academic IELTS exam, you probably need a certain score to enter into University or to get a job. On the other hand, you might need to take the IELTS General Training test for residency in certain English-speaking countries or work experience programmes. Either way, the stakes are high – but try not to stress out too much! Of course you definitely need to study and prepare for the IELTS before taking the exam, but because it is one of the most common and recognized English level tests around the world, it’s fairly easy to find help and support with your preparation. Here we’ll take a look at some of the ways that you can start to prepare for this difficult English test.
PREPARE FOR THE IELTS BY UNDERSTANDING THE EXAM
So, you are probably asking yourself “How do I prepare for the IELTS?” The first thing you need to know is how the IELTS exam is formatted (https://www.ielts.org/about-the-test/test-format). In one respect, it is very different from traditional exams because you can’t really ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ this exam; instead, you will get a score between 0 and 9. This means that everyone from an absolute beginner to a native English speaker can take the exam and leave with a certificate. Of course, getting the desired score is a different matter!
To really understand the exam format, you should start by trying out some practice test questions (https://www.ielts.org/about-the-test/sample-test-questions) to get both an idea of the different types of questions and an estimate of your level. As the test is divided into four skill types (speaking, listening, reading and writing), the final score that you get on your certificate will be an average of the scores from each skill. By starting with a practice test you will be able to see which of these areas you need to focus more on.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE IELTS SPEAKING SECTION
The speaking part of the IELTS exam involves completing three different speaking tasks with the examiner. While it’s possible to prepare for this part alone by recording your answers and listening back to correct your mistakes or look for areas to improve, it goes without saying that practicing your speaking with an experienced native English IELTS teacher is the best way to prepare. Above all, you need to practice speaking, and speaking a lot!
In Part 1, you will answer general questions about yourself and your life. To prepare for this part, you will need to review lots of vocabulary and practice speaking about your city and country, family, job or studies, hobbies and other everyday topics.
For Part 2 you will be given a topic card with some suggestions of what to talk about and one minute to prepare your two-minute talk. Ideally, you want to practice quickly scanning the topic card and making short notes while planning your answer and then giving a talk from these notes. This will help you feel confident about how to answer this question on the day.
Part 3 is probably the most difficult because it requires more in depth discussion and more complex language. Prepare for this part by reviewing language for giving opinions, commenting on the past and the future, and comparing and contrasting ideas.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE IELTS LISTENING SECTION
If you are looking for the best way to prepare for the IELTS exam, spending time on improving your listening skills is very useful! You will need the skills for a variety of situations such as listening for keywords and information (numbers, addresses, names, prices, dates, etc), reading charts and graphs and taking notes while listening, following details about maps and directions, and listening to lectures or talks.
One way to work on this is to make notes while listening to the news, lectures or presentations in English while focusing on listening for the key information. Try listening to a variety of accents as well – IELTS are known for using voice actors who are not just American or British but also Australian, Canadian, Scottish or from other English-speaking countries!
Be familiar with the listening test and how to fill your answers on the answer paper. The listening test is divided into four sections, starting with the easiest questions and gradually getting more and more difficult. Remember, you only get to hear the listening once! Practice the test as much as possible and always check your answers afterwards by using the transcript to look for the answers and how they are given (e.g. by using synonyms and by avoiding misleading distracting elements).
HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE IELTS READING SECTION
The reading section of the IELTS is notoriously difficult, particularly for the academic test, because it involves answering many different types of questions (e.g. multiple choice, text completion, matching headings and true/false/not given) about three texts taken from journals or magazines. The texts can be long and often involve very unfamiliar topics related to science, culture or history, so it’s very important to get yourself familiar with these types of texts and their writing style by reading newspaper, magazine and journal articles every day.
The key to preparing is knowing how to manage your time without spending too long on certain questions. Practice different kinds of reading skills like skimming (reading quickly for general meaning), scanning (searching for specific words) and reading for detail because different questions require the use of different reading skills. Use headings, pictures and graphs or charts to give you extra information or clues about the text. Without a doubt, always practice the reading test within the given time limit!
HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE IELTS WRITING SECTION
There are two sections to the IELTS writing; firstly, describing a visual (academic test) or writing a letter (general test) and secondly, writing an academic essay. Understanding what the question is asking you to do and how to answer it within the word and time limit is an essential part of your study. Look at model answers given in practice tests for ideas about structure and paragraphing. Ultimately, having a teacher to correct your writing and helping you to improve your language will also be of great benefit.
When preparing to describe a visual, you need to understand how to correctly read that type of visual and the information it gives. Study lots of different types of informative visuals like line graphs, tables, pie charts, bar charts, maps and process diagrams and practice summarizing their key information.
If you are taking the general test, you will have to write a letter. What’s important here is knowing your audience and using the correct language register in your letter by asking yourself if you are writing a formal or informal letter. Make sure you know how to start and end a letter with the appropriate expressions as well and use paragraphs to separate your ideas.
The academic essay is a longer piece of writing and requires double the amount of time. Structure is a huge part of the essay and you need to know how to write an introduction and a conclusion. The best way to prepare for this is to plan your essay before you write it on a piece of note paper. Always practice writing an essay plan and make sure you follow it when you write your essay!
GET READY TO TAKE THE EXAM
No matter how much you have studied or prepared for an exam, there is always the possibility that your nerves will get in the way on the big day. To avoid this, make sure you get plenty of sleep the night before, eat a good healthy breakfast and keep drinking water throughout the day so that you are awake, refreshed and alert. Good luck!