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5 Top Things You Can Do Today to Prepare for Your IELTS Exam

Image representing students learning how to use new words in English

There’s no easy way to say this: the IELTS exam is tough.

Doing all four exams on the same day tests more than just your skills and level of English: it also tests your stamina, endurance and organisational abilities.

You have to be able to pace yourself properly to cover all of the material in the time provided. You have to do your best for the whole day of tests. And, of course, you need to be confident in your language abilities, with a broad vocabulary and a high level of accuracy. Even native speakers find the test tricky!

We’re not saying this to scare you. We’re saying it because, to do as well as you can, you’ll need to start preparing for your exam as early as possible – and you’ll need to prepare in ways that are genuinely effective.

Here are five essential pieces of advice to get you started.

1. Familiarise Yourself with the Structure

 

Image representing a student learning how to get to grips with a new alphabet
The best way to get yourself feeling comfortable and confident is simply knowing your way around the different papers and sections.

Working through past and practice papers will help you to get familiar with the structure of the exam, so that you don’t waste time on the day working out what you actually need to do.

If you know what to expect, it will remove a lot of your exam stress!

2. … But Don’t JUST Do Past Papers!

 

Image representing students learning how to use prepositions
IELTS exam papers and study materials are obviously an excellent place to start your preparation, but the point of the test is to assess how well-equipped you are to live, work or study in an English-speaking environment.

This means that the best resources for improving your English language skills will be the day-to-day texts, and interactions that you will need to be able to cope with in “real” life.

Read newspaper and magazine articles. Watch English-language TV or listen to the radio. Try keeping a diary in English. Take every opportunity you get to practise speaking to native English speakers. Constant exposure to written and spoken English will boost your vocabulary, your pronunciation and your confidence.

3. Take a “Little and Often” Approach

 

FCE Exam
You can’t learn a language by cramming (trying to learn a lot very quickly before an exam). Instead, you have to keep working at it all the time.

Often, it’s the focussed tasks, the ones that target one particular skill. that make all the difference to your overall performance. Imagine it like a football striker practising penalties before a big match. These everyday practice activities can be better at improving your scores than doing full-length tests.

Build short tasks or exercises into your day, whether that’s 20 minutes brushing up some vocab, reading a news item, emailing a friend in English, or watching a TED talk and then summarising the key points aloud, preferably with a partner. These help you practise all the skills you need in the short term and you’ll be amazed how far these little steps will take you in the long run, too.

4. Broaden Your Interests

 

Working Overseas

In the actual exams, you’ll be shown material that covers a very broad range of topics. You’ll hear varying national and regional accents from the UK, the US, Australia and elsewhere. When you’re preparing for the exam, you should do the same.

Try to read, watch or listen to articles and programmes that cover things like new technology and inventions. This will expose you to language and vocab that you might not see otherwise. And don’t limit your reading and listening to one part of the world, for example by only watching British television or listening to American podcasts. You might even discover some new interests along the way!

5. Ask for Help

 

FCE Exam

 

If you’re worried about any part of the test, don’t worry alone. There are plenty of people who are willing and able to help you identify your weaker points and how to improve on them.

Talk to your English teacher (or to us!) about creating a study plan or getting the right resources to target your skills gaps. Pair up with a friend as a “study buddy” to practise with, and to keep you both on track. If you’re not sure what you need to do to get the score you want, ask!

There’s more where this came from! Click here for tips and advice on preparing for the reading, writing, listening and speaking parts of your IELTS exam.

This post is also available in: French German Portuguese (Brazil)