How to Prepare for the IELTS Test

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Preparing to study, work or migrate to a country where English is the official language? IELTS is a premium test that will open doors for you, allowing you to go anywhere. Find out what the test is about, who accepts it, and how to prepare in our ultimate guild to how to prepare for the IELTS test.

How to prepare for the IELTS Test – Prep Guide

IELTS is short for International English Language Test System. It is the world’s premier English language skills certification test administered by the British Council in various non-native countries.

If you plan on working, living, or studying where English is the standard language, you will need to present a certificate such as the IELTS as proof of your English proficiency.

There are many different standardized English tests that you can sit for to prove your English language skills. You can sit for PTE (Pearson Test of English), CAE (Cambridge Advanced English), and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language).

However, none is popular and widely accepted, like IELTS. Indeed, about 2 million people take the test each year, and about 10,000 organizations worldwide accept it. This outstanding popularity also means study materials to prep for the exam are readily available.

How IELTS test works

Depending on your objectives and goals, you have an option of three different IELTS tests. Choose one that suits your needs. The three versions of the test have different content and purposes. Here is a look:

1. IELTS Academic Training

This is the version of the test for people planning to study abroad and maybe pursue a Bachelor’s, Masters or any high-level academic degree taught in English. It is a simple test intended to determine your language skills to succeed in a high-learning environment where subjects are taught in English.

This test has four sections, testing your reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. You need to pass all of them. The writing and reading section is formal and tests the ability to comprehend and produce abstract ideas. Most universities and other training organizations worldwide accept an IELTS certification as proof of high-level English language skills. It’s also the test for individuals seeking professional certification in the United Kingdom.

2. IELTS General Training

This version of IELTS is for those wishing to migrate or work abroad. It tests general English language skills, like communicating in English in an everyday context, describing social or workplace situations. That’s why it’s called general. This test has the same format as the IELTS Academic. But the reading and writing sections are not that formal; they instead focus on common English language skills.

If you plan on living or working in countries like Australia, UK, Canada, and New Zealand, this is the test for you. You can also present it to qualify for any course below degree level.

3. IELTS Skills Life

For UK Visas and immigration, this is the version of the IELTS test. Any non-native English speaker looking to live in the UK must meet specific requirements and demonstrate proficiency in English. The test measures listening and speaking skills only.

What is a good score for IELTS?

This is the other important thing to know before taking the exam. Since the exam tests your English level, you will be given scores; the higher the mark, the better for your immigration, Visa, admissions, or employment opportunities. What makes a good IELTS score depends on the type of VISA you need. Indeed, universities, companies, and the government will require different scores. Here is a look at the bands your IELT score can rank and the implied skill level. Rake a look:

  • IELTS Band Score 1: Non-user
  • IELTS Band Score 2: Intermittent
  • IELTS Band Score 3: Extremely Limited
  • IELTS Band Score 4: Limited
  • IELTS Band Score 5: Modest
  • IELTS Band Score 6: Competent
  • IELTS Band Score 7: Good
  • IELTS Band Score 8: Very good
  • IELTS Band Score 9: Expert

Each section of the exam gets graded with a band score. Scores range from 1-9 as above. Then an overall score for the whole exam is awarded. It’s an average of the individual section scores, so your overall score also ranges from 1 to 9 and can end with a .5, e.g., 6.5, 8.5. it’s also possible to score a 0 (as in not attempted).

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Good IELTS Score by university and country

Good IELTS score differs by region, university, and course. Take a look:

  • Oxford University requires a 7.0 for mathematics, statistics, computer science programs and a 7.5 score for other courses.
  • Cambridge University requires an average 7.5 score and scores above 7.0 in each section.
  • MIT requires overall scores starting at 7.0 for undergraduates
  • In Australia scores measure up as Functional (above 4.5), Vocational (above 5.0), Competent (above 6.0), Proficient (above 7.0), Superior (above 8.0). Most universities accept scores average minimum scores of 6.5, with a minimum of 6.0 in each section. See here for further info.
  • In Canada, the University of Alberta requires an average score of 6.5 with no less than 5.5 in any section. For the University of Queens, it’s 6.5 and at least a 6.0 in individual sections. Find out more here.
  • In New Zealand, for the University of Auckland, it’s a 6.5 and at least a 5.5. for VISAS, Investors require at least a 3.0, Entrepreneurs a 4.0, Parents a 4.0 and Skilled Migrants a 6.5 and above. Find out more here.

Find out more about good IELTS scores from specific university websites to know what to aim for as you prepare for the exam. But, generally, aim for a score above 7.0 if you want to get into the world’s elite schools.

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Who is eligible for the exam?

The next thing to get right in your preparation is eligibility. The tests are free for anyone, no matter race, age, gender, religion, and nationality.

However, people under 16 years of age are not recommended to sit for the exams, but it’s all up to you. There is no minimum education eligibility.

How to prepare for IELTS

The preparation strategies and learning method depend on your choice of IELTS test. As already explained, they test different English language skills.

1. Start with a self-assessment. 

Just like working for anything else in life, you want to know where to start and be able to measure your progress as you advance through training.

There are good IELTS preparation exams you can use to gauge your present English skills.

2. Focus on your weak areas and learn from feedback

Another benefit of a prior self-assessment is knowing which areas you are good at and which require extra effort. Excellence in English is mastery of all skills; it starts with making minor improvements in weak spots until you are proficient in all its aspects. 

If your weakness is spoken English, find native speakers online or wherever you are and train with them. If your weak spot is written English, write daily and ask for an expert’s help proofreading your work for reliable feedback.

3. Prepare for all sections.

The IELTS exam is presented in four sections; familiarize yourself with the format to reduce tension during the exam.

  • Reading section: you’ll be given an hour to read the text and answer questions. Text can come from books, advertisements, newspapers, and magazines and may contain illustrations. Scanning, skimming, and grasping skills are helpful, so train on them.
  • Writing section: for the general training exam, you will be tested on essay writing, formal and informal letters. For academic, you will be tested on explaining charts, graphs, tables, or diagrams. You’ll also be tested on essay writing.
  • Listening section: you’ll be allowed 30 minutes to listen to 4 pages and answer 40 questions.
  • Speaking: this is a face-to-face test to test your English speaking fluency. Prepare by recording yourself as you speak, and monitor your progress.
British Council

4. Find free preparation materials at the British Council

You can find free resources at the British Council website to help get ready for the test. Choose the resource that suits you. These include:

  • Videos: video tutorials explaining grammar, fluency, pronunciation, and other aspects tested in the exam.
  • Online lessons: online course for IELTS General and Academic Training and teacher tutorials, sample videos, practice tests and section to calculate your score and track your progress
  • Free IELTS practice tests: listening, reading, speaking, and writing tests. The tests will help you learn the exam formats and the type of questions you will find in the exam. it informs on progress and reading assignment
  • Books: three recommended books to help you get ready for the exam
  • Seminars and workshops: attend face-to-face lessons and one-day preparation courses and learn the exam techniques and strategies. You will also get to engage in test practice timed simulation activities, including reading, writing, and presentation of arguments.

5. Try premium IELTS Prep Courses.

You can find premium self-paced IELTS training courses online. The courses usually contain extra resources than what is provided freely by the British Council. These include over 100 video lessons, 500+ practice questions, and several tests to determine one’s progress from the training. If you like to cover all bases before the exam, here are some of the premium IELTS courses:

  • Magoosh IELTS: Magoosh offers self-paced 1 to 6-month online ILETS practice courses at just around $100. The courses include over 600 practice questions, 120 video lessons, and four practice tests. But there’re no live lessons. Their courses are highly reviewed, easy to use on mobile platforms for studying on the go. Furthermore, there’s a 7-month money-back guarantee. It’s designed to help score in the 0.5+ band.
  • BestMyTest: IELTS prep courses from BestMyTest are also quite affordable. They cost under $50 and include 1500+ practice questions, 120 video tutorials, and 450 practice tests. If you like more study material, this is it. It’s designed to help score in the 1-2.5 band and guarantees improvement. However, it’s not video-based. Still, there’s 24/7 student support, so you don’t get stuck.
  • Kaplan: IELTS practice course from Kaplan constitutes over 18 hours of video lessons, 5000 practice questions, lives instructions, homework assignments, and personalized score reports. The course can be taken any day, at any time. However, there’s no guaranteed improvement in band score.
  • Udemy: Udemy is another incredible IELTS training course provider with over 30 hours of video lessons and live instructions. It only costs $15 and provides lifetime access. However, the course is designed for intermediate English levels and above. It’s designed to help score above 7.
  • IELTS Online: this premium training course allows 3-month access to over 100 hours of learning materials, audio recorded lessons, voice recording tools, and one-on-one feedback on your writing and speaking tasks. However, the plan costs about $229, making it the most expensive on the list. Still, it works great for those looking for a personalized course.
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6. Test yourself occasionally to determine progress

Familiarize yourself with the exam structure and take many tests before the exam. The above courses include several practice tests at different points in the training.

Assessing yourself from time to time during your training, following the structure of the exam helps build confidence for the actual test. It also informs on progress; you’ll know areas that need extra effort.

7. Consider time

Depending on your English level and target scores, you’ll need smart time management so you prepare adequately for the exam.

  • 6 months: generally, beginners need 6 months of self-study and attending a training course to sit for the exam comfortably.
  • 3 months: people with intermediate English skills can prepare adequately in just 3 months.

Book your test at an official IELTS test center

The British Council administers paper-based or computer-based IELTS tests in various centers worldwide. Check the exam dates, registration, and venue at their website. It will be a shame if, after all that preparation, you are unable to reach the exam venue because you are lost. The organization provides IELTS booklets containing important information. Read the rules and regulations, and remember to bring your ID.

If you need financial help sitting for the exam, try the British Council IELTS Scholarships. Wishing you all the best in your exam. Remember, practice makes perfect!