How to start IELTS preparation (Full Guidelines)

The IELTS exam is one of the most recognized English Language proficiency tests in the world. Passing this exam will bring you closer to studying in 140 different countries, and prepare you for the all-important everyday conversations in an English-speaking country.

IELTS exam preparation strategies and learning methods depend a great deal on what version of IELTS test you need to take. There are two types of IELTS tests are available that are as follows:

  1. IELTS Academic Module
  2. IELTS General Training Module

The two types of IELTS versions have different purposes and content. You will need to personalize your exam preparation depending on which type of IELTS you need to complete. Find out whether you need IELTS Academic or General Training.

IELTS test format
IELTS band score and assessment criteria
Which IELTS test should I take?

Remember that, there are no shortcuts or magic secret to improve your score in just 24 hours. But practice again and again makes you perfect! Below explained the full IELTS exam preparation guidelines step by step:

1. Assess your English level

Take a practice test to find out what your current English level is in terms of the IELTS scale and marking yourself honestly. It is a great way of improving your understanding about IELTS exam format and it will also give you a idea of where you stand to compare to your score goals before starting the IELTS exam preparation. Make sure you know exactly what scores you need for visa, study or work.

IELTS practice test sample
Recent IELTS exam questions

Generally, if your level of English is intermediate, you will need to practice around three months to feel comfortable with the IELTS exam format. Beginners might have to consider 6 months of practice or attending an IELTS exam preparation course. Beginners start with the aspect you are weak at. First, do only listening practice for 2 or 3 weeks, then writing. After that practice IELTS reading for several more weeks. The thing is that your skills develop faster when you do the same activity for a long time.

After the self-assessment, focus on your weakness. When you start preparing for the IELTS exam, allow more time to improve your weak spots. If you don’t feel so confident about speaking English, try to find English-speakers among your friends or on the online environment, who are willing to talk to you in English. If you scored low at writing, train your writing daily and find experienced IELTS teacher who can proofread your texts and give you reliable feedback.

2. Build online reading habit

The American Life research project found that 42% of college graduates will never read a book again after graduating college. I bet, this is the habit which is common among most of us.

For example, how many full English Books you have read after graduation?

Reading can assist you in a many ways. In fact, Neuroscientists have discovered that good reading habit can improve brain function on a variety of levels. So, How can you build a good reading habit for IELTS? Here are some good online sources that will enhance your reading proficiency up to the academic level.

Al Jazeera, BBC, The Economist

The provocation news of that sites will hone your appetite of reading which will prepare your mind to catch IELTS reading passage information more accurately and quickly. Many news articles of that sites are very similar to IELTS texts and it covers a wide variety of articles on culture, economics, science, technology, and politics. IELTS reading articles also cover these topics. Therefore, if you are familiar with the language of articles in that news sites, you will considerably improve your chances of scoring well in the IELTS reading section.

Moreover, reading news articles can build your general idea about talking about different critical issues usually discussed in IELTS Speaking part -3.

When speaking about in-depth issues in this last part, candidates often miss developing effective arguments.

3. IELTS exam preparation

Enrolling into a coaching center alone won’t be of much help, if you are not willing to do your best. A mentor will guide you but that’s about it. So, at home you must do the following and this is to be followed for about 7/ 8 weeks. You will need to put in around an hour a day. Do not miss your daily routine. Devote additional time, whenever you find. A little but every day.

Preparation – IELTS reading section

The IELTS Academic reading test contains 3 paragraphs each with at least 3-4 thousand words.

That`s a lot to read and answer in just 60 minutes.

So, can you make your endeavor to correct at least 30 questions? While It is not extremely impossible, they aren’t that easy either. The first challenge is to enable you to digest a vast amount of material very rapidly. This technique is called “speed reading” that merely goes beyond quickly look over the passages.

These are some basic rules of speed reading; like these:

  • Skimming
  • Scanning

During normal reading 80% of the time spends in reading is devoted to physical eye movements. The human eye can focus on about 13 characters at a time which dramatically decrease the effective reading speed.

For this visual limitation ; most of us tend to read at about 200-400 words per minute. Speed readers claim to hit around 1000-1700 words per minute.

However, you don’t truly understand those words while you read at this speed which defeats the purpose of reading in IELTS. But, it is effective in pre-reading or reviewing the reading passages to get a general idea of the text.

In order to find the answer in the text, you need to master the skimming and scanning skills. Remember, in 60 minutes you have to read all 3 passages and answer 40 questions. That means you need to get the information very quickly.

Skimming is very functional to solve this purpose. It means glance through the text to look for a particular item to be answered. This method involves reading at a three or four time faster than the normal one. The reader can move quickly through the texts in a passage with a conciseness of which parts they can skip over.

The skimming technique is particularly helpful to give answers to the question like match headings or finding writers view. Here is a very good video lecture describing the skimming technique.

When you look for any keywords, phrases or acronyms in the text, you can apply scanning technique. In this process, your eyes move down the page to nail down the answer to specific questions. IELTS reading test contains gap fill or multiple choice questions that can easily solve thought this scanning method.

See IELTS reading samples
IELTS reading exercises for beginner
Learn more about IELTS reading test

For example, can you solve the question about percentage from the following passage:

Preparation - IELTS scanning reading skills

You can find it easily, right?

Because the question contains the word percentage (which is the keyword or clue) and you were actually looking for it (%) in the passage and finally find the answer at the bottom of it.

I bet, you have heard a lot about these scanning and skimming techniques in almost any book or blog about IELTS. But, remember, the question can be answered by only applying these tricks. There are more challenges waiting for you there.

Most of the student surprise when they first look at an IELTS reading paper; the sheer volume of unknown and sometimes technical vocabulary makes it almost impossible to know the meaning of sentences and paragraphs.

It can seem like an almost impossible task for students to attain this sheered volume of vocabulary, in such a limited period of time of preparation, to enable them to answer the questions.

But, there is a solution.

Nevertheless to mention that about 3000 academic words appear with great frequency in a broad range of academic texts. But there are many unknown words which can appear in IELTS reading passages beyond these academic words.

The reading habit you built in step one comes in action in this stage. On the top of it, knowing all the vocabulary of Cambridge IELTS students book series guides reading tests can build your vocabulary up to 98 % ; this level of proficiency is enough to get whatever band score you want.

Preparation – IELTS listening section

I’m writing this post under the assumption that you’re doing IELTS just for trying to get admission in a university or migrate in an English speaking country.

What is the first thing you will experience in those countries like UK, USA, Canada or Australia?

Listen to people speaking in English in every step of your foreign life. And, that`s exactly the spirit of IELTS listening test.

There are few hardships every non-native person goes through while staying in an English speaking country. These are:

  • The hardship of following Different Accent
  • The hardship of following the speed of speech.

How to handle different accent

There are 3 major English accents that would cover in the IELTS listening Test.

  • North American
  • British
  • Australian

The best way to get familiarize with these accents is to travel and live sometimes in some major cities like Sydney, London, New York, Toronto, Auckland. This idea of traveling may sound insane but this is the best way to accentuate all major style of speaking English.

However, it is not possible for most of us to manage time & money for traveling around the world. In that case, secondary sources like all kind of media are the only way to get through.

Got any idea how the English language could be sound like in different parts of the world? Just, if you are curious enough, please go through Speech Accent Archive of George Mason University and discover the world of English accent by clicking in different areas of the world map.

Most of us may know how North American accent would sound like as most of the English movies comes from Hollywood.

Yes, you are right.

Watching movies is a good way to earn foreign accent but it sticks to American jurisdiction. But, what about knowing British accent where IELTS listening tests covers at least 2 sections in British English. Again, BBC can help you in this case. Let`s see how it can help you:

  1. Go to YouTube and type BBC Drama/BBC Documentary in the search box.
  2. You will find an array of videos to watch on
  3. Choose one, enjoy the show and learn English accents with pleasure.

The same procedure goes for learning Australian Accent where YouTube can be helpful. Do not underestimate the practice test in Cambridge IELTS student`s book series where each tests contains a range of accent. Practicing Cambridge IELTS books would be helpful in this case as a book as because each book contains listening scripts at the end pages.

How to handle the speed

Can you guess what the purpose of IELTS listening test is? In an academic setting, students need to interact in tutorials, discussions, meetings with tutors and supervisors, group projects. They also take part in informal social interaction in and outside the campus.The IELTS listening test sections are designed in that way, where there are 4 sections each contains 10 questions:

  • Section 1: A conversation about a daily life context e.g. a hotel booking procedure
  • Section 2: Individual Discussion about an everyday social context e.g. a speech about how to get the local driving license.
  • Section 3: Discussion between two or more persons in an Academic setting. Ex: meeting or interaction of 2 students with the supervisor.
  • Section 4: An academic lecture or seminar presentation.

See IELTS listening samples
IELTS listening exercises for beginner
IELTS vocabulary list – 1 for Listening
IELTS vocabulary list – 2 Map directions for listening

The difficulty of IELTS listening usually lies in chronological order. You can expect section 4 more difficult to answer than section 3/2/1 .

Guess, why section 4 is more difficult?

One of the reasons is Speed. And, they won’t go back and repeat what’s said.

Students need good listening skills to interpret the subject matter of an academic lecture usefully delivered at speed and take necessary notes.

Just, try to listen to an IELTS section 4 audio track . While listening, suddenly realize you missed a phrase or sentence, maybe an important one. As I said earlier, in the academic context, the speaker sometimes speaks a little too quickly.

While you practice listening test at the beginning, we will miss many chunks of the conversation.
Don`t feel bad.

Best way to improve IELTS listening score
IELTS listening tips – “No more than… words”
See How to use the breaks in IELTS listening test?
See How to avoid spelling mistakes in IELTS listening exam?
See How to answer multiple choice questions in IELTS listening?

After a few months of practice, you will again miss something you haven`t missed before and this trend will continue in the future.

This is very normal. Even a native English speakers mind can wander or simply fail to hear something in a speedy speech.

All you have to make sure you miss as few words as possible when you take the IELTS itself.

There are few sites that can help you to take the challenge of speed. Like:

  1. ESL Lounge has audio in normal to advanced level British & American speakers with scripts. Practicing from this site will help you to comprehend English speech that is faster than usual.
  2. will allow you with advanced listening audios with Audio Script on contemporary topics. The advanced section in this site will enhance your listening speeds with read-along text.

The good news is that the speech you hear on the IELTS Listening section 1 & 2 is usually slower than English speech in other sections. This means, building your skills at listening to speedy paced English speech will prepare you for band 7+ score.

Preparation – IELTS writing section

The IELTS academic writing contains 2 tasks. Task-1 requires less time; you are supposed to write 150 words answer in 20 minutes while in Task-2 it requires 250 words answer in 30 minutes.

Just imagine being able to write a 250 words essay in 30 minutes. This means that time management and planning is an integral part of the writing process, but the real work comes in the revision stage, where you give 10 minutes to perfect your writing.

The IELTS academic task-1 contains charts, figures and tables to present visual information in a way that is accessible and understandable to the reader. All you have to do is gathering important facts, changes, and comparison figures to built the foundation for your answer.

See IELTS writing task 1 samples

However, you don’t have to be perfect at this “fact-gathering” stage. But, you are required to present your answer according to the set of standards set by the IELTS consortium. To know these facts please follow this post:

IELTS vocabulary list – 1 for Writing task 1
IELTS vocabulary list – 1 for Writing task 1 GT
See How to write a good overview in IELTS writing task 1

Although, writing isn’t all about arranging words to make a sentence – you’ve got to know what types of words or sentence structures you need to use for particular tasks. There are several ways you can use online sources to get familiar with how to structure your task-1 answer and use complex sentences and grammatical forms.
One of these sources (I stated earlier) is The Economist websites Daily Chart section which is similar to the graphs and charts often used in Task 1.
You should learn to use clear and specific Language to describe charts, table and diagrams. In the meantime, you are supposed to understand and write about following key points:

  • The purpose of the given table, charts or diagram
  • Determine which pieces of information are significant.
  • Describe the highest and lowest value of the dataset.
  • Make comparison between significant data sources.

Go to this link which is a nice learning source about how to write about these key points.

You should also focus on using appropriate adjective, adverbs and preposition to present the task in a proper way. Here is a very good source to learn these words/phrases that fit with particular charts.

Sometimes, task-1 question covers flowchart/diagram instead of table or graphs. Flowchart is the schematic visual representation of the “flow” of the process. Don’t get overwhelmed when you stumble upon these flow-charts.

Just like describing charts and tables, it is important that you spend some time carefully looking at the diagram until you understand what it shows. Look for the following:

  • The main parts or blocks of the diagram.
  • How one block of the process leads to another one in the diagram?
  • Are the stages shown in the diagram follow any sequence (what comes after what)?
  • Identify the keywords in the diagram that help you to explain it

Remember, in the flow-diagram; as a reader, you are active while the visual itself is passive. This active-passive role is very important in describing it.

That’s why; using the passive voice can add a more formal tone to your descriptions.

Sometimes IELTS writing task-1 diagram express the cause and result relationship. In that case, using certain connective phrases like- (as a result, because of, consequently, due to, give rise to, on account of, results in) will give a natural flow to your writing.

As I stated earlier, you should find more time in writing task-2 because it carries more marks than task-1.

The IELTS Academic Task-2 questions comprise 3 types of discourse:

  1. The task will describe a problem and ask you write a solution
  2. It can ask you to describe the advantages and disadvantages of something
  3. The question can present a controversial issue and need you to express own opinion.

Although, the main types of questions in task-2 can be varied among these 3 types, all you have to do the following things during first 5 minutes.

  • Brainstorming ideas
  • Organizing ideas in a mind map
  • Planning your essay

Best IELTS writing tips band score 7+
IELTS academic word list 1 for Writing
IELTS vocabulary list – 1 for Writing task 2
IELTS vocabulary list – Linking words for writing

The following table about IELTS Academic Writing Task-2 will show you how to organize your writing at the level of the paragraph and, finally, how to write a good conclusion.

IELTS Academic Essay (Task 2) Formats
Standard IELTS essays begin with an Introduction that gives a main point (Thesis).
The thesis is supported by a series of body paragraphs with sub-points, and the essay end with conclusion.
What is good introduction?
Generally includes a THESIS which is integral to any academic essay and work as a general summary of the argument or main point of the paper.What is body paragraph?
Paragraphs that relates what was introduced in the THESIS.
What is thesis?
The THESIS needs to be clear, and it should outline the main points to be discussed.What should I include?
A topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph The rest of a paragraph should include evidence to support or explain the topic sentence.
The general guidelines for presenting your ideas.
Discusses the significance of the essay.
The importance of your main point in some larger context.

A good academic writing is that each sentence follows on logically from the one before it. Your responsibility, therefore, is to maintain this flow of ideas. But the logical flow is not what you need to consider alone.

See IELTS writing task 2 samples

That`s all about the challenges you are going to face in IELTS writing preparation.
In the nutshell, your writing should be clear to understand and maintain an academic tone by including a few more complex sentences for getting band 7 or higher.

Writing is an art and requires creativity. However, the IELTS test seldom justifies this act of creativity and demands certain rules to follow. I tried to give you a glimpse of these rule of thumbs. Without following these rules, you`ll be lost in the crowd.

Preparation – IELTS speaking section

The first thing you need to consider about IELTS speaking is the power of speech.
Remember, the driving force of humanity is verbal interaction or speech.

In January 2008, Hillary Clinton defeated Barrack Obama in New Hampshire Primary Election. However, Mr. Obama changes the dice by his phenomenal speech that have won him the nomination and ultimately the presidential election.

Through speech – with praise and encouragement – we can change or build our society. So that, we can get a better score in IELTS speaking test. Learn to speak well will improve in all areas of your life —one-on-one. It will bring good friends, help you positively in family settings and above all bring high score in speaking module!

Do you think there’s no magic or luck involved in delivering good speech?

According to an academic research , there are some certain Rules of Thumb that shape an academic speech. When you imply these rules in your speech, you`ll make positive impression with the IELTS examiner and drive your band score up.

See How to speak well
See IELTS speaking vocabulary (Topics wise)

It is true that a good speech matter on your words, tone and body language. But, IELTS consortium has set some criteria to evaluate your speech for the examiner. There are:

  • Fluency and coherence
  • Lexical resource
  • Grammatical range and accuracy
  • Pronunciation

These are the basics of marking your speaking test. In the nutshell:

First, by fluency & coherence, the examiner will judge the pace & smoothness of your speech.
Second, in lexical section, the wide and powerful vocabulary usage will be credited.
Third, in Grammatical range and accuracy, your ability to deliver the speech with grammatical accuracy and variation will be checked.
Fourth, finally in pronunciation section, the tone speech will be marked if you deliver each word with clarity that could be easy to understand.

In my opinion, you can practice IELTS speaking test in your home by keeping these 4 criteria in mind. But, it`s really hard to find a speaking partner if you are staying at home. Unless, you join any speaking club or IELTS coaching center.

See IELTS speaking samples
See IELTS speaking part 3 samples
Learn more about IELTS speaking test

Don`t worry, there`re some alternative solution to practice speaking of your own.

First of all, you can sneak into the nearest British Council Library where usually the IELTS candidate gathers for registration or practice. Make friendship with them to go for a cup of tea or coffee and in the meantime practice speaking. You can also join on certain Facebook group about IELTS ; where you can find a speaking partners request through Skype ID.


Scoring high band score in IELTS isn’t a mystery.

In case of speaking and writing, you just need to know its components & learn how to use them for the best answer.

In the course of time, you can incorporate some—ideally all—of these components into your preparation. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how your answering capacity increases during the final stage your home preparation.

For reading and listening module, if you get to score between 32 to 38 correct answer out of 40 questions, you are ready for the test.

You can also justify the quality of your speaking, by recording it and listen if it satisfies the standard requirements.

However, you will still long for perfection and fear of unprepared before the exam day.

Don`t worry! This is a very common feeling among candidates.

Click me!

The practical proficiency of IELTS usually builds with everyday practice. This practice involves a good understanding of how the test structures, errors that may lead losing scores etc.

There’s nothing fancy about finding any shortcut to pass this exam. So don’t waste time or fret over it.

Depending on your goal or the demand of your target band score, you may want to practice at least 1 to 3 hours per day. Practicing at this speed will usually take 3 months span to prepare you for getting a comfortable band score.

However, if you want to stand out, you’ve got to add more and more practice in your IELTS preparation endeavor.

When you’re practicing for the test, don’t lose sight of what matters most: hard work. The goal is to hone your expertise and intellect for the target band score.

But understand that there is a difference between hard work and smart preparation. During hard work, you adjust yourself with the model test to score better; where you might end up with frustration.

For instance. When preparing smartly as I guide you in this post, you focus on correcting yourself and achieve the level desired by any IELTS candidate.

Scoring a good enough band score is tough. You’ve got to solve model tests and use the rules and techniques to answer them properly. You need to figure out what techniques works, and what doesn’t.

But I’m confident that if you can focus on these 4 steps, you’ll be able to get a good band score that you can be proud of – within 3 months or less.

3. Register for IELTS

IELTS exam is open for all and there are no specific eligibility criteria and it is recommended for candidates who are 16 years and above. The test is available on 48 fixed dates per year (up to four times a month), depending on local demand. The candidates have the liberty of giving the exam on any of the 48 days in as per their convenience. Apart from this, candidates can also reattempt the exam whenever they want. Also, there is no limit for giving the IELTS test, candidates can give the IELTS exam as many times as they want or till they reach their dream score. However, every time the candidate has to pay the exam fee ranges between $215–240 USD.

Should I book IELTS at British Council or IDP?

Related IELTS Resources

Take a practice test to find out what is your current weakness in terms of IELTS scale and allow more time to improve your weak spots. The following IELTS resources will help you to develop your skills faster:

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