Just saying “I can speak English” is not enough.
If you want to live or work in an English-speaking region, you need to be able to prove it.
That is exactly what the popular IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is designed for.
A good score on the IELTS exam shows employers, universities and others that your English is strong. It is even important for securing a visa to places like the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Since it can be such an important test, IELTS preparation is very stressful for most people.
We are here to help make the process way easier.
In this guide, we will show you some of the best tools for IELTS preparation at home. These include everything from free video lessons to fun apps to a huge number of IELTS practice tests.
We will also show you some of the most common mistakes that test-takers make on exam day. By knowing these mistakes, you can prepare to avoid them and achieve the highest possible score you are capable of.
How Well Do You Need to Score on the IELTS?
The IELTS is an internationally respected English proficiency test. It can prove your language skills for immigration, studies or work in English-speaking countries. If you would like to live in a place like Australia, the U.K. or Canada, taking the IELTS can be very important. If you have achieved an advanced level of English learning, it may be time to take the IELTS.
The IELTS is accepted in thousands of schools in the U.S., but the TOEFL is a more widely accepted test there. If you are taking the IELTS for academic reasons, be sure to check whether the school you are applying to accepts it.
Many schools have specific IELTS requirements for students. For example:
- The University of the West of Scotland requires a minimum overall score of 6 for undergraduate students and postgraduate teaching positions (with no individual test score below 5.5). They require an overall score of 6.5 (with no individual score below 6) for postgraduate research positions.
- The University of Sydney in Australia generally requires an overall score of 6.5 (with no individual score below 6).
- The University of Cambridge in England generally requires a minimum overall score of 7.5 (with no individual score below 7) for undergraduate students.
- York University in Canada requires an overall score of 6.5 for most programs.
What IELTS score you need to immigrate depends on the country. For countries that use a points-based immigration system, a higher IELTS score will help your application succeed.
What Does the IELTS Test Consist Of?
There are two types of IELTS tests: “academic” and “general training.” Those who are going to migrate to an English-speaking country need to get a general training IELTS certificate. If you are going to study abroad, you must pass the academic IELTS.
Both versions of the test have four sections assessing the basic language skills:
- Listening (30 min): 40 questions based on four audio recordings
- Reading (60 min): 40 questions based on a variety of texts
- Writing (60 min): Two writing tasks
- Speaking (11-14 min): An interview to test your conversation and presentation skills
The listening and speaking sections of the academic and general training IELTS are the same. The reading and writing versions have different content depending on which test you take.
IELTS Preparation Just Got Way Easier: The Best Study Tools + Mistakes to Avoid
The Most Valuable Resources for IELTS Preparation at Home
Take IELTS with British Council
On this website, you will get a lot of useful IELTS preparation information, which is presented in the form of tips and small articles.
In the “Choose” section, you will learn about what IELTS is, what it is for, what format the exam has and tips on what type you should take (academic or general training). The “Prepare” section explains how to study for the exam and what difficulties you can face. Here you will find lots of resources to help you pass the IELTS exam with the highest score. Also in this section, you will find some practice tests to get you comfortable with the exam.
The “Book” section talks about where and when you can pass the exam in your country and how to sign up for the IELTS exam without leaving your house. In the “Results” section you will learn about how to get and understand your exam results.
If you are going to live, work or study in the U.K., you should definitely visit the “UKVI” section. It discusses the specifics of taking the IELTS exam in order to apply for a visa to the U.K.
On the Exam English website, you will find many useful tests that will help you prepare before taking the IELTS exam. You can download PDF practice tests for both the academic and general training tests, with audio recordings and answers.
There are also vocabulary lists and grammar tests for the IELTS.
If you still have some general questions about the exam, look at “Exam Info” on the left side of the page, where you will find articles, tips, recommended tutorials and even mobile apps.
All Ears English
All Ears English provides videos, articles and practice tools for IELTS preparation. Their articles do not tell some abstract stories about the difficulties of the IELTS exam—they give practical advice that will help you during the test. If you have any questions, you can immediately ask them in the comments under each article.
To get started, look at the “Categories” panel on the right. In “Categories,” all the articles are sorted into specific topics. You will find useful tips on how to pass the speaking part of the exam, train your ear with podcasts, deal with test stress and more.
All the articles are written simply and clearly and the topics are interesting.
This site is divided into two main parts: “IELTS Preparation” and “IELTS Sample Questions.” In the first part, you will find out what you need to study for each section of the test. In the second part, you can find samples of each section to practice with. There are hundreds of samples, including more than 1,000 essay writing prompts!
The advantage of this resource is that there are possible and alternative answers given here, as well as tips on what answer the examiner expects from you and how you should not respond to the questions.
This resource is designed primarily to expand your vocabulary. And if you want to pass the exam with a high score, then you definitely need a strong vocabulary stockpile.
The website contains the words that you need to know to successfully pass the IELTS exam. In the “List” panel on the left side of the page, you will see vocabulary lists for every section of the exam.
If you are uncomfortable with remembering words through lists, you can choose to view them as “word cards” (word and definition together on a card) or “flashcards” (word and definition on different sides of each card). Print these out and study anytime, anywhere!
There are other exercises built in like spelling quizzes, matching exercises and more.
Despite the fact that there are not many videos on this channel, it is still worth reviewing. The pleasant, smiling teacher Liz will tell you about the various subtleties of the IELTS exam.
She covers how to properly greet the examiner, how to build a beautiful complex sentence and how to anticipate a possible question. Visit the playlists page to focus on a specific section of the exam.
Here you will find a huge number of detailed video materials that cover various IELTS features.
Of course, you will find lots of tips to master every section of the IELTS exam. But a cool extra feature is that Ryan interviews people from different countries who have successfully passed the IELTS.
How to Avoid the Top 4 Mistakes Students Make in Each IELTS Section
Do you know how people usually lose points in IELTS? There are several secrets that everyone should be aware of when preparing for the IELTS, to avoid the most common mistakes.
So, we will take a closer look at typical mistakes in each section.
1. Common IELTS Listening Section Mistakes
“Transferring” answers carelessly:
While you are listening to the IELTS recordings, you will draft (plan; write a first version) your answers on a question sheet. You will then have 10 minutes to write your final answers on an official answer sheet.
Even if you know the correct answer, you can lose points if you do not transfer your answers carefully. Spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes and punctuation mistakes can all cause you to lose points.
So during your IELTS preparation, two things can help you avoid this mistake:
- Practice English spelling every day. Memorize some of the most difficult English words to spell and take online English spelling tests.
- Practice English writing for 10 minutes at a time (as we mentioned, you will have 10 minutes to transfer your answers during the IELTS). That way, on test day, you will write carefully because you will not feel rushed.
Breaking the “No More Than… Words” Rule
During the IELTS listening section, you will be given a document with some parts missing. You must listen to an audio recording and fill in the missing parts based on what you hear.
Read the instructions to the questions carefully! You will be given a word limit, such as “no more than two words.” If you write down three words, you will lose points.
Answers with bad grammar:
Here is another mistake that you might make when filling in missing words.
When you think that you have heard the right answer, check that it really makes sense in the phrase or not. Make sure that you are using the right part of speech (noun, adjective, verb, etc.).
For example, you might see a sentence like this:
An omniscient narrator knows about a character’s _____ and feelings.
An inattentive test taker might insert the word “think” or “thought.” But a verb would not fit in this sentence. Neither would a singular noun. We can look at the word “feelings” for a clue that we need a plural noun: “thoughts.”
During your IELTS preparation, try covering up words in a news article and guessing what the right part of speech would be for the missing word.
What if you could not understand the recording at all? Should you just skip the question?
No! You should at least write something, especially for questions with multiple choice options. That way, you have a chance of getting some points.
2. Common IELTS Reading Section Mistakes
Searching for your answer for too long:
You only have 20 minutes to read and answer questions for each text. This can feel like a very short time to many test takers. So, do not spend too much time on a difficult question!
If you cannot find the answer within one minute, leave it and move on to the next question. If there is some time left at the end of the section, return to it. If there is no time left, then just choose some answer intuitively.
You cannot take time from other questions. While you are trying to answer the difficult question, you lose precious time that can be spent on simpler ones.
Matching headings to paragraphs blindly:
Task 5 of the reading section (for both the academic and general training exams) is to match a heading to the section of the text it is referring to. This is usually pretty difficult and it is tempting to complete this text while you read. However, it is smarter to first read the text completely, then choose the headings.
You cannot find the necessary headings if you do not know what the whole text is about—you will just get confused. You will also probably choose some headings that are not meant to be used at all (there are often more headings provided than you will actually need). If you read the whole text first it is easy to eliminate (get rid of) the extra headings.
3. Common IELTS Writing Mistakes
This mistake is typical for the overwhelming majority of those who take the IELTS exam. Remember, if you do not specifically address the topic of your essay, then you will automatically lose points for the task!
When you write an essay, ask yourself constantly whether you are addressing the topic specified in the writing prompt. If your answer is “no,” stop writing and start again!
Writing questions in your essay introduction:
Do not start your essay with a question.
An essay is not a dialogue consisting of questions and answers. Instead, an essay should provide your opinion and your reasoning for it. (Plus, someone who writes a question in the introduction often forgets to actually give the answer in the essay!)
Instead of a question, make a strong sentence in the affirmative form. For example, instead of “Why do people like to travel?” start with something like, “In this essay, I will identify key reasons for traveling.”
Forgetting to support your writing:
For both the academic and general training IELTS writing sections, you will be expected to support your writing with evidence, facts and examples. In the first writing task of the academic test, you will even have some factual data to look at and describe in your writing.
Writing without evidence is like a car without wheels.
Expressing indicators incorrectly:
This one is particularly important for the academic IELTS test.
You will be asked to describe data, and you should be careful about how you do so. The data will show numbers for certain social or economic “indicators” such as profits, life expectancy, literacy, etc.
Be sure to name specific indicators when you are writing about the data. For example, the phrase “France rose to 3 trillion euros in 2017” is incorrect! France cannot rise! It is not a balloon! Only the indicator can rise or fall.
Incorrect statement: France rose to 3 trillion euros in 2017.
Correct statement: France’s gross domestic product rose to 3 trillion euros in 2017.
Using informal language in the wrong setting:
Students who write essays on the academic IELTS exam often shorten words or insert some colloquial speech. But for this test, all writing should be in a formal style.
Do not use contractions (e.g. isn’t, doesn’t, it’s, etc.) or abbreviations (shortened forms of longer words).
Words like gotta (got to), gonna (going to), wanna (want to), etc. are often heard in casual English, but should not be in your IELTS essay. I would even advise you not to use such words as “good” and “bad” in your writing. There are many substitute words that will help you raise your scores for the Lexical Resource (the range of vocabulary you use on the test).
One of the best IELTS preparation solutions is to make flashcards for formal English vocabulary to use instead of contractions/slang.
You can also start preparing for this now by avoiding informal language in your everyday English communication. Take slang and contractions out of your emails, texts and social media posts, just for now. You will thank yourself on test day!
4. Common IELTS Speaking Mistakes
Mistakes in the phrases “I agree” and “I study:”
For some reason, non-native English speakers very often say, “I’m agree” instead of “I agree” or “I’m study” instead of “I study.”
These phrases are likely to come up during the IELTS speaking section. Such a mistake is immediately noticeable in an IELTS speaking interview. Memorize these grammatical structures!
Using lots of filler words:
Get rid of “filler words,” or words that take up space but do not add any substance. For example:
- I mean
- Kind of/sort of
These words spoil the impression of you. Your speech should be smooth and your vocabulary should be strong and diverse. Therefore, when you prepare and practice before taking the official exam, use a voice recorder. Listen to what you have said afterwards and note all the filler words. Then record it again and try to remove all the fillers.
Trying to write your entire answer in Speaking Part 2:
In Speaking Part 2, you will be given a card with a question. You have one minute to prepare your answer with a pencil and paper.
Do not try to write down your whole answer just so you can speak it afterwards. That is not going to work! You have only one minute to prepare. During this minute you will have time to read the task on the card and make a basic plan. If you try to write a full answer you will never have enough time to think about the full topic.
That means you will not have a lot to say when the speaking section actually starts.
Forgetting about eye contact:
No need to treat this like an interrogation or a visit to the principal’s office. The speaking section is a conversation, so do not be shy to look into the eyes of the interviewer.
I am not saying that you should stare at the person without blinking… but always make eye contact from time to time. That is a sign of courtesy and confidence and it will make a better impression on your interviewer.
I have tried to collect for you the best resources for IELTS preparation. All the websites contain reliable information from official sources and from real examiners. But IELTS is a complex exam with a complex structure. Make sure you focus on common mistakes, take practice tests and relax—with the right preparation, you will be fine!