What to do in the IELTS exam

Since the beginning of January I've been preparing a mixed nationality class for their IELTS exam. 'IELTS' stands for 'International English Language Testing System', is recognised worldwide and has two versions, Academic and General. The Academic IELTS exam acts as an entrance test for non-native English speakers - like my students - wishing to attend university in predominantly English-speaking countries - in this case the UK. In this post I'll be giving you some advice on how to improve your score.

There are four separate tests in the IELTS exam - listening, reading, writing and speaking.  There are lots of different question types and various techniques that you should use for each one.  However, I'm not going to tell you about these in this post; you'll have to attend one of our IELTS courses for that!  Of course you can't have too much vocabulary or grammar for the test, and the better your general English is, the better your IELTS score is likely to be, but on the day of the exam it is too late to do anything about your level of English!  So what I want to look at in this post is how to maximise your chances of getting the best score you can during the test itself.

The Listening Test

Stay focused!  Many students say that they lose concentration during the listening test but unlike in some other exams, candidates only get to listen once, so you really can't afford to switch off.  Remember to use the questions to help you follow the listening script, and to listen for signposting language such as 'Next I'm going to talk about...'  If you miss a question, don't panic - carry on listening for the next answer.

The Reading Test

Timing is crucial here.  Read the questions first, as they will help you to read with a purpose and this will improve your speed.  Remember, even if the text is challenging you can still often find the answers.  There are three sections and the test is an hour, so you shouldn't spend longer than 20 minutes on each section.  Finally, it's vital to leave yourself enough time to transfer your answers to the answer sheet - unlike in the listening test, there is no separate time at the end in which to do this.

The Writing Test

Plan!  This includes reading the question and making sure you understand it.  So you should spend three minutes studying the question before you even plan anything, then five minutes planning in note form.  Only then should you begin to write.  Remember, Task 2 is worth twice as much as Task 1, so you should spend twice as long on it; 40 minutes and 20 minutes respectively.  Students who plan get higher scores!

The Speaking Test

Keep going!  You are marked on language as well as on fluency but if you aren't fluent enough to produce much language then you will also lose marks on your grammar and vocabulary.  If you're a bit shy about your English remember it's only quarter of an hour of your life so just go for it!

So, to summarise, when you're in the exam remember these four things:

Listening: Stay Focused

Reading:  Timing

Writing:  Planning

Speaking:  Keep Going!

I hope you've found this advice helpful.  Best of luck with your studies!


to switch off (phr.v.) - to lose concentration

signposting language (n.) - phrases used in formal speech which tell the listener when you have finished one topic and are moving to the next one

crucial (adj.) - very important

vital (adj.) - very important 

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