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How We Crushed IELTS! Secrets of an 8.5 Score

More than two million IELTS tests are taken each year and the average candidate’s score is around 6.0. The score needed to enter a university course is typically 6.5 to 7.5.

But some candidates went beyond the call of duty and achieved IELTS 8.0 or 8.5. How did they do it? We asked, and here’s what they said.

Kanako from Japan, IELTS 8.0

I took the test five times and my highest overall score was 8.0 (9 9 7 7). The reason why I took the test so many times is because I got 6.0 or 6.5 for Writing at the first four attempts but I needed to get 7.0. In the end it almost drove me crazy but I did it. I probably did more than twenty Writing practice tests but it was worth it. I asked for feedback from different people including some friends who are native speakers and professional writing coaches such as this website. The range of feedback was surprising! Sometimes it was: Well done this looks fine to me! But I tried to listen more carefully for the criticism. The most important thing I learned was how to organise the essay into four clear paragraphs because I believe that structure is the first thing the examiner notices. I’m sure that was the key to getting 7.0.

Anna from Russia, IELTS 8.5

My overall score was 8.5 with 9 for Reading and Listening, 8.5 for Speaking and 7.5 for Writing. For Speaking: just keep talking! Whatever! As long as it is grammatically correct, the examiner doesn’t really want to know the details of your biography or what you truly think of the topic. They want to hear you speak. I was asked about public buildings. Yeah, right, I can’t sleep without thinking about public buildings. I recite poems about public buildings every day and sometimes at night. NOT! So I just launched an endless speech inventing things but trying to stick to the subject and connect all the ideas that came to mind to the public buildings, bless them 🙂 It worked. Dont try to use texts you learned by heart. You must sound as natural as possible. For this, read out loud, talk to yourself (yes, ignore haters:)), watch movies and don’t be afraid! And under no circumstances say “I don’t know” and then stop. Say instead: Hmm, I have never given it a thought, but this is an interesting idea. I would say… and blah-blah-blah!

Pie from Thailand, IELTS 8.5

I took the test a few years back and the score was 8.5 with a 9 in both Reading and Listening. I personally relied on neither tricks nor techniques at the time. With that said, I realized later that I should have, especially for the speaking and writing sections. I believe the key for those two parts is to make sure you don’t steer away from the given topic and the best way to do so is to answer positively if and when you can. By that I mean if asked whether you agree or disagree, try not to go with the latter and when asked to describe something, for example your favorite toy, don’t say that you don’t/didn’t have one.

Liz from Romania, IELTS 8.5

I finally scored 9 9 8 8 for my IELTS exam and now I’m waiting for my visa to be processed. The help I got from IELTS Academic with my Writing tasks and Speaking practice was great. What was the secret? Practice practice practice! I took many full tests at home, I timed myself, sat down and did Listening, Reading and Writing without moving, just like at the real exam. I also learnt special language requested in different topics in the Speaking exam. The Writing practice tests I took with IELTS Academic helped me to realise what I was doing wrong, and made a big difference for my overall score. I remember reading my first essays, then comparing them to my latest. Huge improvement. I also created the best conditions for myself before the exam, I slept as good as I could one week before, tried to keep calm and don’t exhaust myself, and really, the last time I took it I KNEW that I had done my very best and that it was hard to go any higher. A newcomer should take into consideration EVERY variable he/she can and not leave anything to chance.

So there’s your answer: there’s no single way to crush IELTS and achieve a Band 8 score. The candidates above all put in different amounts of effort, for sure.

Interestingly, all four candidates achieved the highest possible score of Band 9 in Listening and Reading, which suggests they already had an excellent understanding of English before taking the test. But they all found Writing and Speaking a bit trickier, as these sections are based on a more subjective assessment of skills.

For Writing and Speaking, the basic guide to success appears to be: (1) Get expert feedback on your Writing tasks and analyse what factors help to improve your score. (2) Maintain a positive outlook in Speaking and say as much as you can.

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IELTS in 30 Minutes! Your Daily IELTS Workout

IELTS test coming soon? Seriously out of shape? Give yourself an instant IELTS workout with these 30-minute exercises.

1. Bench-press these TED talks

Watching TED talks can be great entertainment. However, when watched passively, TED talks don’t always make for good language learning. The solution? Try these four short TED talks, which come with authentic IELTS Listening questions. It should take you around 30 minutes to do all 40 questions, just like the real test.

2. Build your listening stamina

How often do you exercise your ears? The BBC’s 6 Minute English is a great way to build your listening stamina. Each recording discusses a topic of the day and comes with questions to test your comprehension. Try listening to four in a row to develop your powers of concentration.


3. Do some accent training

Are you easily confused by unfamiliar accents? Baffled by Brits? Afraid of Aussies? Here’s an easy way to get familiar with a variety of English accents in just 30 minutes. This post on English accents features ten native speakers with ten different accents reading the same three-minute script.

4. Hit the spelling gym

English is rightly famous for its irregular spellings. As a result, it takes years of hard work to become a true spelling master in English. But in the short term, it pays to learn some of the basic spelling rules and common errors. This article introduces some common spelling mistakes in IELTS.

5. Train your eyes

Your IELTS workout needn’t be strenuous. Wordsearches are a fun way to train your eye to scan for words in a text – an essential skill for IELTS reading. The website features hundreds of wordsearches arranged by topic. Try this one on natural disasters to get started.

Wordsearch: Natural Disasters

6. Exercise those hand muscles: write a letter

How often do you write things by hand? It’s no wonder that many of us are unprepared for the handwritten tasks in IELTS Writing. Get out some paper and a pencil (you do own these items, right?) and practice writing a letter to a friend. Or see these letter-writing topics for inspiration. Writing a letter, of course, is a requirement in IELTS General Training.

7. Obey the data: analyse charts and graphs

Let’s face it, we’re as likely to study charts and graphs in everyday life as we are to write a letter! No wonder that some people are lost in IELTS Writing Task 1. As part of your regular IELTS workout, train your brain to analyse visual data. These tables, charts and graphs from Cliff Notes include some questions to test your understanding.

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What’s the Best IELTS Course for Beginners?

Everyday I get the same message from people all over the world: “Teach me about IELTS!”

“What do you want to know?” I reply.

“Everything!” comes the answer.

Some people have a desperate need to pass IELTS, but they don’t quite know where to begin. That’s why I decided to write this post on what to do if you’re a complete IELTS beginner. First, I’m going to point you to some useful articles on this website that you should read first. Then I’m going to explain why you should take a complete IELTS course for beginners and tell you what I consider to be the best course for your money. Finally, I’ll give you some hints for further practice.

Must-reads for IELTS beginners

IELTS consists of four sections: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. See my four posts below for an introduction to each section and a list of some of the key skills required.

IELTS Listening: Introduction
IELTS Reading: Introduction
IELTS Writing: Introduction
IELTS Speaking: Introduction

Then come back here and we’ll proceed to the next stage.

Choosing an IELTS beginner course

You can pick up a lot of helpful information by reading about IELTS on sites like this one. But for most people, the easiest way to learn is by following a teacher.

Here you have two options. One is to search for beginner-level IELTS courses at language schools in your city. The second is to enroll in an online IELTS course. The online option is usually cheaper and gives you a wider choice of teachers. I have a great recommendation for you in Part 3 below.

In both cases, make sure the course is both comprehensive and suitable for beginners. What are the advantages of taking a comprehensive beginner-level course?

Advantage #1: You don’t miss anything. A good IELTS beginner course includes all the question types plus the most important strategies, so it gives you an excellent foundational knowledge of the test.

Advantage #2: You understand things more easily. If you’re new to IELTS, it can be very confusing when people say you have to practice skimming or scanning, or identify a paraphrase or thesis statement. You can waste a lot of time just trying to find out exactly what these words mean! A good IELTS beginner course assumes no prior knowledge of the test and explains everything in simple terms.

Advantage #3: You get equal coverage of all four sections of the test. Sometimes it’s hard to judge your own ability. You might think you need to practice speaking, for example, when it’s your reading skills that are the real problem. A good IELTS beginner course gives equal attention to all four sections regardless of what you, the learner, think is most important!

Is there a recommended IELTS course for beginners?

In my opinion, the best IELTS beginner course online right now is IELTS Preparation for Beginners on Udemy. It was created by two IELTS teachers, Adam and Emma, who take turns walking you through the four sections of the test using simple language.

Udemy Course: IELTS Preparation for Beginners

The course consists of 20 short lectures which take around five hours in total to complete. You could watch the whole course in half a day or—and this is my recommendation—break it up into four lessons over four days so that you have time to digest what you’ve learned. The entire course costs around the same as a standard textbook so it’s well worth giving it a try.

View the course contents and watch a free preview of IELTS Preparation for Beginners.

Congratulations, you’ve passed the IELTS beginner stage!

Now that you’ve read the articles and completed the course above, you’re no longer an IELTS beginner. Nice work! At this point, you might consider taking a full practice test to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Then you can start to specialise in one or more of the sections to give yourself that all-important extra practice.

To practice IELTS listening or IELTS reading, the best thing to do is purchase the past test papers published by Cambridge ESOL, or a good IELTS textbook. See my list of recommended textbooks for self-study here.

To practice IELTS writing or IELTS speaking with me, see my online IELTS practice tests here. As part of each test, I will tell you your score and give you feedback and coaching on how to improve.

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Here’s How to Improve Your IELTS Score

OK, so you’ve bought the books, watched the video tutorials, and read a million blogs. Getting that 6.5 or 7.0 in this weekend’s IELTS test shouldn’t be too hard, right?

But, like thousands of other people, you’ve discovered the awful truth that however much you ace the listening and reading sections, it can be VERY difficult indeed to raise your score by even 0.5 in the writing and speaking sections!

Why does this happen? Well, listening and reading scores depend greatly on knowledge in the form of vocabulary and grammar. This knowledge is usually built up over many years of study. Also, in the listening and reading sections of IELTS, an answer is either correct or incorrect, so it’s relatively easy to understand what went wrong.

However, writing and speaking are skills, which means they depend more on practice than knowledge. Evaluating how well you perform those skills is also more difficult if you’re not a native speaker, or if you don’t understand the more complex ways in which IELTS writing and speaking answers are scored.

Many people fail to improve their IELTS score because they repeat the classic ‘insanity’ symptom of attempting the same thing again and again while expecting different results. Sadly, the truth is that your many years of English study plus a few IELTS textbooks may never be enough to lift your IELTS scores in writing and speaking to the same level as your listening and reading scores.

What you really need is a teacher. Not just any teacher, but one who is qualified to advise on exactly where you’re going wrong. A good teacher will provide you with genuine IELTS speaking practice and the personally-tailored feedback you need to improve your IELTS writing score. In fact, there are many more reasons why it pays to study with a good teacher.

Five ways a good teacher can help you improve your IELTS score

  1. Correct use of grammar accounts for 25% of your score in both Writing and Speaking. A good IELTS teacher will point out your most common grammar mistakes and encourage you to self-correct.
  2. Some mistakes are inevitable, of course. The most important thing is to be understood, since writing or speaking coherent English is one of the basic requirements of a good IELTS score. A good teacher will let you know when you’ve written or said something incoherent and ask you to rephrase it.
  3. Dictionaries contain plenty of words, but it’s not always easy to know which are the most frequently used and which are appropriate in a situation like the IELTS test. A good teacher will suggest vocabulary that would have helped you to explain your ideas better in the writing or speaking sections of the test.
  4. A good IELTS teacher understands how IELTS scores are calculated and will focus their feedback on key skills like paragraphing and connecting ideas. These are the skills that take less time to acquire and can give the biggest boost to your IELTS score.
  5. Finally, a good IELTS teacher provides motivation, since they highlight things you do well and are professionally engaged in helping you improve your IELTS score. A good teacher is therefore also a good coach – and you can’t get that from a book or website!

How to find a good IELTS teacher

So now you’re ready to invest money in hiring a teacher, how do you know the person you’re about to hire is the right one to provide that big boost to your IELTS score?

One problem is that there is no licence to teach IELTS. Instead, you should look for someone with a solid teaching background who can demonstrate good knowledge of the IELTS scoring criteria. Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions like How many IELTS students have you taught before? and What advice do you usually give your students to improve their IELTS score? You are the client and you should not hesitate to check a teacher’s professional credentials before spending your money.

Some common methods of finding a teacher are as follows:

1. Online noticeboards

This is most people’s first choice of where to look for a private teacher. There are general ‘classifieds’ sites like Craigslist and many countries and cities also have a local equivalent. Just be sure to ask the questions above!

2. Language Schools

Most major cities have at least one language school that offers an IELTS course. However, be warned that you may not experience all the benefits above if you study IELTS in a group. Before signing up for any course, ask if your writing tasks will be graded and corrected, and confirm if there will be individual speaking practice with the teacher.

3. IELTS Examiners

It’s important to know that IELTS examiners are not allowed to advertise their examiner status in their teaching careers. After you meet with an IELTS teacher, however, they will usually not mind telling you discretely if they are also working as an examiner. If they don’t mention it, just ask!

4. Online Teachers

One advantage of having an online teacher is that your choices are no longer restricted to the teachers in your local area and you can now pick from the very best the world has to offer! Some people worry that studying online isn’t the same, but if you’ve ever used Skype or Google Docs you’ll know that instant messaging and editing tools can actually help you get even more out of the experience.

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Free IELTS Course Online from the British Council

Are you looking for a free IELTS course online? Do you want to learn from a senior IELTS teacher at the British Council? As you’re here, the answer to both questions is probably Yes!

You may have heard lots of talk about MOOCs in recent years. MOOCs – or Massive Open Online Courses – allow free access to learning for anyone with an internet connection.

The British Council has teamed up with FutureLearn to offer a six-week course in IELTS. Understanding IELTS: Techniques for English Language Tests will launch on May 11th 2015 and last for six weeks.

The course covers all four sections of the IELTS test: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. It is delivered completely online and you’ll learn practical test techniques that you can apply to all English language tests and not just IELTS.

Who is the online course for?

The course is suitable for intermediate English speakers intending to take IELTS or another test of English. Before signing up, please make sure you can commit at least two hours a week to work your way through the course content. Like most MOOCs, this is not an accredited course. However, there is an option to purchase a Statement of Participation at the end.

Will my IELTS answers be scored?

The course is delivered by video tutors and, because there are many thousands of students, there is no teacher feedback on an individual basis. However, you will have the opportunity to participate in an online community and have your answers evaluated by other course participants.

How do I join?

It takes only a few seconds to enrol in this course at FutureLearn. You just need to submit an email address and then wait for the first video lesson to be made available online.

Don’t miss this fabulous opportunity to take a free IELTS course online!

Study Tips

Top Ten Questions for an IELTS Teacher

Ten of the best questions submitted to Ask an IELTS Teacher this year:

Question from Kyaw in Myanmar: I don’t know how to handle “other” in line graph caption. What does “other” mean?

Answer: This is a very good question, thank you. First of all, you don’t need to speculate about what’s meant by ‘other’. Often the ‘other’ category will account for only a very small percentage of results, so it may not even be necessary to mention it in your answer.

Question from Hoda in Iran: Is it true that while taking the IELTS Speaking test part 2, the test taker can ask the examiner to change the cue card if he doe not have no clue to talk about the topic? Will he lose any points for that change?

Answer: I’ve never heard of this before so I don’t recommend trying it. The topic in Part 2 is always designed so that anyone can talk about it. If it seems difficult, explain why it’s difficult. You are assessed on the language you produce, not your ability to answer the question. Good luck!

Question from Surya in India: Can we write all listening answers in capital letters?? For example if the answer is “a monsoon”, can we write like this “A MONSOON” and “reduce tension” as “REDUCE TENSION”??

Answer: Writing your answers in capital letters is absolutely fine and will not affect your score. Good luck!

Question from Amelie in France: I would need to know where to find materials/books with samples about IELTS writing tasks 1 and 2. I need to score band 8. I am requested to. Do you know where I can find good samples of writing tasks band 8 and possibly 9? I need to study them carefully and in depth. Thank you so so much!!

Answer: Wow, that’s a high requirement! May I ask which school or organisation requests Band 8? In answer to your question, I do not know of any textbook specifically designed to help you achieve bands 8 or 9, but the Objective IELTS Advanced Self-study Student’s Book includes many answers of the type you’re looking for. Don’t forget to read my article How to Get a Band 8 Score in Academic IELTS and look at the IELTS Writing answers on this site, many of which are Band 8 or above.

Question from Angel in Indonesia: How come to deal with IELTS interview?? Yesterday, I had my first interview… I was so nervous. Actually, I’m a shy person. So, how to resolve it for the next time if I follow the next interview??

Answer: Remember that the examiner is your friend. The examiner wants you to do well. Practice speaking with an older stranger in your own language first to overcome shyness. And good luck!

Question from Len in Viet Nam: Hello teacher! I’m Len and from Viet Nam, I will take IELTS on December 15, 2012. I’m a bit confused about writing task 2. I should or should not give examples in this task.

Answer: You should definitely include examples as they add vital extra support to your main ideas. However, always be aware of time constraints. Two sentences should be enough for any example: one sentence to state the example, and the second sentence to explain it. Good luck!

Question from Amin in Iran: Hi. There are several things that I need to know about the task 1 in writing. First, How to give a good introduction. Then if there are 2 graphs, should I compare them in the body paragraphs or in the introduction. Finally, in conclusion, which is really overwhelming, again what are the most points that I must mention in the conclusion.Thank you very much.

Answer: I suggest you check the following page which should answer your questions: IELTS Writing Task 1: How to Organise Your Answer

Question from Meet in India: Could u tell me what can I say in a topic of “Describe your attitude”?

Answer: “Describe your attitude” means, in other words, “What is your view of?” or “What do you think of?” It’s simply asking for an opinion so you’d reply “Well, in my view…” or “For me, it’s…”

Question from Min in Viet Nam: I’m always get confused when it comes to IELTS Writing task 1, which contains more than 1 graphs. I dont know where to start and what to write. Can you give me advice on this? Thanks a lot.

Answer: Describe each graph in a separate paragraph and then write about the connection between the graphs in your conclusion. Simple!

Question from Amal in Oman: I want to ask you about the academic writing task one. Every time I take IELTS I got band 5 in writing and I don’t know what was my mistake. Can you please give me types of questions that come in task 1 and how can I answer them and get higher score. 

Answer: There are plenty of sample Task 1 questions with model answers on this website. Good luck!

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Why Study IELTS with a Teacher?

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, which provides skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

Think you can study IELTS on your own? Don’t go it alone until you’ve read these five reasons why you should study IELTS with a teacher.

1. A teacher can help you recognise your strengths and weaknesses.

Sometimes we aren’t good at identifying the areas in which we need to improve. IELTS students will often say they hate the speaking or writing sections of the test. However, they may overestimate the difficulty of these sections. More benefit might be gained by acquiring simple strategies for listening and reading. That’s the advantage of studying IELTS with a teacher: he or she can give you an objective analysis of where you need to concentrate your efforts most.

2. An experienced IELTS teacher can score your writing and speaking answers.

While textbooks may provide guidance in the form of sample answers, you can only guess what IELTS score your own answers would receive. Knowledge of how IELTS answers are really scored belongs to a select group of people: IELTS examiners and experienced IELTS teachers. Not only can teachers give you an accurate band score in all sections of the test, they can also provide more detailed scores than the test certificate, including individual scores for the various criteria in IELTS Writing and Speaking, as well as suggestions for improvement.

3. A good teacher will train you in a range of language skills while preparing you for IELTS.

IELTS is not the real reason you are studying English. English is a skill you will continue to use throughout your entire life. A good teacher will do much more than prepare you for a test: pointing out your most frequent grammatical errors, correcting your pronunciation and spelling, and letting you know if what you said is understandable or not. On top of that, your teacher provides an all-round good model of how to use English in everyday communication. Ask yourself if you could get all this from books, the internet or friends, and the answer will almost certainly be No.

4. An organised programme of study helps to prevent procrastination.

What is ‘procrastination’? We’re all guilty of it, even if we don’t know the word. Procrastination means postponing those things we know we must do. It affects us at school, at work, and of course when preparing for IELTS. Following a syllabus with a teacher (and classmates) provides what psychologists call ‘extrinsic motivation’: a source of motivation that comes from other people. If your own motivation is sometimes lacking, find an IELTS teacher willing to be your coach as well as your instructor.

5. In IELTS, practice makes perfect.

In all areas of life, our confidence in our own ability increases with practice. This in turn leads to better performance in pressure situations such as exams. While textbooks will allow you to practice the listening, reading and writing modules of IELTS, the only way to gain authentic practice of the IELTS speaking module is with a teacher. An experienced IELTS teacher knows how to play the examiner’s role, including the kind of help that can be given and when to prompt you to speak more. Try gaining practice with a variety of teachers – different ages, accents, and personalities – to reduce the likelihood of nerves when you meet your first IELTS examiner.

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, which provides skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

Classroom Resources Study Tips Teacher Tips

Top 5 IELTS Textbooks for Classroom Use

With more than a million test-takers annually, more and more publishers are getting into the IELTS textbook market, with varying results. Choosing a coursebook for a group of students is a serious responsibility because, along with the teacher, the book may well be the most important influence on their test preparation over the following months. I’ve taught groups using all the most common IELTS textbooks, and these are the five I’ve found to be most reliable:

Focus on IELTS (New Edition) (Longman)

Focus on IELTS has long been a popular choice for teachers and it’s easy to see why. There’s a good balance between authentic Academic IELTS test items and meaningful group exercises, while the inclusion of a grammar reference guide and extra writing practice make this a solid friend for classroom use. The new edition corrects most of the mistakes in the first edition and adds more EAP elements such as critical thinking and reflective learning. One remaining drawback is the lack of a version with full answer key and scripts. Also available in a Foundation edition that introduces test practice more gradually. Rating 9/10

Objective IELTS Intermediate/Advanced (Cambridge)

One unique aspect of the Objective series is that test practice exercises are mostly written to focus students’ attention on a particular item type. There’s also an attractive presentation, discussion-led format, and strong grammar coverage throughout both books. The inclusion of test items from both the Academic and General Training modules in both books can be either a blessing or a curse depending on your teaching situation. A self-study student’s book with answer key and scripts is available for a slightly higher price, and there’s a teacher’s book with regular practice tests. Be warned: the level of questions in Objective IELTS Advanced is extremely challenging. Rating 8/10

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Top 5 IELTS Textbooks for Self-study

Over the years I’ve been asked countless times which IELTS textbooks are best for independent study. For me, the main criteria are a full answer section, preferably one with explanations of answers, and an approach to the test that breaks down strategies into simple steps that learners can follow. Here are five textbooks I’ve recommended many times in the past:

Focus on Academic Skills for IELTS (Longman)

At first glance this seems to be a supplement to Focus on IELTS, but it’s actually a radically different kind of coursebook, one very well suited to self-study. Test strategies are broken down into easy-to-follow processes, and authentic test items are supplemented with directions in blue text. There’s also a full answer key. The new edition of the book includes both audio CDs and is therefore an even more complete package than the first edition. The only drawback is that it’s a little too process-oriented for classroom situations. Rating 9/10

Grammar for IELTS/Vocabulary for IELTS (Cambridge)

Vocabulary for IELTSIndependent learners will appreciate these self-study guides from Cambridge which focus on grammar and vocabulary with an academic dimension. Suitable for all low- to high-intermediate-level students. Both books come with an audio CD, which means that test-takers are activating more than just their reading and writing skills. Of course, it is ideal if these books can be supplemented with opportunities for spoken output such as a group lesson or study buddy. Rating 8/10

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IELTS For Free! 5 Ways to Cost-free Preparation

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:

Plan to study IELTS on your own? Check out our guide to the Top 5 IELTS textbooks for self-study first.