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Are you taking the IELTS exam (International English Language Testing System) in the near future? If you are, you need an IELTS test preparation plan. It does not matter if you are taking the IELTS Academic test or the IELTS General Training test. Our test prep strategy will help you work towards achieving an IELTS Band 9 score. 

To get that high IELTS score, you need to understand how the test format and the different IELTS question types will influence how to prepare most effectively.
In this article, we focus on IELTS test preparation planning and strategies. First, let’s look at how the IELTS test structure and your level of your English skills will determine your personal IELTS exam preparation strategy.

What Is the IELTS Exam?

IELTS is designed to test your level of English proficiency. The IELTS Academic test is used by universities for academic admission purposes. IELTS General is used by governments for immigration and permanent residency applications. Both are used by businesses and professional bodies to assess peoples’ ability to communicate in English for hiring and promotion.   

For a helpful lesson and overview of the IELTS exam, take some time to watch our comprehensive IELTS overview video lesson:

What Is on the IELTS EXAM and IELTS Test Report Form (TRF)?

Both versions of IELTS, Academic and General, have four sections: 

  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking

A good place to start thinking about the best way of preparing for the IELTS exam is by looking at how you will be scored. An official IELTS test report form (TRF), which you will receive after you complete the test, looks like this:

IELTS Test Report Form showing Overall Score, Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking Band Scores and CEFR level.

IELTS Scoring: Overall and Score by Skills

The IELTS score report gives you six different scores – an overall IELTS score, a CEFR level score and four separate scores for your listening, reading, writing and speaking skill performance. 

Your overall IELTS score is calculated using a 0 to 9 scale, with a perfect score being IELTS 9. The report above shows that the candidate did well, with an overall score of 8.0, which is equivalent to a high C1 CEFR level as shown in the report.
Your overall or combined score is calculated using a formula that is an average of your separate skills scores. In other words, the most important score for preparation purposes is not the overall score, it is your performance on each of the separate skills scores.

IELTS Test Report Form showing Skills Scores of 9 for Listening, 8.5 for Reading, 7.5 for Speaking and 7.5 for Writing.

The IELTS score report gives you a separate score for each of your listening, reading, writing and speaking skill levels, also using the 9 point scale. Note that in the example above, the test taker received a perfect score of IELTS 9 for listening but did not do so well for speaking and writing. The difference in your skill levels will impact on your personal exam preparation strategy, which we will discuss further below.

Take the official IELTS Online, Anywhere

Sit the test from your home. IELTS Online test is available in selected countries.

IELTS Preparation Tip 1: Know your Skill Levels Before you Begin Preparing

It is important to know your skill levels BEFORE you begin preparing for the IELTS exam. This information will give you the core of your exam preparation strategy. Knowing your strong and weak skills is essential information. The big problem here is that you won’t receive your IELTS score report until after you have taken the IELTS exam.

The good news is that you can get an estimate of your IELTS skill levels before you begin your IELTS Preparation. Just sign up to E2 Test Prep and use our free IELTS score calculator to test and measure your skill levels. An example of your free pre-test prep score report will look like this:

E2 Test Prep Skills Score Report showing indicative IELTS range for each skill.

Preparation for the IELTS Exam Tip 2: Learn the IELTS Question Types and their Difficulty

Knowing your strong and weak skills is just a first step. It gives you an indication of which skill you should focus on improving first and most. But, the IELTS exam is divided into four parts with a total of 22 question types. Some question types are harder than others. So, not only do you need to focus on improving your weak skills, but you need to master the hardest question types.

Here is our assessment of question type difficulty, based on our research and experience, student feedback and our score calculator scores (this is a useful guide only, and individual opinions may vary).

IELTS Listening is 30 minutes long and contains 6 question types.

Multiple ChoiceModerate
Plan, Map, Diagram LabellingEasier
Form, Note, Table, Flow-Chart, Summary CompletionModerate
Sentence CompletionEasier
Short Answer QuestionsEasier

IELTS Reading is 60 minutes long and contains 11 question types.

Academic Reading (Academic and General)
Multiple ChoiceModerate
Identifying InformationChallenging
Identifying Writer’s Views/ClaimsChallenging
Matching InformationModerate
Matching HeadingsModerate
Matching FeaturesModerate
Match Sentence EndingsModerate
Sentence CompletionEasier
Summary, Note, Table, Flow-Chart CompletionEasier
Diagram Label CompletionEasier
Short Answer QuestionsEasier

IELTS Writing is 60 minutes long and contains 2 question types.

Task 1 (General) – Letter of 150 wordsModerate
Task 2 (General) – Essay of 250 wordsChallenging
Task 1 (Academic) – Describe graph, chart, table or diagram in 150 wordsChallenging
Task 2 (Academic) – Essay of 250 wordsChallenging

IELTS Speaking is 11–14 minutes and contains 3 question types

Part 1: Speaking
Part 1 – Introduction and InterviewEasier
Part 2 – Long TurnChallenging
Part 3 – DiscussionChallenging

IELTS Preparation Tip 3: Prioritizing Weakest Skills and Hardest Questions

By now, you should be able to see the basis of your study plan for the IELTS exam begin to take shape. The question is how to easily combine this information in a way you can use it to learn and practice effectively.

If you use E2’s free IELTS score calculator, it generates a study pathway that is personalized just for you. You can see what your study pathway looks like in the image below. The study pathway ranks your skill levels from weakest to strongest. Within each skill level, it also ranks the hardest to easiest question types and gives you video lessons and practice activities in an optimized learning sequence designed to lift your IELTS score in the most efficient way.

E2 Test Prep Study Pathway showing personalised results for the order in which to complete tasks for each skill.

IELTS Exam Preparation Tip 4: Follow this Five-Step Prep & Study Plan

There is no secret formula to getting a good IELTS score. It requires learning the test, mastering all the question types, and doing a lot of practice with high quality practice questions. Here is a five-step study plan:


Pre-Prep Skills Calculation
Use E2 Test Prep’s free IELTS score calculator to receive an estimate of your skill strengths and weaknesses.Sign up to E2 Test Prep for our free trial and use our IELTS score calculator to measure your skill levels.

Create Your Study Pathway
Use E2 Test Prep’s free IELTS study pathway tool to generate a study plan optimized just for your study plan.Sign up to E2 Test Prep for our free trial and use our IELTS score calculator to generate your personalized study plan.

Learn & Practice Each Question Type
Learn how to master each IELTS question type for all skills using E2’s highly successful methods lessons. Then, practice, practice, practice with our online resources.Sign up to E2 Test Prep for our free trial to access IELTS video lessons and high-quality practice questions.

Get Expert Feedback
If you are struggling with Speaking and Writing skills, seek expert help and feedback from a trained IELTS teacher. Do a writing or speaking intensive assessment or sign up for a 1 to 1 tutorial with an expert to get help and guidance.

Practice doing mini and full mock tests
Do not jump into doing full IELTS mock tests at the beginning of your preparation. It is best to learn about your capabilities and the format of the IELTS exam first.  Sign up to E2 Test Prep and take the free guided mock test.

Author Bio: 

E2 is the world’s leading test preparation provider. Our expert teachers are fully accredited English teachers, with TESOL, British Council or other relevant certification, and years of IELTS examiner or IELTS teaching experience. 

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