IELTS - Format and Section-Wise Tips (Download PDF)

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The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is specifically designed to test the English language proficiency of non-natives who wish to study or work in English-speaking countries. This test holds great importance for students who want to pursue higher education in countries where English is the only medium of instruction as the majority of universities keep IELTS as an admission requirement. If you are considering pursuing an undergraduate or postgraduate course from countries like the USA, UK, New Zealand, Australia, you will need to sit for the IELTS test.

The minimum test score differs from university to university. The test score ranges from band score 1 to band score 9. A good number of top-ranking universities keep 6.5 as the minimum score for undergraduate courses and 7.0 and above for postgraduate courses. A good score is required to get into some of the best universities. But how to go about preparing for the test to get a higher score? Let’s see -

There are two types of IELTS test - Academic and General Training. There are four sections in the IELTS test - Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. Listening and Speaking sections are the same for both the tests, but the Reading and Writing sections depend on the type of exam being taken.

How to Prepare for the IELTS Test?

Listening section

  1. Format - The test duration is 30 minutes, with 4 recordings of English native speakers. Each recording entails 10 questions. There are 40 questions in total. Each answer is of 1 mark. You will have to write your answers on the question paper as you listen. In the end, additional 10 minutes are given to transfer the answers on the answer sheet. Be mindful of the grammar and spelling mistakes, as marks will be docked for mistakes.

The first two parts deal with everyday social contexts and conversations. The final two parts are set in educational and academic settings.

  1. Types of questions - There are mainly 6 types of questions asked in the Listening section -
    1. Multiple choice
    2. Matching
    3. Plan, map, diagram labeling
    4. Form, note, table, flow-chart summary completion
    5. Sentence completion
    6. Short-answer questions
  2. Calculation of the scores - The test is evaluated by certified markers and is further analyzed by Cambridge Assessment English. 1 mark is awarded for every correct answer. These scores are then converted into Bands with the help of the Band score conversion table. 40-scores are converted into a 9-band scale. This is the same for every section.

Tips to Prepare for the Listening Section -

  1. The recordings will be played only once. You should practice completing the test by listening to the entire section in one go. Do this a number of times.
  2. Do not lose attention. Recordings are played only once. It would be wise to not let your mind wander during the test.
  3. There will be a variety of accents used in the section. Pick out practice tests with British, Australian, American accents.
  4. You will need to multitask in this section. Practice listening to the conversation, picking out answers from the piece, and writing down the answers in your sheet. You will have to be quick so that you don’t miss any questions.
  5. Check for spelling or grammar errors since points are cut for these mistakes.
  6. Learn some word abbreviations to help you take down points fast.

Reading Section (Academic)

  1. Format - The test duration is 60 minutes for 40 questions. There will be three passages that will range from factual and descriptive to discursive and analytical. You will have to write your answers in the answer sheet in the time provided. No extra time is provided to transfer the answers. Each question is of 1 mark.
  2. Types of questions - There are mainly 11 types of questions asked in the test -
    1. Multiple choice
    2. Identifying information
    3. Identifying the writer’s views
    4. Matching information
    5. Matching headings
    6. Matching features
    7. Matching sentence endings
    8. Sentence completion
    9. Summary, note, table flow-chart completion
    10. Diagram label completion
    11. Short-answer questions

Tips to Prepare for the Reading Section

  1. Read as much as possible. The sources for reading passages are journals, newspapers, books, magazines, etc. Expand your reading sources to encompass a variety of topics and styles.
  2. Do specific practice. There are 11 types of questions in the test. Practice questions of each type and develop a strategy to complete the question in time.
  3. Develop the habit of skimming and scanning the passage. Or you can develop a fast reading speed.
  4. Do not try to understand the whole passage. Go through the questions and skim the passage to find related information for the answer.
  5. Grammar is the key to get a high score. In multiple-choice questions, similar-looking answers differ because of the grammar. Improve your grammar, and make a cheat-sheet of common mistakes you make.
  6. Reading passages might contain analytical or discursive topics. In-depth knowledge on these topics is not required to solve the passage. You have to be smart in inferring the meaning enough to get the answers. Inculcate a habit of reading difficult or complicated passages.

Speaking Section

  1. Format - The test duration is 11 - 14 minutes with 3 parts. It is an oral interview between you and an examiner. The speaking section is recorded for assessment.
  2. Types of questions - Each part holistically evaluates your skills -
    1. Part 1 - Introduction and interview. The examiner will ask you general questions related to home, work, family, interests, etc. Questions are taken from a script so that every test-taker answers the same questions.
    2. Part 2 - Long turn. Test-takers are given a card with topics to speak on. You will be given 1 minute to prepare and 1 - 2 minutes to speak on the assigned topic. After 2 minutes the examiner will stop you to ask a few questions on the same topic.
    3. Part 3 - Discussion. The topic of discussion will be the same as the second part. You will be asked further questions on the topic, and you can discuss more abstract ideas in greater depth.

Tips to Prepare for the Speaking Section

  1. The speaking section tests your fluency, coherence, accuracy, grammatical range, pronunciation, and vocabulary. To get a high score, you will have to work on each aspect.
  2. Start with improving your pronunciation and vocabulary. Do not worry about your accent but your pronunciation should be clear and comprehensible.
  3. Do not memorize answers. The section demands spontaneity. Pause, reflect and form your own opinion. To practice this, you can take up simple topics and speak on them for 5 to 10 minutes. Record your practice sessions so that you can evaluate them and improve.
  4. Practice using a range of grammatical structures. Your answer should contain both simple and complex sentences with correct grammar.
  5. Be coherent in your answers. Do not string together senseless sentences. Stick to the topic and question asked. Similarly, do not use unfamiliar words. If you are not sure of the meaning of a particular word, skip it.
  6. Speak confidently and clearly.

Writing Section

  1. Format - The test duration is 60 minutes, and the section contains 2 questions.
  2. Types of questions - The section only has two questions. Each question has a word limit.
    1. Part 1 - Test-takers will be given one or more graphs, charts, or tables to describe. There should be at least 150 words or more. Marks are docked if the word count is less than 150. The task should be completed within 20 minutes.
    2. Part 2 - Test-takers are given a topic, which can be discursive or academic, to write at least 250 words. The Word count should not be less than 250. The task should be completed within 40 minutes.

Tips to Prepare for the Writing Section

  1. Each part has a minimum word count and time allotted. Stick to it. Do not spend more than 20 minutes on the first question. Keep more time for the second question. Try to keep additional five minutes to go back and revise the answers.
  2. You will be scored on the following parameters -
    1. Task achievement (part 1) / Task response (part 2)
    2. Vocabulary, lexical range, and resource
    3. Grammatical range and accuracy
    4. Coherence

To get a high score, practice writing on various topics. Familiarize yourself with some common topics so that you can learn to formulate an opinion.

  1. Make sure you do not go off-topic or write incomplete sentences. The best way to stick to the topic is to map out your ideas before you write them. Plan what idea or point will be written in which paragraph. The essay should be coherent and clear. Each idea should link to the other.
  2. Use formal or semi-formal language.
  3. In task 1, stick to the information given to you. Do not speculate what is not present in the given data.
  4. In task 2, apply your opinion. It can be drawn from your experiences but should be backed up by evidence.
  5. Managing your time in the writing section is very crucial in this section. While practicing, time yourself.

General Tips for IELTS Preparation

  1. Start with a practice test paper to gauge your current position. It will help you assess your current knowledge and the areas you need to focus on more.
  2. Do one practice test paper each week and evaluate your answers.
  3. Make an Error log or journal. It will help you track your improvement in weak areas.
  4. Expand your reading, writing, and listening material to familiarize yourself with topics that will help you in the test.

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- Published/Last Modified on: December 3, 2020

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