By Alina Promska

15 March 2021 - 12:42

Man taking the IELTS test with the British Council.

The IELTS test is a great way to officially prove your English proficiency, and can be the stepping stone to an array of work, study and social opportunities. 

But performing well across all four sections of the test – speaking, reading, listening and writing – and all their various tasks requires a lot of practice and preparation. 

Luckily, our Global IELTS expert, Alina Promska, is here to take you through her trusty IELTS dos and don’ts. Read on to know what to keep in mind when entering the test room.

Listening

This is the first section of your test, so getting off to a good start is essential! You’ll have 30 to 35 minutes to answer four sets of ten questions.

  1. DO check your computer headphones are working before you start, for the computer-delivered test, and seek help if they aren’t. You can also change the font size and colour on your screen.
  2. DON’T be afraid to seek help if you can’t hear the recording clearly, for the paper-based test. It’s important to be able to hear the recording without any problems. 
  3. DO read the instructions carefully and underline the key information. Underline or highlight the keywords in the questions. 
  4. DON’T get caught out. The speakers on the recording may not use the same vocabulary and structures you see in the questions.
  5. DO take notes as you listen; you can use them to need to fill in answers you missed. For the computer-delivered test, you can take notes on the screen. 
  6. DON’T try to understand every single word; focus on listening out for the answers.
  7. DO keep listening, even if the answer has been mentioned, as the speakers on the recording may change their answers. 
  8. DON’T forget that the recording is played only once. If you miss an answer, don’t get stuck. Quickly move on to the next question.
  9. DO aim to answer every question. There is no penalty for giving an incorrect answer.
  10. DO use the ten minutes at the end of the paper-based test to transfer your answers to the answer sheet. Be aware that no time is allocated for transferring your answers in the computer-delivered test.
  11. DO use all capital letters for your answers if you need to.
  12. DON’T forget to check all grammar and spelling.

Reading 

Here you have 60 minutes to complete three parts. 

  1. DO read the instructions carefully. Note the number of words you can use for your answers.
  2. DON’T spend too long on your first read-through. Skim the text to get the general idea.
  3. DO underline or highlight the keywords in each question, and scan the text passage to find the answers around the keywords or their synonyms (a word or phrase that means exactly the same of nearly the same as another word or phrase). 
  4. DO plan your time wisely. You get one hour for 40 questions (which equates to two minutes per question). Train yourself to spend about 15 minutes on each section. 
  5. DON’T forget to leave time to check your answers.
  6. DON’T get stuck on one question. Go back to it later.
  7. DON’T expect extra time to transfer your answers. Unlike the listening section, here you need to write your answers on the answer sheet as you go. 
  8. DON’T forget you can drag and drop (or copy and paste) words from the text into the answer spaces in the computer-delivered test.
  9. DO aim to answer all questions, even if you think you don’t know the answer. 
  10. DO use all capital letters for your answers, if you need to.
  11. DON’T forget to check the spelling and grammar, paying close attention to plural forms of nouns and verb forms.

Writing 

Here you have 60 minutes to complete two tasks.  

  1. DO feel free to make notes on the question paper.
  2. DON’T get distracted by the countdown clock at the top of the screen. Hide it!
  3. DON’T panic if you accidentally delete an answer on your computer. Just press Ctrl+Z to get it back. 
  4. DO highlight or underline the key information in the tasks and spend five minutes planning the information you want to include.
  5. DON’T spend more than 20 minutes on task one. Task two carries more marks, so allocate your time accordingly. 
  6. DO write at least 150 words for task one and 250 words for task two. Anything less and you will lose marks. Want a quick way to estimate word counts? Simply count all the words on one line, and multiply this by the number of lines. 
  7. DO clearly set out your paragraphs.
  8. DO think about the formality of the text and use an appropriate style.
  9. DON’T write your answers in bullet points.
  10. DO only include relevant information. If it doesn’t answer the question in the task, don’t include it.
  11. DON’T forget to check your spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Speaking

You’ve reached the final section: a face-to-face interview with an examiner. It will last between 11 and 14 minutes and cover three parts. 

  1. DO relax and try to answer as naturally as possible. 
  2. DON’T make your answers too short or use pre-rehearsed answers. The examiner is trained to spot pre-rehearsed answers and will mark you down. 
  3. DO make the most of your one-minute prep time in part two. Make notes and plan what you are going to say.
  4. DON’T worry if you don’t have direct experience of a topic. Be creative! Your answer won’t be fact-checked. 
  5. DON’T repeat the question. Get straight to the point!
  6. DON’T get stuck on trying to remember a word. Just paraphrase it!
  7. DO correct yourself, but DON’T overdo it. 
  8. DO signpost your ideas and expand on your answers.
  9. DO speak your mind. The examiner is not assessing your opinion, only how it is expressed. 
  10. DO display a range of different vocabulary and grammar. Vary your language with synonyms and different grammatical structures. But …
  11. DON’T show off by overusing complicated grammar and vocabulary. It can confuse the listener, and getting it wrong can affect your score. Stick to grammar and vocabulary you are familiar with and focus on getting your point across.

With these tips in mind, you should ace your IELTS test. I wish you the best of luck!

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