IELTS Top Tips

We Love IELTS is full of top tips to help you prepare for your IELTS test!

These tips are taken from our range of Top Tips for IELTS books, as well as our We Love IELTS experts who have an extensive range of experience in teaching, examining and mentoring IELTS test takers. We’ve also collected tips from students like you who’ve taken the test and achieved their goal.

Below you’ll find some of our top tips for each of the four IELTS skills, as well as blogs, videos, activities, books and other resources.

For more top tips, take a look at our Top Tips for IELTS General Training  and Top Tips for IELTS Academic books.

1. Read the instructions carefully, and make sure you follow them, especially regarding the maximum number of words.

2. Make sure you give the text a quick read through so you’re familiar with the topic and how it’s developed in the text, but don’t worry if you don’t understand every word.

3. You can write on the question paper, but you must copy your answers onto the answer sheet within the 60 minutes, so allow time to do that. You could save time by writing your answers directly onto the answer sheet.

4. Where you have to write words, check the spelling carefully (the word or words will always be in the text) and make sure you don’t write more than the maximum word limit.

1. Before you start writing, plan what you’re going to say. Make sure you’re going to answer the question, rather than writing something irrelevant or too general – there isn’t time for this in the test.

2. Make sure you use a range of vocabulary that demonstrates your knowledge of English.

3. Check that you have written enough words. When you practise writing, count the number of words you’ve written so you have a good idea of what 150 or 250 words look like in your handwriting.

4. Check your work for any mistakes you tend to make, e.g. leaving out articles. Know your own typical mistakes and check your work carefully for them.

1. You only hear the recordings once – so write the answers as you listen.

2. Listen carefully to the introduction for each section and try to imagine what the speakers will talk about. This will give you useful information about the situation and the speakers.

3. The questions will always follow the order of the recording. Don’t panic if you miss one question – look ahead and think about the next one.

4. It’s useful to underline key words in the question to help you focus on the words (or similar words) to listen for.

1. Spend time before the test speaking and listening or reading in English rather than in your own language so you’re ‘thinking in English’ when you go into the examination room.

2. Smile and relax – the more you smile the more relaxed you will feel.

3. Don’t speak too fast because it can be difficult to follow. Don’t speak too slowly as you won’t have the chance to say very much.

4. Try to use a wide range of grammar and vocabulary during the test. The examiner can only award you marks for the language you produce.

Top tips for IELTS – what to do in the run up to your test

If you’re wondering what to do in the run up to your test, follow Emma’s advice to ensure you make the most of your time in the precious few days leading up to exam day.

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TopTips
How to improve your vocabulary around sports

One of my passions, in addition to the English language, is sports. Sports vocabulary is useful in all four parts of the test as well as being an important factor in socialising with people outside of the test context. So, I thought I'd share with you my top booster tips for improving your vocabulary around sports, so you can – like me – talk about the topic for hours with your English-speaking friends, or just feel a little more prepared for the IELTS test if sport isn't really your thing ☺.   In sports, there are four main areas you might want to consider: people, places, objects and actions, and you might want to create a little study grid, a mind map or an excel glossary where you can organise the vocabulary and keep adding new words and expressions as you go along. Check out my blog on animal vocabulary to see examples of a study grid and a mind map. If you want to study an area of vocabulary in more depth, an Excel glossary file is probably your best option. Here’s an example of how you can use Excel to organise your sports vocabulary (or any other vocabulary for that matter).   (Click to download) (Click to enlarge) Perhaps more than any other vocabulary area in the test, sports lends itself to playing a couple of fun vocabulary games. Charades: Sport is a great area to work on because you can have a lot of fun doing it. If you have a friend who is also preparing for the IELTS test, write down a lot of words to do with sports on separate pieces of paper. Then, without looking, pick a word and take turns to mime (or draw) the word. The other person has to guess what the word is. Bonus points if they can spell it! Famous athletes: Another game you can play is the famous sports people game. Write down the name of a very famous sportsperson. Then take turns to ask each other questions like What equipment do they use? Where do they play their sports? What competitions have they won? … If you don’t know the answer in English, use a dictionary to find out and make a note of the new word. Keep going until one of you has guessed the right answer. Sports is also a really popular topic in the writing part of the exam, especially the benefits of sport and the connection between health and sport. To prepare, you could write down all of the benefits of sports that you can think of in your own language. Then imagine that you are asked to discuss this in English. Underline any words where you get stuck because you don’t know the English word. Spend some time with a dictionary to find out what these words are in English. Don’t forget to check the pronunciation, so that you recognise the words in the Listening test. And, finally, a super quick vocabulary lesson: Learners of English often get confused about when to use ‘go’, ‘play’ or ‘do’ when talking about different sports. So here is my super quick explanation of the rules: If the sport ends in -ing, we say ‘go’. For example: ‘go swimming’. The exceptions are weightlifting, body-building, fencing and boxing. Probably because you don’t need a lot of space for these. We can say ‘do’ in these cases or simply use the sport as a verb: e.g. ‘I box’. Got it? Ok, next rule: If the sport is a game, we say ‘play’. For example: ‘play tennis’. 2 down, 1 to go: If it’s not ‘go’ and it’s not ‘play’ we say ‘do’. In other words, we use ‘do’ for everything else. For example: ‘do yoga’.   LANGUAGE ACTIVITY Find a list of sports on the internet and decide whether you would say ‘go’, ‘play’ or ‘do’ for each one of them. Try to do this as quickly as you can. That way it’s really good practice for the speaking exam when you don’t really have much time to think about this. Sophie PS. Pete Jones has a couple of really great blogs on improving your vocabulary around a particular topic area. If you want to find out how to improve your vocabulary around technology, energy and education, I highly recommend you check them out.

Sophie Hodgson

2 June, 2021

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TopTips
How to improve your vocabulary around animals

There's a myriad of animals in the world, and the topic happens to be a very popular one in the IELTS test. Especially in IELTS Reading, where an extraordinary number of texts and sections seem to be about obscure beetles in South America that nobody has ever heard of. It can be really difficult to decide what vocabulary around animals you should study in preparation for the exam. Here's a little surprise when it comes to preparing for the reading and listening part: you should probably not focus on animals at all. Instead, focus on the things animals do, the way they look, and the groups they belong to. That is because when you get a text or a section about a specific animal, the animal is usually introduced with a short explanation. So, there is no need to study the word ‘pangolin’, if the text tells you that “the ‘pangolin’ is a mammal, covered in scales which serves as protection from predators and that when a predator approaches, the pangolin curls up and uses its sharp tail to protect itself.” In this sentence, for example, the words ‘mammal’, ‘scales’, ‘predators’, ‘curls up’ and ‘tail’, are much more important than the word pangolin itself. Here is my example of what your animal vocabulary study sheet could look like: (Click to enlarge) It is easy to see that this list is by no means complete and that you will have to keep adding to it through the course of your studies. If you simply follow a table like the one above, it might become difficult at some point and you might prefer to re-organise the vocabulary items into a mind map. Here’s an example of what that might look like (just keep adding more words and definitions in English and/or translations into your language to the map): (Click to enlarge) The important thing with mind maps is that the way you organise the information has to make sense to you. Nobody else. So, if you think it’s logical to compare similar ideas across animals – for example baby animals: puppies, kittens, cubs, chicks – then you should arrange information that way on your mind map. If it makes sense to you to categorise the animal kingdom into separate groups first – e.g. birds, mammals, fish – then that is how you should divide your mind map. For some people, mind maps don’t work at all and they are confusing rather than helpful. If you are among them, ignore this method, and move on to something that works for you. A lot of people really like having pictures of animals around and you could incorporate that in your vocabulary studies by copying and pasting images of the relevant vocabulary into a word document and annotating them. Annotating here means to add your own text to the pictures. (Click to enlarge) Another great way to prepare for the exam is to read texts about animals or watch television programmes about exploration and conservation. You could do this in English and make a note of key vocabulary that is used frequently. Alternatively, you could engage with the topic in your own language, identify key vocabulary and research the words in English. This technique is useful for the Reading and Listening test, but even more so for Writing Part 2 as you might be asked about the importance of protecting nature or a similar issue. In the Speaking test, you are likely to use animal vocabulary that you can personally relate to. This might be to answer questions about your pets or your favourite animals, animals you are afraid of or about animals that your country might be famous for. So, make a mental note of the way animals play a part in your everyday life. If you’ve enjoyed this blog, check out more advice on learning vocabulary here, or for more practice I recommend Cambridge Vocabulary for IELTS. Sophie  

Sophie Hodgson

11 May, 2021

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TopTips
Understanding your strengths and weaknesses

Which of these skills do you feel most confident with: listening, reading, writing or speaking? Which do you feel you most need to improve? Understanding your strengths and weaknesses is essential if you want to focus your IELTS preparation on the right areas and maximise your study time. As a teacher, I’ve seen people avoid practising certain skills because they find them more difficult than others, and I’ve seen people lose motivation because they only focus on their weakest skills and lose confidence in their ability to improve. So, to help you understand how best to use your IELTS preparation time, look at the skills below, identify which ones are your strengths and which are your weaknesses, and then read my advice at the end of this post about deciding which to focus on. IELTS skills and sub-skills As you probably know, IELTS assesses listening, reading, writing and speaking, but have you thought about the set of skills needed to do each of these well (i.e. sub-skills)? For example, to do well in the IELTS Listening test, you need to be able to understand the main ideas and detailed information, recognise the opinions, attitudes and purpose of a speaker, and follow the development of an argument. (Click to enlarge) So, now you know what sub-skills are needed for IELTS, it’s time to identify which you’re already good at and which you need to improve. Identifying your strengths and weaknesses If you read the skills and sub-skills above and don’t know which ones are your strengths and weaknesses, then you’re not alone. Most people find it easier to identify their weaknesses than their strengths and find it difficult to identify which sub-skills they are strong or weak at. To help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, here are three methods you can try. Pay attention to your results and feedback. You may of course have taken an IELTS test before and can see in your results that some of your skills are stronger than others. You can also pay attention to results and feedback from other sources, e.g. what other people say about your writing or how much they understand when you speak. Think about how different parts of the IELTS test make you feel. If you feel interested when you listen to IELTS Listening recordings, for example, or fulfilled when you answer the questions, this is a sign that listening is one of your strengths or could become one in the future. If you feel worried or afraid when you think about the IELTS Writing test, it’s probably because your writing is an area of weakness. Try the practice questions on IELTSi. IELTS intelligence is an online tool that will quickly help you check your ability in the skills/sub-skills needed for IELTS. If you do the IELTS Reading questions, for example, you’ll get feedback on what sub-skills the questions test, why you got particular answers wrong, and how you can increase your chances of getting similar questions right next time. Here’s an example of the feedback you can get from IELTSi, showing you the reading sub-skill that a question tested (i.e. finding details), the reason the answer was wrong, and how you can improve at this sub-skill. (Click to enlarge) Once you’ve identified your strengths and weaknesses, you’re ready to choose which ones to focus on in your IELTS preparation. Choosing the skills and sub-skills to focus on If it’s only your IELTS Overall band score that’s important, then you have the option to focus more of your time on improving your strengths rather than your weaknesses, and there are very good reasons to do this. Focusing on your strengths can make you feel happier, experience less stress, feel more confident and be more productive!  If, like most test takers, you need to reach a minimum score in each of the IELTS skills (Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking), then of course you can’t ignore your weaknesses. What you can do, however, is focus your time in one or both of the following ways so that you improve the skills you’re already good at, stay motivated, and make progress in your weakest areas. Use your strengths to support your weaknesses. For example, if you’re much stronger at listening than reading, you could use your listening skills to support your reading skills by listening to a news story or audiobook before reading it. If you’re more confident with your speaking than your writing, you could tell someone your ideas on an IELTS Writing Task 2 topic before planning and writing the essay. Help someone who needs help in your areas of strength and ask them for some help in your areas of weakness. When you have to teach someone else, you’ll put more effort into understanding the skill or sub-skill and find out what you still need to learn. You’ll also no longer need to struggle alone with the skills you find most difficult. To find out the IELTS band score you need, check with the institution you are applying to (e.g. the university, employer or government department) or search on the official IELTS website here. If you use your strengths to your advantage and study in ways you prefer, you’ll make the best use of your study time and feel a lot better too! Best of luck, Pete

Pete Jones

30 April, 2021

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Episode 9: How to manage IELTS test anxiety

In this first episode of our second series, IELTS expert Pete Jones shares some tips on how to reduce any anxiety you might have regarding the IELTS test to help you make the most of your preparation time and perform better in the test.


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Episode 5: Top tips for IELTS Writing

In this episode, IELTS teachers Emma and Liz give some top tips on the IELTS Writing Test.


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Episode 4: Prepare for IELTS Speaking Part 3

In this episode, IELTS teachers Emma and Liz discuss part 3 of the IELTS Speaking test.


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