How to Prepare for the IELTS Exam

I’ve been teaching IELTS for nearly ten years and every student I encounter has the same question. They all want to know how to prepare for the IELTS exam. Of course, there is no one simple answer to that question. The exam is a test of your English and you must bring up your overall language ability in order to do well. However, it does help to look at the different parts of the exam and think about some things that you can do to prepare.

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I live and work in rural China where there are almost no foreigners around. All my Chinese students complain that they have no one to practice their speaking with. Yet I look at them and say, “How many students are in your class?” The answer is always about fifty.

Practice is so important for the IELTS speaking exam. In order to adequately prepare, you must speak English often. It doesn’t matter if you are speaking to an American or a Brit – you just need to be speaking. So get out there and make some friends who want to be language partners. Sure, it’s awkward and embarrassing at first, but that’s the key to success! Fight through the initial difficulties and get enough practice.

When you are speaking English, make sure not to lapse back into your native language. This is a bad habit because it allows your brain to be lazy. When you force yourself to speak English you are improving your language. Even if you make lots of mistakes, you are still learning and getting better. But if you turn and speak to your partner in your native language, you learn nothing.

There are online forums and Facebook groups that can help you meet people from around the world to partner with and practice your English. You may also want to reach out for language partners who want to learn your language. By helping someone learn your language, you may get valuable practice with theirs.

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IELTS students are often very eager to boost their writing score, and yet confused about how to do it. “There must be a magic formula!” they say. But no, there isn’t. There are structures you can learn, and many guides to deciphering questions, but like the speaking exam you have to simply practice in order to succeed.

When it comes to improving your writing skill, feedback is absolutely essential. When you talk to someone, you can read their expression and tell if they understand you; however, when you write it is much more difficult to know if you have made a mistake. In order to do this, you need to get someone who knows how to correct your essay. You may be able to find an online correction service or ask a native speaking friend for help. You could also try a custom thesis service.

I would recommend reading lots of sample essays and working out how the author answered the question and why they used certain structures and language. If you are unsure, reach out and ask someone. Asking is the best way to learn something new.

Finally, remember to practice all parts of the writing exam. Don’t neglect things like describing maps because they are less common… Even if you spend less time on the less common tasks, you will be well-prepared for the IELTS exam.

Prepare for IELTS Listening

IELTS students love preparing for the listening exam because it’s the most fun one to practice. You can watch movies and TV shows or listen to podcasts and music. You can even just watch videos on YouTube! These things all help you. No joke!

However, although all listening is useful, you do need to do some targeted practice. That means you should get some practice papers and do some real test examples. That way you will be prepared for the IELTS question types and topics. Remember: there is no substitute for experience.

Whenever you do practice listening, remember to engage in active listening. This means asking questions about what you hear. This website was originally founded to use TED Talks for this purpose. Check out our huge selection of free lessons with fascinating TED Talks featuring IELTS-style questions to help you prepare for your exam.

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Finally, we come to the reading section. While all reading practice is useful, the key difficulty in the IELTS exam is that you have such limited time. Therefore, slowly appreciating a novel isn’t going to help you very much in the real exam. You need to challenge yourself to read quickly and gain important information.

Think about the key reading skills you need: skimming, scanning, and reading for detail. When you read the news every morning on the BBC app or whatever else you prefer, challenge yourself to blare through the article and answer pre-defined questions like, “What was it about?” “Who were the people mentioned?” “What did those people do?” and so on.

Trust me, this will help.

Beyond that, get used to figuring out vocabulary from context. Using a dictionary is great sometimes, but you also need to be able to gain a word’s meaning from what is around it. Focus on its part of speech and then piece together its meaning from the sentences before and after it. The faster you can do this, the better. Even native speakers come across words they don’t know!

Author: David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult' and the founder/editor of Beatdom literary journal. He lives and works in rural China, and loves to travel. His other IELTS website is called IELTS Teaching.

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