If you’re planning to migrate to an English-speaking country or hoping to study abroad, you are probably getting ready to take an IELTS test. The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) assesses your ability to speak, listen, read and write in English. It is designed to understand how you will use English in real life situations - at university, at work, and in social situations.
Types of IELTS Tests
There are two types of IELTS test – Academic and General. The IELTS Academic test is for those looking to study at university at undergraduate or postgraduate level; or join a professional organisation in an English-speaking country. On the other hand, the IELTS General Training test is for people who are going to English-speaking countries to train or study at below degree level, to work or undertake work-related training or to emigrate.
IELTS Exam Format
The formats of these two tests are slightly different, but all test takers will still be assessed on the same four skills of Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking.
The Speaking test measures how fluently and accurately you can communicate your ideas and participate in conversations in English. You will be asked to speak on various topics, organise your ideas logically, express and justify your opinions.
The IELTS Writing test is designed to assess a wide range of writing skills, including how well you can write an appropriate response, organise ideas and use a range of vocabulary and grammar accurately.
The Listening test measures how well you can understand general ideas as well as specific factual information, recognise the opinions, attitudes and purpose of a speaker and follow the development of an argument.
The Reading test assesses a wide range of reading skills, including whether you can pick up the general sense of a passage, your attention to detail, your ability to make inferences and implied meaning from the material you have read, your understanding of a writer’s opinions, attitudes and purpose and how well you follow the development of an argument.
IELTS Preparation Tips
Preparing for the test may seem like a huge task at first, but with enough practice and preparation it’s possible to work towards the band score you’re aiming for. Here are four top tips for your upcoming IELTS test.
Tip One: Practice really does make one perfect
Your knowledge of English isn’t enough on its own to ace the test. You need to know what to expect from the test papers and get yourself familiar with the format and the different question types. Practice all the different questions for each part of the paper as much as possible. This will help you understand the time you take for each section. For those taking a pen and paper test, practice will help you recognise how long 150 and 250 words look in your handwriting (you will not have time to count them during the Writing test) you can lose marks if your answer is too long or too short. You can find a lot of test practice online, among others, on the official website of the British Council.
Tip Two: Timing is everything
Did you know that the listening test is 40 minutes long, with only ten minutes for writing down your answers? When you are practising test answers, make sure you do this under the same timed conditions. Doing so helps you to manage your exam time better, and help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. This will give you an idea of which area you need to spend more time practising. For example, if you have difficulty completing the writing test in the given 60 minutes, make sure you schedule more test practice for yourself. Try to complete writing task one in 20 minutes, and task two in 40 minutes – this should include time to plan at the beginning and check your work for errors at the end.
Tip Three: Strategize for success
There are many useful strategies you can try out for different questions and tests. Do try out all of these strategies out to find the ones that work for you. For example, in the Listening test, read the question first so you can listen for the specific information you want – decide if you are listening for a name, a number, an adjective and so on. This will require concentration but will pay off when you are able to identify answers quickly and with certainty. To save time during the Reading test, don’t read the whole text first. Look at the title, subheadings and any pictures to get an idea of the content and then jump straight to the questions. Once you have read the questions, you can then scan through the text for the answers you need. A good IELTS preparation course will guide you on these strategies, for example IELTS Coach, an online taught course with British Council teachers.
Tip Four: Watch more TV!
So this is one time when we can say TV is good for you! Watching English films and TV programmes or listening to the radio or podcasts is not just great for helping you prepare for the listening test, it can also help with your Speaking test. You’ll hear good models of pronunciation and pick up useful phrases to help you feel more confident on the day. You can also pause and copy what people are saying to practice being more fluent. Remember that the Speaking test is like real-life communication - you’ll be talking about yourself, your ideas and your opinions in each part, so practice sharing your ideas on different topics as much as possible.
Taking your IELTS test can be stressful so don’t forget to put these tips into action and practice as much as you can. If you can do that then, come test day, you’ll feel more confident to tackle the test and get the score you want.
About the Expert
Beth Caldwell is the Head, Blended Learning and Quality Standards, at British Council India. She holds a DELTA (Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from University of Cambridge as well as is a Certified TESOL (Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language / ESL Langauge) Instructor.