IELTS (International English Language Testing System)

Are you worried that you won’t achieve Band 7 or higher?
Do you need an IELTS certificate for your progession, visa or university entrance?

Tips from our teachers about taking the IELTs

Simon's Tips

Learn as much vocabulary related to the IELTS topics as possible but also think about improving your vocabulary in other situations… for example I could have called these 10 tips “How to achieve the IELTS score you want” but desire is a much more descriptive noun and will impress the examiner to a greater extent!

Speak slowly and carefully, enjoy pronouncing each word correctly. By slowing your rate of speech down by half a second you sound more thoughtful and considered and you give yourself more time to think what to say next. Speaking slowly also cuts out the unnecessary and horrible to listen to “uhms and ahs” 

Record or video yourself when speaking and listen for any mistakes and/or hesitations you make. We all have bad habits or things which we do which we do not even realise we are doing, if we don’t listen to or watch ourselves speaking we will never become aware of them. As an examiner I prefer a second or two of silence instead of “uhm… ah..” sometimes silence can make you sound more fluent.

Listen to podcasts/audiobooks and music for pleasure. Many people will tell you the best way to improve your listening for IELTS is just to practice doing the tests over and over again THIS IS NOT ENTIRELY TRUE. Practice does make perfect but there are thousands of audio only resources out there which you can listen to for pleasure related to things you are interested in, this is called passive listening which you cannot learn as much from but if you turn a passive-for-pleasure listening experience into an active listening experience then it can improve your vocabulary. For example read and listen to an audiobook, find a transcript for a podcast, read the lyrics, listen to the music and sing along… Music is one of my passions so I am always more than happy to introduce people to new artists and bands.

Watch TV with the subtitles on. Pause it if you hear or read a word which is unfamiliar. Whilst this could become annoying if you are watching your favourite show with somebody else why not prepare for your IELTS test in your down time when relaxing too? As your English gets better it might be worth turning the subtitles off to really challenge your listening skills rather than using your reading skills. Nowadays you can always rewind and watch again with the subtitles on if you missed or did not understand something.

Read for pleasure in English. As with the advice for listening there are thousands of reading resources out there and you can read around topics which fascinate you. Turning reading for pleasure into an active reading exercise is not difficult. If you are a book worm then rather than reading an unabridged novel for L1 readers find a GRADED READER of the same book which is designed for L2 readers, that way you will not be stopping every other sentence to look up a word in the dictionary

Write every day in English and use online language analytical tools to help you improve your writing. Over the years many of my students have given me very imaginative reasons as to why they didn’t do their written homework, task 1 is should only take you 20 minutes and task 2 40 minutes, I very rarely ask you to write an answer to task 1 AND 2, it is usually task 1 OR 2… There are different techniques for the general and academic paper and although the online language analytical tools can help you improve your grammar if you know how to use them they won’t be able to help you with the techniques to improve your writing – that’s where a good IELTS teach comes in. 

Learn to think in English rather than in your first language and then translate into English. Being able to do this takes time but it is much easier to learn how to use aspects unique to English grammar, for example the present perfect if you are thinking in English rather than thinking well this is how we would say it in my language but there is no equivalent to present perfect in my language and so… uh I give up, I hate grammar. 

Train for your IELTS test by communicating in English all of the time. The best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself completely into a language. Many of my learners live in the UK but still speak mainly speak in their first language with their friends and family or at work. Whilst this makes life easier it makes the IELTS test harder and as it is hard enough already… The best athletes constantly train and the best linguists do the same by communicating (and that includes writing and reading) in the language they want to become fluent in. 

Make IELTS your obsession. Until you have achieved the band score you require, IELTS needs to become your obsession in life as it is the key to unlocking the door blocking your path to success. Whichever band score you need to go on to do whatever it is you want to do the IELTS test is often the gatekeeper to future success and unless you keep training to improve your English and make IELTS your obsession you won’t be able to overcome this challenge. One of the things I enjoy most about my job is getting an email or video call from one of my former students who have gone on to achieve their dreams after they have achieve the IELTS score required of them. It takes time, effort and hard work to achieve the IELTS score you need but I have seen many people put in the time and effort required and now they have gone on to bigger and better things. 

Jonathan's Tips

Time management – So important. In the writing test task 1 and task 2 you have 20 minutes and 45 minutes to complete them. Task 2 is worth twice the marks so do not go over time in task 1. You need to practice when you are revising by timing your tasks. Split the time accordingly and this will help you in the test. You will also be less likely to be stressed about the amount of time if you have had a lot of practice.

Spelling errors  Some mistakes are expected but make sure you re-read your writing after you have finished to cut down on unnecessary spelling mistakes. These can be looked on as silly mistakes but you really need to cut them out. Obviously when you are using long words and industry specific words mistakes are expected. It is words that you can spell that need to be checked. It would be so awful if you miss your score because of many errors that could be stopped.

Mispronunciation – You need to pronounce as many words correctly as possible. Again practice speaking as much as possible. If a friend or partner speaks English why not make a special time, of say 1 hour, when you both only speak English. This will make you more relaxed and can be fun as well.

Intonation – You need to speak in tones that go with what you are saying. for example, be happy, be sad, be serious, be jokey. watch video for more on this. This is so important as it will get you extra marks. This is easy to do and does not really need any knowledge. The volume and the tone of your voice in answering questions is so important.

In writing task 1 – do not write in the first person. i.e I think that or I believe that. This is not professional and will be frowned upon by the examiner. You will know this before the exam so be prepared with practice. 

Do not rewrite the question  you need to paraphrase not repeat the question. see video for more. You can use most of the same words but in a different sentence structure if you wish, but, if you want the higher marks you will need to use synonyms. Check what these are if you are not sure. 

Read and answer the question. So silly to say but so true. Read and re-read the question and only answer what is asked. If asked where you live for example, just answer that without adding extra answers that have nothing to do with the question.

Know the band descriptors. So important to know what the examiner is looking for. They are easy to find online. Print them out and put them on the wall where you study. 

Try not to pause for too long. Sounds difficult but you can use some ways and phrases to give you valuable time. For example, “That’s a good question” or, “I hadn’t thought of that” or “Umm, let me think about that one”.

Do not speak too fast. Speaking fast has nothing to do with ability an can confuse you and the examiner. Also in the speaking part you need to manage your time effectively. The part 2 requires 2 minutes of speaking and this is hard enough with out talking too quickly.

More videos and essential tips, coming soon...