How to prepare yourself for the IELTS step by step, from day one to test day.
Preparing for the IELTS usually starts when you find out you need to get a particular IELTS score for your visa or your university application. Many students spend months alternately worrying about the test and preparing for it. But if you think about it, your IELTS preparation actually began many years ago, when you first started learning English.
It’s important to remember that a language is a skill (like driving a car or playing the piano). The more you practise the better you will become, and if you don’t practise then you won’t be able to do these things well at all. Even if you speak English fluently, it’s important to spend a bit of time preparing for your IELTS test so you don’t face any unpleasant surprises on the day of your test. In fact, some native English speakers score less well on their test than non-native speakers. Why? Because they didn’t know what the examiners were looking for when scoring their language skills.
So below we will outline a general strategy for the four sections and also more specific strategies to keep you on the right track in preparing for your IELTS preparation.
STEP 1: Learn about the IELTS test format
Improving your English is not enough to get a great IELTS score. A native English speaker who takes the IELTS won’t get a perfect score if he doesn’t study for the test itself. You need to have a thorough understanding of what the IELTS is, how it works, how it is assessed, etc. There can be essential little things like:
Should I guess at an answer if I’m not sure, or skip that question?
How many times will I get to hear a recording in the listening section?
What if the examiner can’t read my handwriting?
This step is about using the skills you have to get the best possible score on test day. There are websites and IELTS preparation books to help you understand the IELTS test structure better. Two overviews are available from IELTS.org and the British Council that will explain more about this and the different question types. Or you can also refer to our article An introduction to IELTS test if you want to have a clear and visualized summary information in both English and Vietnamese.
Your goal in this step is to go into your IELTS test session already very familiar with the types of questions you’ll be asked, how they will be scored, and what your strategies are to optimize your score.
STEP 2: Find out where you stand
If you don’t know what your current English level is in terms of the IELTS scale, you don’t know how far you are from reaching your goal. So before making the exact plan, you can do a full length practice test to check your level. There are lots of practice tests out there but the easiest way to check your current score on the IELTS is to take the EFSET Plus. It’s a two hour test and because it will give you an EFSET score and an IELTS equivalency score for both reading and listening, it’s 2 hours very well-spent. Unless your speaking and writing skills are at a very different level, now you know where you stand.
Besides, we highly recommend you have a consultation with a professional IELTS teacher, they can look at your writing and speak to you and get some idea of why you didn’t get the score you want and offer advice as to what needs to improve. If you don’t know anyone, our professional teachers are happy to help, just leave us a message on our website or fanpage!
As with the IELTS, and with all things, the “secret” is to have a regular and consistent practice. This is true in all activities, whether learning a language, learning to play an instrument, or whatever. The people who are successful are those who put in the hours, it really is that simple! As a general rule, for most people to increase their overall band score by 0.5, it can take around 200 hours of guided study and practice.
So set yourself a time frame for your study. Decide how much time you can spend each day or each week on your IELTS study. It is far better to do a smaller amount every day to build skills than to spend 6 hours at the weekend. Little and often is the key.
Don’t just go through a whole test – this takes a long time and you won’t have time for learning:
Do one or two sections of listening and one reading passage
Time the reading – but make sure you finish (see how much longer than 20 minutes you take and try to reduce this gradually)
Check your answers and then go over the listening and reading again to make sure you see why the answers are incorrect
Write down any words you don’t know – find out what they mean and try and learn them over the next week – make sure you can spell them
Can you use these in your writing? Or speaking? Are they words connected with a particular topic that may come up again?
Create vocabulary lists for different topics – they do come up over and over and you will see many of these words appear again
Now do some writing – depending on how much time you have – write a plan for task 2 or some notes for task 1 if you haven’t got time to write the task
If you need speaking practice then do this now – pick a topic and record yourself speaking about this for 2 minutes. Listen and then do the same task again and make it better. If you have time, do it again until you are happy it is well delivered.
When you get feedback from your writing, check grammar mistakes and practise these with a grammar book or online grammar site so you are clear about how to use this grammar in your next task. Write down a list of things to check, so you can avoid showing mistakes to the examiners in the exam.
Finally, take some time off to do non-IELTS English things – watch a movie (use English subtitles to help with understanding), listen to a radio programme or podcast or some music or go out with friends and have an ‘English chat session’.
Sample weeks study plan
This is just an idea as to how it might look in general. As you can see, you need to cover as much ground as possible, the general strategy of reading and listening, and the more focused strategy of getting to know the difference between the question types and the techniques you need to answer them. Also, you need some time for lessons and having your writing corrected, and general speaking practice with a study/language exchange partner, and more skill-specific sessions with your teacher.
This plan can be tailored according to your particular needs and time availability. Even if you don’t have time to complete all the listed tasks for a given day or week, do what you can! The goal of the study schedule is to keep you organized, motivated and on track with your IELTS preparation.
Click here to download our free, printable IELTS schedule template.
STEP 4: Test yourself again
When you can tell that you’ve improved your English and you’ve familiarized yourself with the IELTS test, there’s one more step before you sign up to sit the exam. Test yourself again. If you took the EFSET Plus in step 2, take it a second time to see how much you’ve improved. If you can take an IELTS speaking or writing practice test, do that too. Whatever you do, don’t skip this last step. It’s the only way you’ll know if you’re ready to spend money to sit the official exam. There’s no point in signing up to take the IELTS if you’re not ready to get the score you need.
With this 4-step IELTS preparation plan, we hope you can go into your test session confident that although it will be challenging, you are ready to get the score you need. When you get your IELTS score, that’s when you’ll know that your IELTS preparation has paid off.
If you need any help or have any questions, leave your comments below, our IELTS experts and teachers will promptly respond!
Everest Education is now offering you a reliable, high-quality IELTS prep to help you along the way. For more information, please go to our website or make a visit to our learning center for an IELTS mock test.