Use These Tips To Ace All Bands In Your IELTS Test
On this blog we will show useful tips to help you ace all bands in your IELTS test once and for all.
Being a native speaker of the English language does not guarantee a good score in IELTS, unless you are prepared. You would still have to overcome these like anyone else: time, tricks and logical traps.
How Much Preparation do you need for IELTS?
Generally 3 hours a day, 4 days a week for 4 weeks should pretty much get you in the flow.
The IELTS Bands
The IELTS test consists of four parts:
Listening takes about 40 minutes – 30 minutes to listen to a recording and to answer questions on what you hear, and 10 minutes to transfer your answers to the Answer Sheet.
Reading takes 1 hour and your task is to read passages of text and to answer questions according to what you have read. There are also other types of assignment which I will cover later on.
Writing also takes 1 hour and is sub divided into 2 parts: 20 minutes to write a letter and 40 minutes to write an essay.
Speaking would take about 15 minutes and consists of 3 parts: a Personal Interview, a Short Speech and a Discussion.
Test on all bands are generally done in succession on the same day. In some cases the Speaking section is held on a different day.
The IELTS Listening test
Listening consists of 4 sections. There are 40 questions in total. You need to answer all the questions as you listen to the recording. The recording is not paused at any time and you hear it only once. The questions get more difficult as you progress through the test.
The IELTS Reading test
The Reading test consists of about 4 text passages and has 40 questions in total. Your task is to read the passages and either answer questions, label diagrams, complete sentences or fill gaps. For every type of task there are instructions and an example. Passages are taken from books, newspapers, magazines and the topics are very diverse, expect anything from environmental science to history. Passages progress in difficulty, with the first being the easiest and the fourth is the hardest.
The tip here is that you don’t really have to read the whole passage, I will come back to this later. The difficulty here is, you are not given extra time to copy your answers to the Answer Sheet and you need to squeeze that into the 60 minutes that you have – This is very important. You are only allowed to write in pencil only, no pens are allowed.
The IELTS Writing test
Writing has 2 parts. The first one is to write a letter based on a scenario you receive, using about 150 words. The second task is to write an essay on a given topic, to present and justify an opinion or give a solution to a problem, using no fewer than 250 words.
Don’t fret, there is a method to this which I’ll explain later on for the letter and the essay. This task requires a bit of practice, but after you have written a few essays and letters you will be well-prepared for the test.
The IELTS Speaking test
The best way to prepare for this test is by recording yourself, or have a recorded read aloud session. You can have your english speaking friends listen to it and judge where they have the most difficulty understanding you.
On the test day, you should have had a break before your speaking session and should feel a lot more relaxed. The assessors are generally friendly and would help you ease into it. There are no right or wrong answers in what you say. The assessors are pretty much looking for coherence, and how you string the right words and sentences together to express your thought or opinions.
Ambiguity is A NO
Try to avoid using ambiguous words while speaking especially words you aren’t quite sure what they mean. Don’t try to be impressive just aim to be clear, logical and easy to understand. Enunciate your words as necessary but don’t fuss if you have an accent. Some candidates focus too hard on sounding “British or American” and mess it up by sounding weird and hard to understand. It is not an accent test. They understand English is not your first language.
The first part of Speaking test is an interview, where the assessor asks you questions about yourself, your work, studies, parents, brothers/sisters, pets, etc. This is an easy one. You can improvise if your pretty fluid in impromptu situations otherwise have something rehearsed before you go in but don’t be too rigid about it.
In the second part of the Speaking test you are given a card with 3-4 questions. You have a minute to think about something to say. Don’t rush or ask. Ask for more time if needed. Aim to be conversational with your answers The assessor might ask you a few more to keep the conversation going.
In the third part of the test you have a discussion with the examiner. The topic is can be related to the one from section two, but it is about more abstract ideas. You have to express and justify your opinions.
The assessor will record your session.
The IELTS Listening Test
The Listening Test can be intimidating for non native speaker because your ears have been trained to sounds in your native accent. You can help yourself by watching TV programs in English with subtitles. These are better than radio or audio books, because you also see images that help you understand the words you hear.
There are several ways to improve your Listening ability. One is to retrain your ears to separate and understand the words you hear in the flow of a sentence. You can practice by recording a news, a lecture, a television program, a movie or an actual IELTS Listening test and work with it. I suggest listening to podcasts or audio only talks or speeches on YouTube in a quiet place then gradually begin to attempt listening in more distracting and noisy areas to see how you can pick words without much focus.
Play, stop, attempt to repeat the words as heard then replay. Keep doing this and tracking your progress.
Read Instructions Carefully
Every task in the IELTS Listening test has its instructions AND you need to read them carefully. Why? Because they will tell you exactly what to do with the information: how many words you can use to answer questions, whether or not there is a table you must fill in, whether there is a list to choose words from, how many items you must name, etc. Remember, too, that if the answer must be in 3 words – write EXACTLY 3 WORDS, because writing four or two words will get is a fail
“Well, if you are dieting, try to avoid fruits with lots of fructose like watermelon, mango, peaches or grapes.”
The question in the booklet is:
“Name 2 fruits a person on a diet should not eat”.
The answer may be “watermelon, mango” or “mango, peaches” or any combination of two items, but never three or four!!! Anyone who writes “watermelon, mango, peaches, grapes”, just to be on the safe side, receives a score of zero for that question.
Note: when counting words – “a”, “the” or a number (e.g. 159) is considered a word.
When instructions say “a maximum of 3 words” or “no more than 3 words” – you can write one, two or three words, but never more than three.
The recording divides questions into groups, so for every grouping you are instructed to answer a group of 4-5 questions. There are 20-30 seconds of silence before each group.
The first thing you should do when the recording starts playing, is understand which group of questions you need to answer.
For example, the recording says: “Look at questions one to four”. It means that you have about 20 seconds to look at those questions. Go over the questions, read them and underline keywords.
Keywords are the words that contain the main idea of the question. They will help you guess what you will hear – numbers, opening hours, names, locations, etc.
Draw a line under the fourth question, so you won’t look further before it’s time to do so.
Next you will hear a piece of spoken language and answer the questions one to four as you listen. It means that you should be able to write one answer and listen to another.
After that, the recording will say the numbers of the questions in the next group. Repeat the same process, including drawing the line. This dividing technique is very efficient because every time you concentrate on a limited number of questions, it makes you more focused and in control.
Distractions In Recording
Don’t get confused by all the different voices you are going to hear. The recording uses different voices – of younger and older people, men and women. You may also hear different accents – Australian, British, American, Japanese, etc. The background noises also vary. It can be from an airport, a coffee-shop, a street, a university lecture hall, you name it. Be ready for it and don’t let it distract you – because that is exactly what they want. Ignore the noises and listen for the answers.
Listen for specifics
When you are listening, look for descriptions and details, such as dates, places, telephone numbers, opening hours, years (1995), transportation (car, bike, train), etc.
If you hear them, but don’t know where to place them yet – write them in the margins of the Listening booklet. Later you will have some time to check your answers. Going over the questions that you couldn’t answer during the Listening passage, you might see if what you’ve written on the margins fits.
Answer as you listen
The reason you have to “answer as you listen” is that you immediately forget the sentences after you have heard them – because of stress, foreign language, constant flow of information, etc. After hearing the third sentence you won’t be able to repeat the first. It means that when any part of the Listening is over you won‘t be able to remember any of the answers. So write them as you hear them, leave nothing for later.
A worst case scenario is you “losing the sequence of answers” – so you miss one answer and then you miss another one and so on. To prevent that from happening, always look one or two questions ahead. It sounds confusing, but after a little practice it becomes very natural and helps a lot. Even if you have missed the answer to a question – admit it and move to the next one, otherwise you will lose it too.
Know your clues
The answer is usually pronounced louder and clearer, so it is easier to hear and understand. If you can’t hear something clearly (because the speaker swallows words or whispers), then probably the answer is not there. With some practice you will be able to tell the difference.
A good clue to an answer is when you hear a repetition of a word, a word being spelled out or a number dictated.
As simple as it sounds, the spelling task is not so easy. You should practice a little to be prepared for it. Just ask someone to spell the names of cities from the following list for you. If you study alone, you could record yourself spelling those names and numbers, and then play it. The same goes for the list of telephone numbers I’ve included here. It is good practice and will only add to your confidence. Note: in numbers, “00” is sometimes read as “double o” instead of “zero-zero”.
Some Useful Strategies On Your IELTS Test Day
Eliminate wrong answers
When you deal with multiple-choice questions, elimination is a good strategy. Usually only one answer is correct, unless the instructions say something else.
This task can be approached in a similar way to True/False/Not Given questions that appear in the Reading test. In multiple choice questions consider each option and ask yourself whether it is true, false or not given according to the recording. Of course the one option that is true is the correct answer! Any other answer is obviously incorrect.
Keep in mind that there are cases when all the choices are correct or none of them is correct. Read the instruction carefully and you will know what to do in such cases.
Look at the words around the gap to understand what’s missing, a noun (like boy, toy, truck), an adjective (little, pretty, shiny) or a verb (stands, looks, moves).
For instance, if you see a Noun before the blank (“The boy is ”), it means that it’s an Adjective
(“The boy is little”) or it’s a Verb (“The boy is smiling”) that is missing.
Once you have picked a word, write it above the gap and then read the whole sentence to be sure that it makes sense.
A hint: you do not need to change the word you heard on the recording, it should fit in the gap without changing its form or tense. If you think you must change the word for it to fit in the gap, then this word is likely to be the wrong answer.
Synonyms trick questions
They might use different words with the same meaning to confuse you. It could be expressions or synonyms.
For example, the recording might say “Kathrin was angry with her friends because…” and the question in the booklet might be “Choose two reasons why Kathrin was furious at her friends”. The two words “angry” and “furious” describe the same emotion, but you can miss the answers if you try to hear the exact same word on the recording as that in the question booklet.
Watch out for traps
Trap Number One – unexpected turn
You might hear a speaker starting to say one thing and then, suddenly, continuing to something completely different. This is a trap, so make sure you don’t fall for it. The rule here is “The last word counts”. For example, if the speaker says “I want to visit that gallery on Monday. No, wait, I’ve just remembered that it is closed on Monday, so I will go on Wednesday.”, and the question is “When…?” – the correct answer here is Wednesday, and Monday is a trap.
Trap Number Two – generalizations
You might hear a speaker first give a list of things and then say them all in one word. For example: “Well, I like to swim, hike, and camp – to be involved in outdoor activities.” If the question is “What kind of activities…” the correct answer is “outdoor” and not “swimming”, “hiking” or “camping”.
Check your grammar
If the answer you give is grammatically incorrect – it cannot be the right one. Checking the grammar of your answers will give you an idea whether your answer is correct or not, especially in tasks like:
- Sentence completion
Use your time wisely
During the test, you have a little time between Listening sections. Use it to check and complete your answers.
Copy answers smartly
After the 30 minutes or so of the Listening test, there are 10 additional minutes. During the test you have written all of the answers in the Listening test booklet. These 10 minutes are given you to copy your answers onto the Answer Sheet, and you should use them smartly.
The Answer Sheet has 2 sides, one for the Reading test and one for the Listening test, so make sure you are writing on the Listening side. I include here an example of an Answer Sheet so you can get familiar with it and use it for practicing.
First, copy all the answers from the booklet onto the Answer Sheet, and pay attention to the following guidelines (as simple as they sound – they are BIG time savers):
- For multiple-choice questions and picture selection – just copy the letter of the correct answer, don’t circle
- For sentence completion – just copy your answer, not the whole
- For True/False/Not Given questions – just copy T, F or NG, whatever your choice
- For gap-fills – just copy the word you have chosen for the
- For answers written in short (like prof. advice) – write the full version (professional advice).
- Check that all the answers are clear and
Now, if you missed some questions – it is a good time to guess.
Practice, practice, practice!
There are couple of useful free practice test online you might want to start with or you can book an english tutor to ensure your success in one siting.