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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


  • 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 – is very good)


  • 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


  • 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


  • Look at examiners band descriptors at
  • 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)


  • Look at examiners band descriptors at
  • 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.