By Hazan Hayaloğlu

22 March 2021 - 13:56

Test takers during the IELTS listening section.

Whether you’re considering taking an IELTS test, or you have a date in place, any preparation you can do now will greatly boost your chances of performing well when the day comes. 

Here our global IELTS expert Hazan Hayaloğlu shares her top tips for improving your listening and reading scores on the big day!

Six tips to boost your reading

The reading section of the IELTS test can be a little intimidating due to the length of the passages. But if you know the right strategies, and my top tips, it should be a piece of cake! 

1. Know the test

Like all international language testing systems, IELTS has a unique format, so I recommend familiarising yourself with the details before you arrive. Start by answering the following questions.

  • How long is the test?
  • What’s the format? 
  • How many texts are there?
  • What kind of texts are they?
  • What skills will be tested?
  • What types of questions will be asked?
  • What skills do you need to answer the questions?
  • Will you have extra time to transfer your answers?

Find everything you need to know about the reading section, and how to access practice tests through the Road to IELTS online course and IELTS Prep App by visiting the British Council's Prepare for IELTS page.  

2. Practice makes perfect

If you like reading, then improving your English reading skills can be an enjoyable experience – you can sit in the comfort of your home and engross yourself in a book. Take every opportunity to read, from novels and blogs, to newspapers and academic journals. The more variety, the better. Reading extensively will help you learn new vocabulary and improve your reading speed.  

If you’re not a fan of reading, I recommend starting with topics you are already interested in, before moving on to more academic texts. 

As well as the IELTS reading practice tests (see tip one), you can find a variety of different sources online. 

3. Develop your reading techniques

Many candidates find the length of the texts to be the most challenging aspect of the IELTS reading section. With three long texts totalling around 2,750 words, and just one hour to read them and answer 40 questions, it’s clear there’s not enough time to go through the texts thoroughly. So, learning some simple reading techniques will really help.

Skimming

‘Skimming’ is used to get a general overview of the text. Just spend a minute glancing at the titles and headings to identify the general topic. Each paragraph should be centred around one main idea, stated in the topic sentence (usually the first sentence of the paragraph, but not always). Identifying and underlining the topic sentence will help you answer the questions. 

Scanning

‘Scanning’ is the technique used to locate specific keywords or phrases. When you’ve found a keyword, read the surrounding text in detail to find the answer you are looking for.

Mastering these basic techniques is the key to success. 

 4. Focus on keywords

Texts in the IELTS reading section are packed with lots of new vocabulary. Don’t be discouraged. You don’t need to understand every word, and you can always use contextual clues to guess the meaning of a word you don’t understand. 

What really matters are keywords. 

Read the question carefully, and underline the keywords. Try to predict what words or phrases will help you locate the right part of the text. Think about other ways of saying these words. What are the synonyms and antonyms (words with the opposite meaning)? Try to paraphrase. For example, if the question says ‘joint’, remember that this means ‘together’ or ‘shared’. So, if the text states that ‘he was the sole winner’, you can understand that it was not ‘joint’. 

5. Follow the instructions carefully 

If the instructions state to ‘use one word only’, make sure you don’t write more than one word. You don’t want to lose points for not reading the instructions properly. 

For questions where you need to fill in missing words, make sure the resulting sentence is grammatically accurate. Be particularly careful about singular and plural forms. 

Also, pay attention to spelling and capitalisation! 

6. Make the most of your time! 

Remember, you have just one hour to answer 40 questions, which equates to one and a half minutes per question. Leave difficult questions until the end; you can always go back to them later. 

Fill in the answer sheet as you go, as you will not be given extra time to transfer your answers to the sheet (unlike in the listening section). Imagine how awful it would be to have all of the answers, but no time to write them on the answer sheet! 

Look at the question type before deciding on your strategy. For example, is it multiple-choice or asking you to complete a sentence?  Although reading the questions first will save you a lot of time, it may also not be the best strategy if you need to match headings. 

Six tips to boost your listening

 1. Again, know the test!

  • I always recommend answering the following questions before you take the test.
  •  What are the question types? (Each question type requires a separate strategy.)
  • What is the format?
  • What is expected from me for each part of the test? 
  • What skills do I need?

Take a look at the Road to IELTS online course or the IELTS Prep App

2. Practice, practice, practice

Improve your listening skills by becoming an active listener. Films and TV series may be fun to watch, but going further will make a big difference. Listen to a variety of English language resources, such as podcasts, news reports and Ted talks, which will expose you to new vocabulary and different accents (you may not just hear British accents during the IELTS test recordings). 

The aim is to make listening a part of your daily life. You can find a variety of interesting and fun content online. Start with topics you are most interested in, before moving onto more academic material.  

Being used to hearing English will also give you the confidence you need to manage your stress during the test.  

3. It’s all about the keywords 

During the test, the recording will be played just once, and you will be given time to read the instructions and questions before the recording starts. Again, as you read the questions, underline the keywords, and try to predict the context of the recordings – who will be speaking, what the speech will be about.

I can’t stress enough how important the keywords are. Think of other words that could replace them, particularly, for the multiple-choice questions, as you may not hear those exact words in the recording. 

Concentrate on the question or statement and try to predict what kind of information is needed. Is it a noun? Is it a verb? Make sure the sentence you produce is grammatically accurate, and you use the right form of the word. 

4. Beware of distractors

What you hear first may not be the right answer, so watch out for distractors. For example, the speaker may say one thing, but then reverse their answer. You may also find that the speaker mentions all the options with slight differences in meaning. Pay attention to the details. 

5. Don’t wait too long to hear the answer

If you feel like you’ve waited too long to hear the answer, the chances are you’ve already missed it. A big advantage of the IELTS listening test is that you don’t need to go back and forth to answer the questions; they are all in order, so just relax!

6. Transfer your answers carefully

At the end of the paper-based test, you get an extra ten minutes to transfer your answers to the answer sheet. Take care with spelling and capitalisation. If you’re unsure about the correct capitalisation, you can write your answers in all capitals. Take one last look at your answers to ensure they are grammatically accurate and you’ve followed all instructions. 

Remember, you aren’t given any extra time to transfer your answers for the computer-delivered test, where you need to type in your answers as you go.

If you'd like to see the upcoming IELTS test dates or check the pricing of the exam, please visit the IELTS booking page.