Tips on Acing the IELTS

Written By Trent Lorcher

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) measures language proficiency. Those who want to study or work where English is the primary language take the IELTS to prove their English proficiency level. There are two IELTS tests: The IELTS Academic test for those looking to study abroad in England, Canada, or other English-speaking countries; and the IELTS General training for those migrating to England, Canada, or Australia.

How to Study for the IELTS

The best way to become proficient in English is to become proficient in English. That means speaking, reading, writing, and listening to English whenever possible. In other words, all that time you've spent learning English has prepared you for the IELTS and for a study or work abroad opportunity.

That being said, there are specific things you can do to improve your IELTS score and improve your English proficiency as you prepare for the test.

  1. Take practice tests. This is the most important how to study for the IELTS tip. As you take the practice exam, you'll be doing the exact thing that helps improve English proficiency: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. You'll be reading, writing, speaking, and listening to the exact types of selections and questions you'll see on the test. In addition, you'll get used to the test format and directions.
  1. Set goals and register for the test. Once you take a practice test, set a goal. If the school or workplace has a minimum admission score, use that as a goal. When you register for the test depends on how much time you'll need to get from your practice test score to the goal score. Registering for a specific test day gives your goal a time deadline and forces you to make a plan.
  1. Make a plan. Goals mean nothing unless you take action. Action becomes more likely and consistent when you make a plan. When you make a study plan, set a specific amount of time for studying. For best results, treat the time as you would any other time commitment such as work or school.
  1. Find a partner. Find a friend or teacher who speaks English well and practice speaking and listening. A good partner gives feedback.
  1. Take notes. The notes you take during practice exams and during the test aren't just for study and review. Taking notes helps test-takers prepare focused responses. Get used to taking notes as you listen to or read English.

Improve Grammar and Vocabulary

  • Not all of your study consists of taking practice tests. Focus on increasing vocabulary and improving grammar.
  • Learn new words. How many and how often is up to you. Learn more than a definition. Use the word. Make it a part of your active vocabulary.
  • Write. Write emails, notes, journals, practice essays. If you're taking the test on a computer, practice using the standard English-language keyboard--often called a QWERTY keyboard.
  • Speak. To score well on the IELTS, you need to speak English. When speaking a foreign language in the real world, you'll make mistakes. You might say the wrong thing. But you'll learn. The more you speak, the more comfortable you'll feel while taking the test. Concentrate on speaking loudly and clearly. Use practice tests to find out the speaking question format.
  • Listen. There are enough English-speaking TV shows, radio shows, and podcasts to help you listen to English whenever you want. A lot of the English you'll hear on the IELTS is academic English, so listen to academic material.
  • Read. Because the IELTS is used for admission to universities and colleges, you need to read academic texts. Practice reading complex passages. If you're taking practice tests, you'll gain experience with academic texts. Those taking the test for migration or employment purposes need to acquire the language specific for that purpose. Practice tests will do this.

Study for Specific Sections

Learning how to study for the IELTS means learning how to study for each section. Use the following tips for each section.

  • Listening. Use music, films, and books to improve listening skills. When listening to music, write down what you hear. Watching movies will help you adapt to different accents.
  • Reading. Although you want to practice academic reading, reading for enjoyment makes learning so much more enjoyable. While reading, follow the author's main ideas, be aware of synonyms, and increase vocabulary. A good exercise for reading is to retell a story in your own words.
  • Writing. Learn how to write well by reading good examples. When reading quality magazines and newspapers, underline useful vocabulary, track main ideas, and identify transitions. Once you recognize good writing, apply it to your own writing.
  • Speaking. Stretch your skills by speaking with those whose English proficiency is greater than yours. Practice good speaking by summarizing things you read, retelling stories, and paraphrasing speeches.

The more you prepare, the better you'll feel on test day.

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About the author

Trent Lorcher has taught high school English for 19 years. In addition to hosting a foreign exchange student from China, he's traveled extensively, including 18 months in Central America, 2 years in Italy, and additional time in Mexico, France, Morocco, and Spain. He dreams of one day retiring to Spain with his beautiful bride in a place big enough for their 5 kids to visit.

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