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IELTS: a summary of what you should know

Written by the Bell Team

Everything you need to know about listening, reading, writing and speaking!

IELTS listening

IELTS reading

IELTS writing

IELTS speaking

General

  • Understand the exam – it is important to know exactly what to expect on the day
  • Know what level you are aiming for – your strategy might be different at different levels e.g. if you are aiming for a  5.5 or 6.0 then frequent use of language ‘blocks’ might be a good idea but it will not be enough for higher levels
  • Read about the world – The Economist, New Scientist – this will improve your vocabulary in areas that could come up in reading and writing
  • Make full use of all the material on the Internet but be cautious (some you can trust more than others – www.ielts-simon.com is very good)

Listening

  • Practise focussed listening – listening to films is not enough – 30 minutes is largely about concentration
  • Know the different sections and question types
  • Use the questions to predict what you are going to hear and possible answers
  • Read questions carefully – there are word limits
  • Write in capitals
  • Be very careful with your spelling – misspelled words are marked as wrong

Reading

  • Practise with old exam tests – time yourself right from the start, reading well but slowly is not helpful
  • Know the different question types
  • Limit yourself to 20 minutes per text
  • Skim? – there are pros and cons to skimming content
  • Scan
  • Find a strategy that works for you
  • A wide vocabulary is essential

Writing

  • Look at examiners band descriptors at https://www.ielts.org/ielts-for-organisations/ielts-scoring-in-detail
  • Think about your writing in terms of the four categories examiners use: Task Response/Achievement; Coherence and Cohesion; Lexical Resource and Grammatical Range and Accuracy
  • Spend some time planning your answer – logical flow of argument, paragraphs
  • Do not contract words with apostrophes
  • Use an academic but not overly formal style (do not write as you speak)
  • Task One – familiarise yourself with all task types; summarise, do not try to put everything down (unless it is a process); prioritise, put important features first…
  • Task Two – link your ideas into a flowing text, summarise your essay in a short conclusion; develop any ideas you give with reasons and examples…
  • Spend no more than 20 minutes on Task One
  • Make sure you finish Task Two, it is weighed more heavily than Task One
  • Write 150-200 words for part one and 250-300 for part two. If you write less than this you will lose marks. Under-length essays will be unlikely to score more than 5.5. Overlong essays are likely to be prolix and poorly structured (particularly in part one)

Speaking

  • Look at examiners band descriptors at https://www.ielts.org/ielts-for-organisations/ielts-scoring-in-detail
  • Think about your speaking in terms of the four categories the examiners use: Fluency and Coherence; Lexical Resource; Grammatical Range and Accuracy and Pronunciation
  • Approach the three sections in appropriate ways a) short but comprehensive and personal answers; b) well-structured and wide-ranging; c) more abstract, more developed and impersonal answers
  • Take notes in part two – even if it is just key words
  • Speak clearly, not loudly but do not mumble, speak fluently but not too fast
  • If you do not understand the question, ask the examiner to repeat it
  • If you do not know a word, try to explain what you mean
  • If you know you tend to make a particular error – try to self-correct to show that you know about the error
  • Have confidence in yourself…but don’t think fluency alone is enough
Written by the Bell Team,
Bringing you up-to-date information and useful insights from Bell, so you know exactly how we can support you - when the time is right.