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Tutor JC Earle 's Column

IELTS Exam Preparation

Jul 14, 2016

The first thing I’m going to tell you is DON’T BE NERVOUS! The exam is about your ability to communicate successfully in English and NOT, for example, the terms used to describe grammar. The examiners will not expect you to use big words or complicated phrases and they are not there to try and trap or trick you. 


Let me quickly break down the format in which the tests will take place so you’ll know what to expect. 

You will be doing a Listening, Reading and Writing test first and then the Speaking component later. There are no real breaks between the first 3 components.

Regardless of whether you’re taking the Academic or General version of the exam, the Listening and Speaking components are exactly the same for both.



The purpose of the listening test is to see how well you understand what you hear and how you handle different English accents. Generally, accents from North America, Australia and Britain are used, so if you can, try and familiarise yourself with these accents by watching tv shows or find some on YouTube, believe me, there are plenty of resources on the web.


Before you listen to the given audio, you’ll have some time to go over the comprehension questions, so make mental notes to listen for specific answers. 

You’ll have a question paper and an answer sheet, so as you listen, make notes on the question sheet, so you won’t forget, but keep it short. You’ll have some time after the audio is finished (10 minutes) to write proper answers on the answer sheet. Keep in mind that all your answers have to be on the answer sheet.


Tips for when you are listening to the audio:

  • Listen for specific information, if you had read through the questions beforehand, you’ll know what information is important and what is less important.
  • Do not worry if you hear a word you don't understand, trying to figure out it’s meaning might cause you to miss information that you need.
  • Do not get stuck on a question, if you can’t write down the answer immediately, move on to the next question and come back to it afterwards.
  • There might be a word limit to certain answers, so if the question requires 2 words, don't use 4, for example: “Green tree” would be correct, while “The tree is green” is wrong.
  • Try and fill in all the questions, even if you’re not sure that your answer is correct, there are no penalties for incorrect answers.



Much like the Listening Test, you’ll be given a question and an answer sheet. Write quick notes on the question sheet as you read through the passage, just to get through the text as quick as you can, don't linger too long on one specific paragraph or passage. Also know that for the Reading Test, you will NOT be given extra time to transfer your answers from the notes you made on the question sheet onto the answer sheet.


Tips for the Reading Test:

  • Go through the question sheet before you start reading. Skim over the text (don’t try and read every word) and scan for possible answers to the questions and make notes on the question sheet.
  • Know that ALL the answers to the questions are in the text, so stay calm and search until you find them.
  • CHECK YOUR SPELLING! Use the words in the text as they are.



The Writing Test will consist of 2 tasks. Task 1 for those taking the Academic Exam, will require that you look at a graph, diagram or table and summarise or explain it in 150 words or more.

Task 1 for the General Test, is on letter writing and also requires you to write 150 words or more.

Task 2 is slightly longer and requires both the General and Academic participants to write a short essay of no less than 250 words.


Tips for the Writing Test:

  • Read the task carefully and underline key words, to make sure you focus on what you need to do. Do not write anything that is not related to the task.
  • Make sure that you plan your essay properly and divide your ideas into paragraphs.
  • You only get 60 minutes for the Writing Test, and Task 2 is worth twice as much as Task 1, so plan accordingly. My advice would be to read both tasks before you start planning.
  • For practise, re-write a passage from a book in your own handwriting, to see what 150 or 250 words would look like, you don't want to waste time counting.
  • Most important of all, check your grammar, punctuation and of course spelling.



The speaking component is probably the one you are scared of most, but you need not be. The examiner will ask you questions about your life and opinions on subjects that will be familiar to you. This is why preparing for the speaking part is the easiest. Practise by talking to friends or your teacher about everyday things.



  • Try to say as much as possible and do not respond with one or two-word answers. For example:
    How is the weather today? Don't say:
    “It looks like a lovely day, although I did see some thick clouds on the horizon, so I suspect it might rain later”.
  • You pronunciation doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect, so don't let that worry you. Record yourself and listen to how you say things, compared to how English speakers say it. If you are worried about it, ask your teacher to do some pronunciation exercises with you. The biggest thing here is that you are clear and fluent.



Don't let the word ‘exam’ scare you. Relax, concentrate and read the instructions carefully, if necessary, read it twice before starting any of the tasks and you’ll be fine.

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