Essential Steps on How to Prepare for Your IELTS Test

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) became the world’s most popular English-language test for study, work and migration purposes. If you are preparing to take the IELTS exam, you will join 2 million IELTS test takers worldwide. This massive popularity also gives you the opportunity to find an extensive amount of resources to help with the IELTS exam preparation.

The learning methods and preparation strategies depend a great deal on what version of IELTS test you need to take:

  • IELTS General Training
  • IELTS Academic
  • IELTS Skills for life

The three versions of IELTS have different purposes and content. You will need to personalise your exam training depending on which type of IELTS you need to complete. Bellow you will find the essential steps on how to prepare for your English language exam and get the scores you need.

Prepare for the IELTS exam

Test your English language proficiency!

It is probably a good idea to assess your present English language level, before starting the IELTS exam preparation. This will give you a good idea of where you stand to compare to your score goals.

After the self-assessment, focus on your Achilles’ heel! When you start preparing for the IELTS examination, 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 in the online environment, who are willing to talk to you in English. If you scored low at writing, train your writing daily and find somebody you trust who can proofread your texts and give you reliable feedback.

Test your English language proficiency

Which IELTS test to take?

You will have to choose one version of the three IELTS tests, depending on your goals and objectives. Are you looking to study, work or immigrate to an English-speaking country? Let’s see what the specific purpose for each IELTS type is and how that affects the structure of the test.

1. IELTS General Training

IELTS General training is the best choice if you wish to work or move in an English-speaking country. The General training certificate is used as a criterion for job applications in countries like the U.K., Australia, Canada and New Zealand. This version is also suitable if you want to study below degree level in one of those countries.

With the IELTS General Training, you are asked to prove your English language proficiency in an everyday context, and be able to describe a workplace or social situation.

2. IELTS Academic

The IELTS Academic is perfect if you wish to study abroad and pursue a Bachelor’s, Master’s or PhD taught in English. Most universities across the globe recognise the IELTS Academic certificate as proof of your English language proficiency. This IELTS version is also fit for specialists who seek professional registration in the UK. After receiving a certified recognition for your profession, you will receive a title, such as engineer (Eng.) or technician (Tech.).

The IELTS Academic measures you English language proficiency necessary to succeed in an English-speaking, high learning environment.

3. IELTS Life Skills

The IELTS Life Skills is a relatively new version of testing, approved by the UK Government for Visas and Immigration. The new exam is designed for international English speakers who need to meet specific immigration requirements and have to demonstrate speaking and listening skills only.

IELTS English language test

Understand the IELTS General Training and IELTS Academic format

Your first step when beginning preparation is to get to know the format of the test. The British Council offers a full illustration of how each IELTS test looks like. It is recommended to assess yourself periodically during your training, following the exact structure of the IELTS exam. This way you will feel much more confident on the day of the exam.

The IELTS General Training and the IELTS Academic share a similar structure and content. For both IELTS types, there are four sections you will have to pass: reading, writing, listening and speaking.

The IELTS General Training and IELTS Academic differ in the reading and writing sections. While the first one will be more informal and focused on daily English language skills, the latter focuses on your ability to produce and understand abstract ideas. The listening and speaking parts are the same for both versions.

Prepare for the IELTS General Training and IELTS Academic

Depending on your language level and the scores you want, you will need to consider the time necessary for preparation ahead your exam date. Make sure you know exactly what scores you need. Smart time management can make all the difference!

Generally, if your level of English is intermediate, you will need around three months to feel comfortable with the IELTS format. Beginners might have to consider 6 months of groundwork or attending an IELTS exam preparation course.

  • Prepare for the reading section. For this section, you will have one hour to read the texts and answer 40 questions. The texts used for the IELTS General Training are taken from advertisements, books, magazines and newspapers. The texts for IELTS Academic can come with diagrams, graphs or illustrations. The most important thing here is to learn to read a text critically and grasp information from it as fast as possible. Do not lose too much time on one particular question. Read as many similar texts as possible for your preparation. Learn to scan and skim to grasp the information from the texts as fast as possible.
  • Prepare for the writing section. You will have one hour to complete two tasks. For General Training, you will be asked to write a letter of 150 words in a personal or formal style and to write an essay. The Academic version includes the explanation of a graph, table, chart or diagram (150 words) and again an essay of 250 words. Learn to recognise how long 150 and 250 words look like in your handwriting. Focus on writing clear paragraphs that contain one main idea. Get used to reserving five minutes for proofreading your text after you finish.
  • Prepare for the listening section. The listening section lasts 30 minutes, includes four passages and a total of 40 questions. Do not feel discouraged if you don’t understand some of the words. Not everything might be relevant for answering the questions. You need to focus, keep up with the listening flow and attempt all questions, as there are no penalties for incorrect answers. Learn to listen and make notes at the same time. You will find many listening samples on the internet, but try to listen to as much spoken English as you can.
  • Prepare for the speaking section. You will probably take the Speaking Test on a different day than the other three sections. The test is conducted as a face-to-face interview and you will talk about daily familiar topics. Train yourself to relax and speak fluently. You can find online common topics for this section and imagine the answers you would give to the examiner. Ask English-speakers around you to talk in English with you. You can also record yourself talking and observe your progress in time. The key is to speak the language as much as possible.

If you are not the self-taught type or if you feel you need a more guided learning programme, you can register for an IELTS preparation course. Most language learning schools everywhere offer exam preparation English courses for both IELTS General Training and IELTS Academic. If an online preparation course suits you better, there are very good options in taking an online preparation course.

IELTS English language test

Understand the IELTS Life Skills

In this version of the IELTS test, you will only pass the listening and speaking sections. You need to prove that you can understand and answer everyday questions related to personal experiences, family, friends, work or health. You will take the test face-to-face with an examiner and with another candidate.

IELTS Life Skills is available at two levels of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR):

  • IELTS Life Skills - A1 Speaking and Listening
  • IELTS Life Skills - B1 Speaking and Listening
Test your English language proficiency

Prepare for the IELTS Life Skills

The IELTS Life Skills A1 level will last between 16 and 18 minutes while the B2 level can last 22 minutes. You will listen to a task played on a CD and you will have to answer the questions asked by the examiner afterwards. You will also have a discussion regarding the topic you listened to.

For preparation, try to find as many audio samples for your proficiency level and engage in a question-response practice. Don’t listen to the samples with headphones only! During your exam, you will hear the task in your examination room, and it might be more difficult to listen if you have been training using headphones. Read the advice for the listening and speaking sections for the IELTS General Training and IELTS Academic, as it is also applicable for the IELTS Life Skills.

Online resources to prepare for IELTS


Last minutes tips & tricks

Find online English training resources! The internet is the perfect source for IELTS preparation materials, tips and tricks, and living experiences of other test takers. With a bit of research, you can find an entire preparation portfolio for all levels, in all formats (written texts, videos, test simulation, blogs, interactive sites). Search for more guidance from English instructors and IELTS candidates, and keep it in mind when training.

30 more hours of free training: In many countries, if you register for and IELTS test through the online British Council registration system, you can get 30 more hours of free training.

Search for alternative resources. Ask friends, colleagues and teachers to lend you their IELTS books, exercise notebooks, and listening materials (CD or cassettes). Post an announcement on your social media accounts to let everybody know you need IELTS preparation resources! You can also register to a library with these types of materials, buy them from a bookshop, or order them online.

Work it, until you live it! During the preparation, try to keep in mind your score goal and find ways to make your learning experience enjoyable. Do not stress out! Mix your English training in your daily life with fun activities. Listen to BBC, watch English TV and radio channels, playing board games with English instructions, read the online press and much more. Try to create your own personalised preparation programme, adding everything you think might increase your English level and confidence.

Approaching your test date. Make sure you know how to reach your test location, and you know when your test appointment is set. Read in advance the information booklets for IELTS candidates. Find rules, regulation and other practical information about the examination process. Also, make sure you don’t forget your ID!

Prepare for the IELTS test


Want to read the real experience of an IELTS test taker? Try this article: How I Prepared for My IELTS Language Exam.

Would you like to take an IELTS exam, but need some financial aid to register? Check out the British Council IELTS Scholarship and see if you fulfil the requirements.

Are you preparing for your study abroad experience? You probably need student insurance. Check out our new student insurance portal to learn what the requisites are when it comes to health insurance, travel insurance and personal belonging insurance.

Are you ready to take the IELTS exam? Book an IELTS test in your country!

Test your English language proficiency

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