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The IELTS Exam: IELTS Preparation Tips & Guide


Do you need to prove your English fluency for a job, university enrollment, a visa, or personal fulfillment? There are a few popular English fluency exams out there, some of which you may have already looked at and considered. 

In case you’re still in the beginning stages of choosing the best English proficiency test for you, EnglishClass101.com has a separate article on the TOEIC test and how you can excel at it! 

In this article, I’ll be covering the basics of the IELTS test. You’ll learn what IELTS stands for, who should take it, what to expect during the test, and how you can effectively prepare for it.

Are you ready? Let’s get started.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Study Strategies in English Table of Contents
  1. Introduction to the IELTS Exam
  2. What’s in the IELTS Exam?
  3. Preparing for the IELTS
  4. Bonus: Dealing with Test Anxiety
  5. You CAN Pass the IELTS!

1. Introduction to the IELTS Exam

The IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is one of the most popular English proficiency tests. There are three types of IELTS you can take, depending on your goals:

Academic Version
  • For those who want to attend a university in an English-speaking country.
  • For doctors and nurses seeking to move their practice to an English-speaking country.
General Training Version
  • For those who are learning English for work experience purposes.
  • For those seeking to immigrate to an English-speaking country.
Life Skills Version
  • For those who need to prove their English proficiency to CEFR for a visa.
  • For those who are learning English in order to be granted indefinite leave to stay in an English-speaking country.
  • For those who are seeking citizenship in the United Kingdom.

Regardless of which IELTS exam version you take, there will be four sections: 

  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking

The actual content of these sections varies slightly from version to version, but the exam is essentially the same across the board. In this article, I won’t focus on the IELTS life skills test, but rather the academic and general training versions.

2. What’s in the IELTS Exam?

Here, I’ll give you more detailed information on the basic IELTS test format and what to expect in each of these four sections. If you want even more information on what the IELTS contains, Wikipedia has a very useful page on the topic! 1- IELTS Listening Test

Listening to Something

The listening component of the IELTS exam is thirty minutes long. There are four sections in this part of the test, and each section contains ten questions:

Section #Type of Language UsedHow Many People Speaking?
1Everyday, social dialogueTwo people speaking
2Everyday, social monologueOne person speaking
3Educational or training-related dialogueTwo people speaking
4Educational or training-related monologueOne person speaking

→ Keep in mind that during the listening portion of the test, you’ll hear multiple English dialects! Later in this article, you can find links to both American English and British English pronunciation lessons, as well as how to improve your listening skills.

2- IELTS Reading Test

Man Reading Lots of Books

The reading component of the exam is sixty minutes long. It consists of three sections and approximately 2500 total words of reading. The way the reading pieces are presented varies slightly depending on which version of the exam you take:

Academic Version

Section #What to Expect
1 Each of the three reading sections for the Academic Version includes text from books, journals, and other informational sources. The content of these texts is therefore informational and selected for an audience of test-takers who are (or want to be) enrolled in a university or place of higher learning.

General Training Version

Section #What to Expect
  • Two or more short texts that have to do with practical everyday things.
  • Two work-related texts.
  • One longer, more descriptive text from an educational source that covers a topic of general interest.

→  Keep in mind that the IELTS reading section contains questions of various formats. For example, there will be multiple choice, short answer, diagrams, and identification-type questions. We recommend becoming familiar with multiple question-and-answer formats before attempting the test! 

3- IELTS Writing Test

Man and Woman Writing Something Down

The writing component of the test is sixty minutes long. It contains two writing tasks you must complete, although these tasks vary slightly depending on which version of the IELTS you’re taking:

Academic Version

Section #What to ExpectTime
  • You’ll be asked to describe a graph or diagram using your own words.
Twenty minutes
  • You’ll be asked to express your point of view on a specific topic or to make an argument for that point of view.
Forty minutes

General Training Version

Section #What to ExpectTime
  • You’ll be asked to compose a short letter that has to do with common, everyday situations you’ll encounter in English-speaking countries.
Twenty minutes
  • You’ll be asked to write an essay on a topic of general interest.
Forty minutes

→  Keep in mind that it’s necessary for you to complete both of these tasks in full! 

We recommend that you practice writing on a variety of topics as much as possible and to study up on different ways of structuring your essay, argument, or letter.

4- IELTS Speaking Test

Two People Having a Conversation

The speaking portion of the IELTS exam is the shortest, lasting approximately ten to fifteen minutes

This part of the test takes the form of a one-on-one interview with your examiner and can actually take place up to seven days before or after the rest of the exam. 

It consists of three sections:

SectionWhat to ExpectTime
Initial Interview
  • The interviewer will ask you some questions about yourself, and you’ll answer.
  • These questions will be on general topics, such as hobbies, family, and how you spend your free time.
Approximately five minutes
Task Card Talk
  • You’ll be given a task card that includes a specific topic, what points you’ll need to talk about, and where you may need to do additional explaining.
  • After preparing, you’ll talk for two minutes and then answer any questions your examiner has.
Approximately four minutes
  • This will be a more open discussion, usually about whatever your section two topic was. 
  • Your examiner may ask you more questions during this time.
Approximately five minutes

→  The conversation that takes place during the speaking portion of the IELTS will be recorded. This is done as a precautionary action in case an appeal for grading is requested.

This may be the shortest section, but we know that just a few minutes of talking in another language can seem like a lifetime! We recommend practicing your speaking skills as much as possible beforehand. Later in this article, you’ll find links to some useful EnglishClass101 lessons for this! 

3. Preparing for the IELTS

The first thing you can do to prepare for the test is to sign up and complete your IELTS registration! All you need to do is find where your nearest testing center is located, pay and apply online, and then arrive on time to the testing center on the day of the exam.

Get more information and sign up today on the IELTS official website! 

You can also find the IELTS practice test on the official site to gain firsthand knowledge on what to expect and what you need to work on.

1- Listening Preparation

Woman Watching TV with Popcorn

Listening comprehension is one of the trickiest aspects of learning a new language, especially if your native tongue is spoken very differently. 

The best way to prepare for the listening part of the IELTS is to spend as much time as you can actively listening to English conversations. 

There are many ways you can do this:

  • Watch TV shows or movies in English
  • Listen to song lyrics in English
  • Hold conversations with English-speaking friends or coworkers
  • Eavesdrop on people’s English conversations

That last tip may sound like an invasion of privacy, but this isn’t always the case. Imagine you’re eating out at a crowded restaurant, and the people sitting behind you are having an animated conversation—you can fine-tune your listening skills by trying to figure out what they’re talking about! 

EnglishClass101 Content

2- Reading Preparation

Books Open New Worlds and Concepts

How can you prepare for the reading portion? 

Reading as much English content as you can beforehand is a good place to start. You may want to choose what type of content you read based on the IELTS version you plan on taking. If you’re taking the Academic Version, try reading more educational content. If you’re taking the General Training Version, you may want to read a greater variety of content related to daily life, work, and education. 

Before reading the text, try asking yourself some questions about it: 

  • What is this text about?
  • What is the writer’s opinion on the topic?
  • How do I feel about the topic?

Then, after you’ve read the piece, try to answer them! This will indicate how much you comprehend what you read. (If you didn’t get much, try reading it again!)

EnglishClass101 Content

3- Writing Preparation

Woman Learning to Write in a New Language

To prepare for this portion of the test, write as much as you can in English! 

Take into account which version of the test you plan on taking and fine-tune your writing skills for the kinds of topics you’ll most likely be asked to write about. A fun way you can practice writing about various topics is to search for writing prompts online! 

Further, ask yourself what you struggle with the most when writing. Do you have a hard time with spelling? Do you find grammar or sentence structures confusing? Do you have the basics covered but have no idea how to craft a compelling argument or compose a letter? 

Knowing where your weak points are will help you decide on what to spend most of your time practicing. If you want an outside perspective, you can ask a native English speaker to check some of your writing and point out areas for improvement (and areas you excel in!). If you don’t currently have someone to help you, you may find EnglishClass101’s MyTeacher program useful! 

EnglishClass101 Content

4- Speaking Preparation

Women Chatting at the Prk Together

As with the other portions of the IELTS, the best way to practice is to speak as much English as you can.

In particular, mastering the basics of conversation, such as introducing yourself, expressing opinions, and of course, being an active listener, is essential. Pronunciation is another factor your examiner will be listening closely for. 

If you have an English-speaking friend or colleague, try having short conversations with them on various topics, in English. If you’re feeling brave, you can even ask them to point out any pronunciation errors you’re making or areas where you may not be communicating clearly.

To listen to your own pronunciation when speaking, EnglishClass101 also has an updated voice recording tool. You can simply record yourself speaking and play it back. If something sounds off, you can record and try again until you have it right. 

EnglishClass101 Content

4. Bonus: Dealing with Test Anxiety

Man Stressed about Something

All the preparation in the world can let you down if you happen to suffer from test anxiety. When you have test anxiety, you become so stressed about the test you’re taking that all the information you studied and practiced goes out the window and your mind goes blank—even if you really do know the information! 

How can you combat your test anxiety and excel during the IELTS? 

There are some basic things you can do, which are recommended for test-takers:

Essentially, taking care of yourself can help enormously before an important test or event.

But what about when you’re sitting down, your test materials are in front of you, and the clock’s running? How can you go from panic-mode to clear-minded? 

Here are some ideas:

  • Go in with a positive mindset to begin with.
  • Take deep breaths. (It’s a cliche, but it works!)
  • Go through the test questions methodically to increase your confidence.

Do you need more tips or clarification on the ones here? There are plenty of reliable sources online for how to deal with and overcome test anxiety. If this is something you struggle with, or anticipate struggling with, we highly recommend doing some research on how to push through it!

Language Skills

5. You CAN Pass the IELTS! 

Taking the IELTS exam can be a huge leap forward toward your goals. Not only will you have a new sense of self-confidence in your English abilities, but you’ll be able to gain the confidence of others as well.

IELTS preparation may seem like a huge task—because it is one! But the rewards will make your effort worth it.

And with EnglishClass101.com, learning English doesn’t have to be a boring, monotonous process. With an array of different learning tools and mediums, you can study English in a way that works for you! We aim to make every aspect of your language-learning journey both fun and effective, and we ensure that you will find practical and relevant study materials no matter what your current skill level is! 

If you’re serious about mastering English and gaining the skills and experience you need to pass the IELTS, create your free lifetime account today on EnglishClass101.com! 

Have you ever taken the IELTS? Are there any study tips you would recommend to those looking to take it themselves? Why not help out your fellow English-learners in the comments section below? 

Happy English learning, and good luck! 🙂

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