It is famously difficult to succeed in the IELTS exam because it is such a good test of your English ability. There are no quick fixes or cheats to gain IELTS success. All you can do is prepare and practice. However, there are definitely some important and easy steps you can take to boost your chances of getting a high band score.

1. Make a Plan

Treat the IELTS like any other exam. Plan well in advance and stick to your plan.

  • Set yourself a target. For example, getting a 6.5.
  • Identify your own strengths and weaknesses.
  • Calculate how much time you can spend preparing.
  • Divide that time according to your needs – ie more time on writing and less on reading

Try to make a study timetable that will help you plan out your time effectively. Be realistic and don’t overstretch or you will succumb to stress and fatigue.

2. Find a Study Partner

Languages should not be learned in isolation. At their most basic, they are means of communication. If you sit in a room alone and memorize grammar rules and vocabulary, you will never get a high score. You might be able to practice for the IELTS reading and listening, but you will ultimately not improve your speaking score.

Moreover, a problem shared is a problem halved. A partner can help you find new information, reduce stress, build confidence, and set realistic targets. Work together closely and be honest with each other to achieve IELTS success.

If you don’t have someone close to you who is studying English, look online. There are places you can go to meet up with other IELTS students, or even ask questions to the examiners and tutors. Even spending a little time on Skype every week will help you gain confidence in using your spoken English with others.

3. Look at REAL Exam Papers

Every IELTS student knows that they should do practice tests. It’s so obvious that I’m not including it in this list. You’ve probably done twenty or thirty IELTS writing exams already… or have you?

Did you know that most of the IELTS writing exam papers that you see online are not from the actual IELTS exam? It is very helpful to do practice based upon questions that are similar to the IELTS exam. Your tutor or the author of your textbook may make these up to help you. However, you also need to do actual past papers to get a feel for the real exam. Your IELTS success depends upon you knowing what to expect.

Thankfully, you can find these on the IELTS website or for sale through Amazon:


4. Use Your Skills in the Real World

Why do people take the IELTS exam? There are many reasons – they want to get a job abroad, they want to study in the USA, they want to work for the government, etc etc. Nobody takes the IELTS exam just for the piece of paper they get at the end, and nobody has to do it for their schoolwork. It is a test of your English skills and it tests your actual English level. Therefore, to pass it, you don’t just have to learn “IELTS phrases” or lists of vocabulary, and can’t just focus on strategies and question types.

You need to actually use English for real.

All things I mentioned above are important, but you have to view English as an authentic communication tool. You need to read the news in English every day. You should listen to podcasts and TV shows every day. You must write e-mails and journals in English every day. And, finally, you should talk in English – to another person; not yourself – every day.

Here’s a true IELTS success story:

A few years ago I tutored a young man in China whose English was incredibly good. He wanted to move to Australia and needed to get four 7.0s in his IELTS, but he always did badly in speaking. The more he tried, the worse he did. I was shocked because I could speak so easily with him. His English was almost fluent. But I was his only English-speaking friend and so he seldom practiced speaking. This meant he was really nervous about it, and each time he did the exam he saw the foreign man or woman opposite him and just panicked.

One day I took him to a cafe where my friends liked to hang out, and he spoke for hours with them. He even met up later with some of them for more drinks. The next time he did the IELTS speaking exam, he got 7.5 in the speaking, and now he has his dream job in Australia.

5. Stay Healthy

Many students, particularly in Asia, think that they should study all day and all night to pass an exam, and that everything else should suffer. While this does mean more hours of learning, it’s not very efficient.

In life, you need balance. You need your body to be healthy in order for your brain to process information. Don’t let the quest for IELTS success stop you from living a healthy life, otherwise you won’t succeed.

Doing exercise and getting plenty of sleep are vital for keeping a high level of brain function. [Source] If you force yourself to study too much, you might actually learn less than if you’d taken more breaks and gotten some rest.

If you are struggling with this piece of advice, maybe number six will help you…

6. Make Studying Interesting

So far, I have explained that the IELTS exam is about real language and communication. It’s not just a list of difficult questions. If you truly have a good grasp of English, you will be able to do well in the IELTS. So remember, then, that anything that boosts your English abilities is helpful for your IELTS goals.

What does that mean?

Watching your favourite American or British TV show may seem like a waste of time when you should be studying for the IELTS exam, but is it? Not necessarily. If you are actively listening, then it can be considered a part of your studies. Reading a post on Reddit may seem like a total waste of time, but if you are truly interested, and you are pushing yourself to gain new meanings from the words used, and maybe noting collocations as you go, then it is also useful.

This related to number five because when you want to take a break by watching a movie or listening to a podcast, you can both relax and improve your English skills at the same time.

7. Visualize What you Want in Life

Why are you studying IELTS? Think of your answer and keep it in your head. Visualize it. Focus on it. Don’t forget it, and don’t let it out of sight.

My students often tell me why they study IELTS:

  • to get their dream job
  • they want to explore the world
  • to get a handsome English husband

Achieving IELTS success isn’t easy, but by taking the right approach you can really help yourself. One of the most important things is to stay motivated. Remember why you are doing it and you will have the energy to continue through those difficult days.