Are you seeking IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam preparation tips because you plan to study in the United States? You should, because you may need to take the IELTS exam to make those plans possible.

The IELTS exam is a standardized English language proficiency test for non-native speakers. It’s managed by the British Council, IDP IELTS Australia, and Cambridge Assessment English. IELTS is accepted in 140 countries by 9,000 schools and universities.

IELTS test results are represented as a “band score” ranging from 0 (did not take the test) to 9 (expert user). You’ll receive a band score for each section of the test (Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking); your overall band score is the average of those four scores. The IELTS exam aims to show your proficiency in vocabulary, grammar, fluency, and coherence.

Many experts recommend you start preparing for the exam at least three to six months before the test day. By some estimates, you’ll need around six months to improve your band score by 0.5, such as from 6.5 to 7.

This article discusses the IELTS exam format, how to prepare for it, useful tips, and other information that can help you earn a higher band score.

Understanding the IELTS Exam

First, familiarize yourself with the IELTS exam format, including each section’s test content, questions, and task types.

There are two types of IELTS tests: the IELTS Academic test and the IELTS General Training test. The former is for international undergraduate and graduate students looking to study abroad, while the latter assesses every-day, non-academic English. Reading and writing tests differ, while listening and speaking modules are the same for both exams. You can take the test online or on paper, but keep in mind that the speaking module will be in person.

Module Time Number of Questions
Speaking 11-14 minutes Three sections
Writing 60 minutes Two tasks
Listening 30+10 minutes (to transfer answers to answer sheet) Four recordings and 40 questions
Reading 60 minutes 40 questions

Speaking Module

  • Part 1 — Introduction and interview
  • Part 2 — Talk about the topic
  • Part 3 — Deeper discussion about the topic than in Part 2

Writing Module

IELTS Academic

  • Task 1 — Write about facts or numbers presented in one or more charts, tables, or graphs (150 words/20 minutes)
  • Task 2 — Write an essay about the topic (250 words/40 minutes)

IELTS General Training

  • Task 1 — Write a response to a situation in informal, semi-formal, or formal letter (150 words/20 minutes)
  • Task 2 — Write an essay about the general topic (250 words/40 minutes)

The Listening module has various types of tasks, including:

  • multiple-choice questions
  • matching exercises
  • diagram labeling
  • summary completion
  • sentence completion
  • short answer questions

The Reading module also has different types of tasks, including:

  • multiple-choice questions
  • identifying the writer’s views/claims
  • matching information
  • matching features
  • matching headings
  • matching sentence endings
  • sentence completion
  • identifying information
  • summary completion
  • diagram label completion
  • short-answer questions

How to Prepare for IELTS Exam

Here are the steps to follow when preparing for the IELTS test:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the IELTS exam format.
  2. Find out how the evaluation works.
  3. Do a practice test to assess your band score.
  4. Listen to audiobooks and music, watch TV shows, and read in English.
  5. Make a plan to learn regularly.
  6. Go through sample questions.
  7. Find a partner to practice your English language with.
  8. Think about enrolling in an IELTS exam preparation course.
  9. Work on skills that will be useful for the IELTS exam — time management and skimming skills, for example.
  10. Register for the exam.
ielts exam practice

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IELTS Exam Preparation Tips

Time management skills, which involve knowing how much time you need to spend on each task, will help you stay on point. The following sections discuss tips for each module: Listening, Reading, Speaking, and Writing.

Tips for IELTS Listening

Listening to music and audiobooks and watching TV shows in English can help you learn to pronounce and use words correctly. While listening to or reading something in English, write down words you don’t know so you can look them up later. Learning just five new words a day could help you accomplish a lot by the time of the exam.

It’s also a good idea to listen to different English accents — including American, British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand accents. Doing so will help improve your understanding of spoken English, regardless of who is talking.

Lastly, don’t panic if you don’t know every word right away; nobody knows everything.

Tips on IELTS Speaking

In order to answer questions more quickly during the Speaking component of the IELTS exam, consider the following tips:

  1. After hearing a question, think about it for a moment or two. Don’t feel pressured to start talking right away.
  2. Don’t use words if you’re not sure of the proper pronunciation.
  3. If you don’t understand a certain word, ask the examiner to repeat the question.
  4. Use familiar sentence structures.
  5. Use collocations and phrasal verbs to sound more fluent.
  6. Use appropriate verb tenses, such as present continuous and present perfect.
  7. Don’t answer questions with a simple “yes” or “no.” Elaborate.
  8. Correct your mistakes while speaking.

If you need more practice with pronunciation and intonation, try a “shadowing technique” by repeating what somebody else said in English.

When you get a question about a topic you’re unfamiliar with, try to find a way to link it to your own experiences or those of someone close to you. You’ll have more things to say if you can develop a personal connection to the subject being discussed.

Tips for IELTS Reading

Considering that this module has a limited time frame, you shouldn’t deeply analyze each paragraph. Instead, you can get a general understanding of the subject matter from the text in the introduction, topic sentences (first sentence of each paragraph), and the conclusion.

After quickly reviewing those components of the exam, you can move on to the questions. If you don’t know an answer right away, review the topic sentences again to hone in on the answer.

There are different types of skills required for the Reading module. Skimming is helpful because you can quickly read the text and memorize essential details. While reading each paragraph, remember to underline keywords that might help you answer questions.

In the Reading module, you’ll also need to be able to recognize the logical argument being made and identify the writer’s opinions.

Tips on IELTS Writing

In the Writing section, try to write shorter sentences to avoid making mistakes with tenses or grammar. You should be as concise as possible; try to write no more than 20 words per sentence. For better readability, use transitional words and phrases — such as alternatively, on the other hand, in contrast, etc. — to connect two sentences. To avoid repetition, paraphrase the question using synonyms.

For Task 1, you’ll need to explain the data being presented. Be sure not to:

  • Use the same words for numbers and percentages as in the graph or chart.
  • Write your opinion.
  • Use abbreviations or bullet points.
  • Write down every number you see.
  • Use informal language.

In Task 2, you need to write an essay on a certain topic. To do it correctly:

  • Analyze the question to understand precisely what’s being asked of you.
  • Make a plan with an essay structure.
  • Make your opinion clear.
  • Stay within the word count.
  • Write concise topic sentences.
  • Explain your points and provide examples.
  • Write an informative conclusion summarizing all key points.

IELTS Exam Preparation Tips — Conclusion

IELTS exam results are scaled from zero to nine.

To get a high score in the Listening module, listen to various accents in the English language. Listen to audiobooks and music, watch TV shows that interest you, and read books. Write down words you don’t know so you can research them later.

For most exam takers, the Speaking module is the most difficult. After you hear a question, think before you start talking. Use grammatical structures you feel comfortable using as well as appropriate verb tenses, such as the present perfect and present continuous. Use words you’re confident about pronouncing correctly. Also, use phrasal verbs and collocations to sound more fluent. If you didn’t hear or understand the examiner, don’t hesitate to ask them to repeat. Remember, don’t answer questions with a simple “yes” or “no.” Try to make your replies longer and more meaningful.

In the Reading module, you need to understand the context through introductory sections, topic sentences, and conclusions. To navigate the text faster, underline keywords and topic sentences. Also, skimming can be helpful as you’ll be able to identify important parts of the text right away.

You need to work on clarity and conciseness for the Writing module. Write sentences up to 20 words, use synonyms to avoid repetition, and use signposting language to guide the examiner through your essay. Also, write informative topic sentences and conclusions. Remember not to use informal language.

After you familiarize yourself with the IELTS exam format, set a timer as you take practice tests to see how much time you need for each module. That can help identify areas where you can improve your English skills. The goal should be for you to have a decent vocabulary and to be fluent and coherent in the interview.


Learn about the IELTS exam format, read tips for IELTS preparation, do sample tests, and try online tutorials where you can practice vocabulary and pronunciation. Also, you can practice with a friend. Finally, try using IELTS exam preparation material that you can find online.

Take a practice test to find out your band score, practice completing tasks with a timer, listen to recordings, work on your reading skills, and use formal and assertive terms in writing tasks.

The IELTS exam is not necessarily hard or easy. It aims to assess your English language proficiency by testing your speaking, writing, listening, and reading skills. Even though you might not understand all the words in the tasks, that’s not the end of the world. If you work on vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation, you can improve your results.

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