Textbooks, lessons, and the test fee itself – getting through IELTS can be an expensive business. If your budget is rather tight, you might be interested in the following hints and tips. All of them are completely free and some don’t even require you to use English!
1. Go online
Do a simple online search for IELTS and you’ll find that there are hundreds of sites offering free IELTS advice and practice. That’s almost certainly how you got here. But why is there so much available for free online? The answer is simple. Most websites make money from advertising, or their authors want to sell their own books online. Of course the quality of such sites varies, so be sure to check the author’s credentials before you invest too much faith in a particular site. If the author has several years of real-world IELTS teaching experience, that’s a good sign that they know the test inside-out. Also look for student testimonials, trackbacks and publications as further evidence of a site you can trust.
2. Find an IELTS study buddy
While it’s possible to prepare for the Listening and Reading modules of IELTS on your own, there really is no substitute for another human being when it comes to preparing for the Speaking (and, to a lesser extent, Writing) module of the test. Some people insist that you practice with a native speaker, preferably one with knowledge of IELTS, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that practicing with another English learner can be just as beneficial. One reason for this is that pairs of learners form better strategies for negotiating meaning. Native teachers can be a little too good at guessing what you want to say, while a non-native partner is more likely to tell you when they don’t understand, so you know when you’ve said something unclear. If you can’t find an IELTS study buddy at your school, some IELTS websites have forums in which you can search for a like-minded partner.
3. Take a free IELTS demo test
It’s worth checking your local IELTS schools to see if they offer a free IELTS demo test. Some organisations offer a sample test for free as a level check and you may even get some study tips from a trained IELTS teacher. This is a great way to get some last-minute practice if you plan to take the real test soon, as well as an effective way to check out what a school is like before you spend any money on lessons.
4. Ask your school or university
If your school or university has an English language department, ask if they already offer IELTS preparation lessons. If they don’t, let them know that IELTS is the preferred English language test of thousands of higher education institutions worldwide and ask if they have any plans to provide IELTS lessons for students who want to study abroad. This may not produce fast results, but there’s a good chance that your request will be noted and IELTS lessons will be introduced in future terms.
5. Practice general academic skills
It’s not true that the only way to prepare for an IELTS test is to take an IELTS course. In fact, there are many skills that you can practice in your everyday life that are directly transferable to test situations. You can even do these in your own language and they should still bring real benefits in an IELTS test. Here are just a few examples:
- Developing an argument – practice speaking about any topic for two minutes by adding reasons and examples, and contrasting different views. This is best done in English of course, but start in your own language if you’re not used to expressing opinions.
- Essay outlining – increase your writing speed by taking any topic and producing a five-minute outline of how you would present your opinions in an essay. You don’t have to write the actual essay.
- Targetted listening – listen to any spoken recording (it doesn’t have to be academic) and try to pick out and write down certain types of information such as names or numbers.
- Speed reading – find an article of around two pages in length and give yourself a ridiculously short amount of time (3-5 minutes is recommended) to note down the main ideas. To accomplish this, you will have to skip over the minor details, which is exactly what you must do in the IELTS test itself.
Of course, all of this should be combined with a good awareness of the test itself. Make sure you read our introductions to the four IELTS Academic modules if you have any uncertainties about what to expect:
- IELTS Listening: Introduction
- IELTS Reading: Introduction
- IELTS Writing: Introduction
- IELTS Speaking: Introduction
Plan to study IELTS on your own? Check out our guide to the Top 5 IELTS textbooks for self-study first.