The path to passing the IELTS is not a straight line, nor a short walk. You can think of it more as a long hike, challenging but rewarding.
Now, if you go on a long hike, you’ll need to pack a bag of supplies. In the case of the “hike” to IELTS success, your supplies are a bag of tips and tricks. Below, let’s look at 10 tips & tricks for the IELTS. These can help you a lot on the road to your target score.
1. Practice with full-length IELTS Tests
Don’t just practice for the IELTS a few questions at a time, or one section at a time. While shorter practice sessions can be useful, it’s very important to also use some full-length IELTS exams in your test prep. Why? Because–and maybe I’m stating the obvious–on test day, you’ll be taking a full-length IELTS! The best way to prepare for the real exam is to take practice tests that have the same length and the same sections.
2. Use official IELTS materials
As I just told you, you want to use practice materials that are true to the real test day experience. So practice questions and tests from the official creators of the IELTS are a must-have! Only the makers of the actual IELTS offer test questions that are taken from real past IELTS exams. This kind of practice is very valuable. And you can supplement the official stuff with high quality unofficial questions from websites such as Magoosh IELTS. Magoosh also has a free guide on where to get good IELTS practice materials, including official practice.
3. Aim for a higher score than the one you need
Let’s say your university or employer wants a 6.5 IELTS score. Do you aim for 6.5? You could, but that’s actually risky. Instead, you want to aim for at least a 7. That way, you have room for a few unexpected mistakes on test day. Always aim for at least 0.5 higher than the required score.
4. Understand how IELTS scores are calculated
As the English-language expression says, “knowing is half the battle.” You should know how your Listening and Reading “raw scores” (your actual number of correct answers) will be converted to an official band score (band 6, band 6.5, band 7, etc.). You should also take a good long look at the scoring standards for IELTS Writing and Speaking. To learn all about your IELTS grading, check out this guide to IELTS scores.
5. Choose your IELTS test date wisely
Choosing an IELTS test date can be the “tightrope walk” portion of your journey. It requires delicate balance to schedule your test at the right time. But it’s worth the effort. Take the time to choose wisely. If at all possible, set a date that both meets your deadlines and gives you enough time to prepare. Also try to set a date that gives you time for a retake, just in case you need one. For a guide to registering for an IELTS test date, choosing the right day, and more, see this article on IELTS test dates and registration.
6. Know exactly where your test center is… before test day
Let me tell you one of the most preventable causes of low IELTS scores: showing up to the test center late… or showing up with no time to spare, tired and stressed-out from the trip. You can prevent this by visiting your test center in person before the test day. Learn exactly how to get to the building by actually going to the building. Know where the testing room itself is. And above all, make note of how long it takes you to get there. You want the end of your journey, the actual physical trip to the test site, to go as smoothly as possible.
7. Look at sample IELTS Writing essays
The best writers read a lot. And to be a good IELTS writer, the most important thing to read is samples of top-scoring IELTS essays. For model IELTS essays and tons of other IELTS Writing tips and tricks, read through these comprehensive guides to IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 and IELTS Writing Task 2.
8. Get feedback on IELTS Writing and IELTS Speaking
The first two sections of the IELTS, Listening and Reading, are graded with an answer key. But IELTS Writing and IELTS Speaking are both graded by a human team of scorers. So your practice with these sections should include the human touch. Find an actual person, whether it’s a teacher, a classmate, or a friend or family member with good English. Then have them give you feedback on your practice essays and your IELTS interview answers. Human feedback will help prepare you for the human scorers you’ll face when you sit for the exam.
9. Know what accents to expect
IELTS Listening focuses on standard British English. But those aren’t the only accents you hear on the exam. You may encounter any “native English” accent in IELTS Listening, including Australian, New Zealander, Canadian, American, and Irish. Know the different styles of English speech, and pay attention to the range of accents you hear in IELTS Listening practice sets.
10. Build up a good range of vocabulary for IELTS Reading
Written English is just “fancier” than spoken English. This means you can expect to see a pretty wide range of vocabulary in IELTS Reading. This is true both for IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training. So make sure you build your IELTS vocabulary well. Consider an official IELTS vocabulary workbook, such as Cambridge’s Vocabulary for IELTS. And when you go through practice IELTS reading passages, note and study any unfamiliar words you see.
David Recine is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent. Currently, David lives in a small town in the American Upper Midwest. When he’s not teaching or writing, David studies Korean, plays with his son, and takes road trips to Minneapolis to get a taste of city life.
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