Taking the IELTS doesn’t have to be scary even though a lot can depend on your success in this high-stakes test. Test preparation doesn’t have to be long, boring, frustrating or exhausting. There are many ways you can prepare to achieve success, after all, preparation is the number one key if you want to ace the IELTS.
Allocate 4 weeks study time
Firstly, allow yourself a decent amount of time – at least four weeks of devoted study. Spend a couple of days learning the test format. You will really understand the different parts of the test, what’s included, and the timing of each section. This will help you know what to expect on test-day.
Tip #2 Learn the test format
Knowing the structure of the test format will ensure that you can prepare adequately for each section on the test. Here’s a quick breakdown:
4 audio recordings
4 passages (academic) 3 passages (general)
Task 1: 150 words (20 minutes)
Letter (general) – Describe chart/graph (academic)
Task 2: 250 words (40 minutes)
Essay (general and academic)
Part 1: Interview (personal information)
Part 2: Short presentation (2 minutes)
Part 3: Discussion
Allocate formal study time each day to learn methods and apply them to practice. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the types of questions you will encounter in the test. These are very specific to the IELTS, so practice is necessary.
Tip #3 Do some timed practice
Time-management during the test is another major key to achieving a successful result. Once you have learned the parts of the test, and practiced the methods, do some timed practice. Allow yourself 50 minutes to read 3-4 articles and answer 40 questions.
Learn the writing formulas that are very specific to the IELTS. Then, practice writing a letter or chart description in 20 minutes and an essay in 40 minutes. Have a native speaker or an English teacher look over them and give you some feedback.
Practice the three parts of the speaking test. Role-playing with a friend is a good way to do this. This way, you can experience what it’s like to answer questions, create a short presentation, and speak spontaneously about different topics. You need to know you can do all of this before the day of the test to have confidence in your ability to speak, read and write in the allocated time.
Tip #4 Practice topics of interest
Conduct your own casual study your by reading English articles or listening to English video clips; a great way to enhance much-needed reading and listening skills as well as vocabulary. You can do this on the train on the way to work or school, or on your lunch break, or anytime you have free. Remember, this doesn’t have to be boring!
Find an interesting podcast, or listen to YouTube videos or Ted.com talks on a range of different topics. You might read English articles in magazines or on social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. The topic doesn’t matter. As long as you read! It’s always best to stick with something you find interesting, as that’s the best way to actually learn.
How to Ace the IELTS … Read a variety of articles
Tip #5 Practice your core English skills
Broaden your writing skills by writing a short summary of what you’ve read or heard. Try to identify the main idea of the reading or talk and think of three main points the writer or speaker mentioned and summarize them. This will help with your paraphrasing skills, vocabulary development, and ability to read and listen critically which are important skills for IELTS success.
Put theory into practice and integrate speaking by talking to your friends or colleagues about something interesting you read about or heard. Tell them what it was about, describe some interesting points, and explain why you found it interesting. This helps you to think spontaneously in English and to incorporate vocabulary that you read or heard. Speaking in a conversational manner helps you to generate ideas, and that is a very useful skill for the IELTS writing and speaking.
For more IELTS Study Tips, try our E2 IELTSYouTube Channel, with loads of methods and strategies including this one on IELTS speaking: How to get an IELTS 9!
Passing the IELTS Writing Task can be tough! Here you’ll find some useful IELTS writing topics plus a consistent essay formula that will help structure your essay and paragraphs.
IELTS Writing Task 2: An overview
The essay writing task is included in both the general and academic IELTS. You will have 40 minutes to write a 250-word response to an essay question. Your essay should include four paragraphs (an introduction, two body paragraphs and a conclusion).
Although there is a consistent essay formula that will help you to structure your essay and paragraphs, you need to be aware of the different types of essay questions there are. The way you use the formula will differ according to the type of question.
IELTS Essay Structure
A typical essay structure looks like this:
You can use this to answer any essay question type, but your essay must be tailor made for the question type.
IELTS Writing Question Types
Below is a list of six of the most common essay question types:
The agree/disagree essay question gives you a topic and asks if you agree or disagree with an idea related to that topic. For example:
Less and less parents these days are smacking their children. Some people think that this is leading to a generation of misbehaved children. Do you agree or disagree with this view?
This question is related to the topic of smacking children. The idea that not smacking is actually a bad thing. The question is asking if you agree with that idea. Your essay will have to answer that question by giving your opinion and then explaining why with supporting ideas and examples.
The advantage/disadvantage essay question gives you a topic, and then asks you to discuss the advantages and disadvantages. A sample advantage/disadvantage essay question looks like this:
Some graduates prefer to travel for a year between graduation and gaining full-time employment. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this.
Here you will need to present both sides of the argument (one per paragraph) with supporting ideas and examples for each.
Discuss both views
The discuss both views question gives you two views or opinions related to a topic and asks you to discuss both. For example:
Some people think it’s the government’s responsibility to tackle environmental issues. Others believe it is up to each individual to be environmentally responsible. Discuss both sides.
Here you need to spend one body paragraph on each opinion, giving explanations and examples for why people may hold each view.
Discuss both views and give your opinion
The discuss both views and give your opinion question is very similar, but instead of just asking you to discuss two views, it also asks you to state which one you agree with. For example:
Some people think it’s better to educate boys and girls in separate schools. However, others believe that boys and girls benefit more from attending the same school. Discuss both views and give your own opinion.
In response to this essay question, you’d need to discuss both opinions (one in each paragraph) and give explanations and examples to support each one. You’d also have to say which one you agree with. You can do that within the body paragraph.
The problem/solution essay question presents you with an issue which you need to discuss and then provide possible solutions for. For example:
The overpopulation of urban areas has led to numerous problems. Identify one or two serious ones and suggest ways that governments can tackle these problems.
Here you would talk about the problems caused by overpopulation in the first body paragraph, and suggest some government-led solutions in the second body paragraph.
In the double question essay, you’re actually asked two questions, and you need to make sure you answer both. For example:
Today more people are travelling than ever before. Why is this the case? What are the benefits of travelling for the traveller?
Here you have two questions to answer. 1. Why are people travelling more than before. 2. What are the benefits of travelling. You should spend one paragraph on answering each question.
IELTS Writing Topics
There are common themes in IELTS writing topics, though the specifics of each question vary. Common themes include:
The best way to be ready to write about these topics is to be familiar with them. You will need to generate ideas during the test and come up with examples from your own knowledge and experience.
This is why you should read about general topics to broaden your general knowledge. This will have the double effect of widening your vocabulary and reading skills as well as giving you knowledge that you can then use to generate ideas for your essay.
So, read a blog or social media article or watch a Ted talk and documentary per day on the IELTS writing topics listed above.
For more formal test preparation, professional IELTS coaching from experts will help you apply the essay formula to different essay questions. Feedback is another important aspect of preparing for the IELTS writing task.
Learning IELTS online with E2language will provide you with effective methods, practice essays and expert feedback to feel confident and prepared to write your IELTS essay.
Be sure to watch the E2 IELTS YouTube channel for videos on IELTS Writing Task 2:
Note to ESL learners: This article about the IELTS speaking test contains a lot of complex vocabulary words. Some of them are written more than once. Many of these words are underlined, and this means that you can place your mouse/cursor over a word to see its definition. Try to check a definition only when a word stops you from understanding the whole sentence you are reading.
A few months ago, I had the privilege of teaching English at the College of Language and Culture Studies (CLCS) in the beautiful and remote country of Bhutan. While I was there, I also had the opportunity to teach an IELTS speaking workshop for the college’s English lecturers. The experience was incredible, and – as is the usually the way with intercultural opportunities – I learned a heck of a lot more from my students and colleagues than they did from me.
In general, the Bhutanese are friendly, inclusive and community-focused people who place great importance on cultivating relationships. Having previously spent time in Bhutan, I knew this but did not think it would have any bearing on the workshop I had been tasked with: teaching IELTS-specific speaking strategies to my colleagues. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
The IELTS Speaking Test Workshop
On the day of my workshop, I began with a quick summary of each section of the speaking test, starting with the “introduction/interview” component. In the first part of the speaking test, the IELTS examiner will “get to know you” by asking several questions about you. In addition, they will briefly interview you about one topic relating to your life (e.g. “What is your hometown like?” “How many people live there?” etc.) To get a sense of everyone’s level for this task, I broke my colleagues into pairs and assigned each person the role of interviewer or interviewee. It was up to the interviewer to ask the interviewee about themselves in the same way an IELTS examiner would on the real test.
Let me just preface this by saying that the introduction/interview part of the speaking test is supposed to take four or five minutes in total. My Bhutanese interviewees lasted less than two minutes. As the room fell silent around me while my timer was still obediently ticking down the minutes, I felt a wave of panic. Had my colleagues misunderstood the exercise? Had I poorly explained the time limit and made it seem like it was optional? I was dazed for a moment, but then someone spoke up: “Madame, we Bhutanese are not so used to talking about ourselves like this”.
The statement hit me like a ton of bricks, as did the realization that I had completely ignored a fundamental piece of Bhutanese culture; the Bhutanese almost never talk about themselves. You want to talk about the road conditions, the weather or your wife’s delicious cooking? You got it. But if you ask a Bhutanese person how their life is going, they usually re-direct the conversation away from themselves.
Why? Because the Bhutanese are careful not to be too proud, boastful or arrogant, and talking excessively about yourself can be seen as a demonstration of such traits. In a country that is built on modesty, public-service and collectivism, how could I possibly expect my colleagues to abandon their cultural values so easily?
It was at that moment that I understood just how much easier it is to succeed on the IELTS speaking test when you come from a culture that values individualism. With individualism comes a sort of forced extraversion in which people are encouraged talk openly and often, using themselves as the reference point for the world around them.
Generally, individualism and extraversion are part and parcel of Western culture. But here is the thing: IELTS takers very rarely come from a Western context. As a matter of fact, a substantial proportion of test-takers come from traditionally collectivist cultures such as India, Bangladesh and the Philippines.
Having said that, here is the other thing: English is not just a language. It’s the representation of a culture, one in which individualism and extraversion are both valued and encouraged. It is imperative for us to teach this concept to IELTS hopefuls before they take the test. If IELTS tutors aren’t aware of a test-taker’s cultural background and its inevitable differences to our own, we will fail our students time and time again.
The road is often difficult and frustrating for newcomers to Western countries, and everything begins with an arbitrary English proficiency exam that is riddled with hidden cultural assumptions. It’s our responsibility to explain these assumptions, just as much as we teach the fundamentals of language proficiency.
What do collectivists need to know about the IELTS speaking test?
IELTS Speaking Part 1
If you come from a culture that places emphasis on community harmony, it’s important to know that you will not be judged for talking about yourself on the IELTS speaking test. IELTS assesses your English proficiency based how well you can express yourself when speaking about a topic that relates to you. It’s crucial to practice talking about your personal experiences, background, goals and so forth so that you aren’t going to run out of things to say to your interviewer! Five minutes is a long time when you have nothing to say.
IELTS Speaking Part 2
If you come from a storytelling culture, you probably need to practice keeping your sentences short and concise. In part 2 of the speaking test, you have two minutes to read a topic on a card and make notes. You must then speak about the topic consistently for 1-2 minutes. In my workshop, I thought this task would be no problem for my colleagues because Bhutan is a nation built on storytelling; in fact it’s not uncommon for someone to spend hours presenting a single point in a workplace meeting! However, I quickly realized that this style of expression does not necessarily translate well to the IELTS criteria.
In Dzongkha (Bhutan’s national language), you almost always express one idea many different ways and, in addition, you must constantly communicate your respect if you are talking to someone with (any!) authority. In fact, a request that is not prefaced by at least five minutes of polite conversation could be considered quite disrespectful. Although I really enjoyed receiving class assignments from my students that began with the salutation “Dearest most respected and appreciated Madame”, I also had to explain to them that English is a language of “getting to the point”.
This applies when it comes to your IELTS presentation too; you must speak in an organized fashion that includes an introductory sentence, key points and a concluding sentence, and you must be careful not to dwell too much on a single point, as you have only 2 minutes to cover every point written on your card.
IELTS Speaking Part 3
If you come from a culture that traditionally “lives in the moment”, you may need to work on developing your abstract side. Western culture places a lot of importance on what we consider to be “critical thinking, in which individuals consider abstract ideas from different perspectives. Part 3 of the IELTS speaking test employs this concept and requires test-takers to discuss several abstract questions about the topic they presented in part 2. For example, if the topic was “Describe a friend from childhood”, you might be asked “What does friendship mean to you?” or “What does it mean to be a good friend”?
In Bhutan, most people live gloriously in the moment. The future is rarely discussed, and pre-made plans almost never work out because more important things come up at the last minute. This mentality creates a context of concreteness where everyday conversations revolve a lot around what is happening “right now” in the physical world.
Thus, some of my colleagues had difficulty discussing abstract ideas like the “meaning” of friendship at length– and often chose to give concrete examples from their daily lives instead (i.e. “For me, a good friend is someone who calls me every day”). While this approach is certainly not “wrong”, it usually doesn’t take long to describe the concrete aspects of an idea, and therefore many people will run out things to say long before their time is up.
In order to succeed in Part 3, it’s important to practice speaking about intangible ideas like emotions, thoughts and values. For example: “For me, a good friend is someone who displays loyalty to me and listens to me when nobody else will”.
For more IELTS speaking test tips, check out the video Jay made after he recently took IELTS himself!
Overall, I want to emphasize that just because test-takers will benefit from learning the cultural assumptions of the IELTS speaking test, it doesn’t mean that one approach to communication is “better” than another; one is not “right” and the other “wrong”. Rather, it’s important to recognize that there are significant differences in how we use language to communicate based on the cultural norms we have adopted.
The IELTS speaking test was created by native English speakers with the intention of measuring “English proficiency”, and it would seem that Western cultural values are integral to this definition of proficiency. Thus, IELTS caters well to extraverted individualists, and I think it’s important for test-takers to know this in order to succeed.
But don’t worry, you don’t have to magically transform into something you’re not. You just need to adopt some strategies to help you meet the test requirements. That’s where we can help you out! Sign up to an E2Language IELTS preparation course and let us show you how to maximize your IELTS speaking success on the first try.
A lot of people doing the IELTS aren’t sure of which one to take: IELTS Academic or IELTS General.
Well, it depends on why you are doing the IELTS.
If you are doing it to get into an English-speaking university or professional registration, then you will need to do the IELTS Academic. If you are doing it for migration purposes, then you will need to do the IELTS General.
The IELTS test has 4 parts:
Writing (task 1 & 2)
Writing Task 2, Listening and Speaking are the same for both IELTS Academic and IELTS general.
Writing task 2 is an essay. You will be given an essay question to answer in 40 minutes by writing at least 250 words.
In the Listening test, you will hear 4 audio recordings and have to answer 40 questions. It lasts between 30-40 minutes.
In the Speaking test, you will be interviewed by an examiner. This test includes 3 parts: the interview, the short presentation and the discussion. It last between 11-14 minutes.
The only difference between the two tests is Writing Task 1 and Reading.
So, how are they different? I’ll start off with writing task 1 and then move onto the reading.
IELTS Academic or IELTS General: Writing Task 1
Describe and analyse data in one of the following:
Write a letter in one of the following styles:
Formal (to someone you do not know)
Semi-formal (to someone you know formally)
Informal (to friend or family)
You get 20 minutes to complete both of these tasks and must write at least 150 words for each.
Texts related to academic topics such as science, history, sociology
4 short passages increasing in length and difficulty
More general /everyday style texts
Texts related to social survival (advertisements, notices etc.); workplace survival (job descriptions, employment contracts etc.); general texts (newspapers, magazines, travel brochures etc.)
You get an hour to complete both of these reading tasks (50 minutes of reading time and 10 minutes to transfer your answers onto your answer sheet). Both tests include 40 questions in total.
Which IELTS is for you: IELTS Academic or IELTS General?
Ahmad is applying to get into university in Australia. He wants to study a Master of Business at the University of Melbourne. Although he has graduated from an English-speaking university in Egypt, the University of Melbourne has requested an IELTS test. To be considered for acceptance into the Master’s program, Ahmad will need to complete the Academic IELTS.
Jaspreet is on a Working Holiday visa from India. She has applied for a job with an IT company in London. The company has asked for evidence of Jaspreet’s English ability. Jaspreet should complete the IELTS Academic.
Gabriela is a dentist from Brazil. She now lives in Sydney and wants to apply for registration with the Dental Board of Australia. In order to do so, Gabriela will need to complete the IELTS Academic.
Juanvisited Ontario last year and met the love of his life. He now wants to migrate to Canada to be with her. As part of his application for immigration, Juan will need to complete the IELTS General.
If you aren’t sure which one to take, ask the organisation that has requested the IELTS. From there, you can sign up to one of our flexible, online IELTS courses to learn the strategies and methods you’ll need to succeed on the Academic or General IELTS!
Visit E2 IELTS for more preparation videos, like the IELTS General and IELTS Academic Course Overview from E2Language.
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