Top Tips for IELTS

How does it take to improve a band score in IELTS?

How long does it take to improve your band score? This is an important question because knowing the answer can help you decide how to study for IELTS.  Here’s the problem: there is no one answer.

IELTS works differently for different people

To understand how long it will take for you to improve, you need to understand the ways in which you can improve your score and then think about other personal factors that may affect how quickly you progress. The general idea is that:

  • practice tests are often not enough
  • it helps to focus on your needs if you want to improve most efficiently

 

Ways in which you can improve your IELTS score

Generally, there are 3 main areas in which you can improve your IELTS score. Most IELTS candidates need to consider all of these ideas. They are not exclusive choices.

  1. improving your level of English
  2. improving your test skills
  3. understanding how the test works and how it is marked

Improving your English –  6 months – the slow but steady route

The surest way to improve your IELTS score is to improve your level of general English -IELTS is a test of English. The problem is that the bands are very wide. It can take up to 6 months to change your band score by half a point/point.

This may seem slow but band scores represent rather more than one “level” of English (intermediate/upper intermediate etc). At most/many language schools, courses for each level often last around 6 months. Some students do progress directly from one level to another, but equally others will need to repeat a level. So it really can take 6 months to improve your English enough  for half a band score.

Improve your test skills – a limited fast track approach

Another way to improve your score is to do practice tests and learn some exam tips. This can make a difference: the more familiar you are with the test, the more likely you are to perform well in it.

This way you can sometimes get an almost instant improvement of up to a band score. The problem is that after 3/4 practice tests, any further improvement is likely to be limited and quite slow. IELTS is a fairly simple test with few secrets. Once you have the basic test skills (time management etc), then you may not be be using your time well to continue to do practice test after practice test.

Everyone should think about their test skills, but this approach is particularly relevant for people who have been out of full-time education for a while.

Understanding IELTS scoring – improve your score almost overnight by fixing a basic mistake

This is slightly different. Some candidates can improve their score (especially in one paper) very quickly. Why? They just misunderstood what they had to do and how the papers are marked.

One example here is if you don’t understand the concept of Task Response in writing as you come from a different academic culture. You can write a good essay – just not the sort of essay an IELTS examiner is looking for.

Again, everyone should become familiar with the writing and speaking criteria. This approach though is particularly relevant for people who have one score (normally writing or speaking) that is much lower than the others. It may not be a problem of English in this case.

Just do it again and get a different and better result

IELTS scores are inexact. In my experience, it is rather unusual to get the exactly the same result twice. If you are very close to the score you need, it may be that all you need to do is take the test again (or even apply for a re-mark). When does this work? Typically, when you already have 2/3 scores at the right level and the others are only half a band score out.

Personal factors can affect progress

There are a number of personal factors that can affect how quickly you progress. These are some of the more common:

  • your native language
  • language learning aptitude (how good you are at languages)
  • how often you use English
  • your academic background
  • your basic command of grammar/vocabulary
  • if you have a course to follow
  • having a teacher
  • motivation

Four common scenarios

To understand how IELTS can work for different people, take a look at these scenarios –  they are all based on students I have taught regularly. I should add that there is nothing “necessary” about any of these examples – the idea is to show how personal factors can affect your progress and that different candidates benefit from different approaches.

The European professional/the native speaker aiming for 8.0  – emigration

In this situation, you have all the language necessary, you use it every day. In many ways, you are already beyond IELTS. What could possibly go wrong? Often nothing. Here is what may make progress quick and easy:

  • your native language is similar to English (most European languages have a lot in common with English) and so you recognise unknown words or grammar  and it is easy to “pick up” the language and you may well improve your general English much more quickly than 6 months
  • perhaps you use English every day and that helps your general communication skills and you’re quite used to discussing the sort of topics you need to read/write/speak about

Things can go wrong though. Here are some possibilities:

  • it’s been a long time since you took a language test – some parts of the test may be very unnatural. In this case, you should go “back to school” and work on your test skills.
  • perhaps, you are an academic of some sort. If so, you have probably been trained to think around questions, or perhaps to show off all your knowledge about a topic. Both of these are dangerous habits in IELTS – clear, direct answers are what the examiners are really looking for. In this case, you should also make a point of understanding the marking criteria in writing and speaking.

How long? Perhaps not very long at all. You may improve language much more quickly than the “6 months”, or you may just learn to fix a basic mistake in your approach.

The doctor aiming for 7.0 – PLAB etc

I am married into the medical profession! Here are a few reasons why if you have this sort of background IELTS could be a fairly, quick painless operation:

  • doctors tend to read a lot in English – long, complex texts.
  • they also get a fair amount of training in basic communication skills when they take case histories.
  • doctors who come from the subcontinent (and elsewhere of course) very often have grown up with English
  • doctors are used to studying very intensively

But things can go wrong:

  • English is a global language with many different regional varieties. Perhaps you are from India and  you use an English that is regarded as non-standard by IELTS. This can be a serious problem as you may need to “unlearn” the language. Tough.
  • you may use English a lot, but in quite a limited way. IELTS is a test of general English and  not of academic/medical English. Despite the fact you are “fluent”, it’s quite possible you have some low-level grammar/vocab problems that prevent you getting a 7.0 in writing/speaking. These can take time to fix.
  •  perhaps most of your training has been in sciences and your aptitudes are more scientific than artistic. Language (and IELTS) belongs more to the arts and humanities. You may need to learn how to learn a language.

The Chinese student aiming for 6.0 – academic studies

I used to work there. The good news (sort of) is that many universities are willing to accept quite low band scores – 6.0 is competent and no more. The bad news is that many candidates of this type start from a very low starting point. Because there is further to go, the process will take longer. The good news first:

  • you are probably in an academic programme where you get regular language input
  • you have a course in IELTS with teachers

The downside is this:

  • English is completely foreign to you – you get almost no help from your own language
  • perhaps you have serious problems with basic grammar and vocab – both of these take time to learn
  • you don’t get much/any chance to use English outside the classroom

How long? This is where 6 months for an improvement of 0.5 is realistic.

The Kuwaiti pilot aiming for 5.5

I smile. This was one of my favourite ever classes – and most problematic. I include it to show IELTS really does work differently for different people. After over a year, only quite a small proportion of the group made their target score. Why?

  • the starting point was very low (around 2.0 to 3.0 in many cases). IELTS was too hard for them – even general training – perhaps they shouldn’t have been doing IELTS but concentrating on general English
  • they came from a background where reading and writing was simply much less important – their speaking improved quite quickly because they enjoyed speaking. The reading and writing improved VERY slowly because they didn’t enjoy it
  • their motivation was “variable” -you have to be very determined to learn for over a year

The ones who made it were mostly the ones who wanted it most. But some of the most motivated never did – some people are less gifted at languages than others. Sad but true.

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33 Responses to How does it take to improve a band score in IELTS?

  1. harsh April 18, 2013 at 6:47 pm #

    how to get score of 5.5 in writing and speaking

    • Dominic Cole April 18, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

      The first step is to do some “needs analysis”. This means talking to a teacher to see where you are now and then building a programme for you.

      • meddy April 20, 2013 at 6:13 am #

        Hi’ thank you so much for the help with ielts teaching. I have attempted the exam for about ten times but still find the reading section very difficult. I need to have band 7 in all sections but have 6.5 in reading. The rest are with 7.5, 8 and 8 respectively. What do I need to do to improve on readin GB score?

        Thank you,
        Meddy

        • Dominic Cole April 20, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

          Ouch! 10 times that’s a lot.

          The good news is that you clearly have the potential to do it. If your other scores are all 7.5 plus, then you must have high vocabulary skills and, to generalise, poor vocabulary is why most people find reading hard. This makes me think that for you it is a question of getting your reading technique right – something that shouldn’t take too long at all. The distance between 6.5 and 7.0 can be just one more question right.

          One practice suggestion is to ignore time. Learn how to get the answers right first. This means going through practice tests and looking at the answers to see why they are right by matching them to the questions and the texts. Don’t worry about how long it takes you too much. This really means thinking about your close reading skills – looking at the precise wording of questions and the precise wording in the texts – this is where you can make the greatest difference to your score. One particular tip is to underline/highlight words in the text that give you the answer and then match those words to the complete question. Be as precise as you can.

          The next step is to add time into the equation. Even here I wouldn’t worry too much about doing 3 texts in an hour immediately. A danger in reading is that you get “panicked” by time. I’d start with one text in 30 mins, then once you have that right, try for one text in 25 mins and then one in 20 mins. Then do the same thing with two texts and then with three. The idea is to focus on quality as much as quantity and to build your skills and confidence.

          Confidence I think is a key word. If you are confident, then you are much more likely to perform your best in the test itself and some people I think can lose confidence in reading because it is a hard paper – one tricky question can destroy their plans. You should allow for the fact that at your level there are probably around 3/4 questions you are going to get wrong. Relax. You can still get 36 out of 40.

          • Anonymous April 22, 2013 at 5:15 am #

            Thank you so much for your advice. I will definitely put it into practice.

  2. Callie April 18, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

    These everyday tips have been so helpful so I thank you very much. My test is a week away, is there anything in particular that I should be using the last week to do so as to ensure that I get the maximum mark I require.
    regards

  3. ali April 19, 2013 at 7:55 am #

    Hi Dominic,
    After a vast search i have found this precious blog for IELTS.
    My problem is that two years ago i took IELTS and got 6.5 overall with 6.5 in listening and speaking and 6 was awarded to me in other two modules,respectively.
    Now i took it again and i was totally surprised,got overall 6 with 6.5 in listening,5.5 in reading and writing and 6 in speaking whereas i was expecting 7 or 8 overall with no module less then 7.
    As i spent 3 years in UK,got enough confidence and language ability that i could avail the desired score but alas i was totally failed.Now i am re-taking it on 27 Apr please guide me to score 7.5 in each module.
    Even i am planning to hire a teacher from your blog and for that sake i posted some emails to couple of teacher but got no reply.So,please guide me to the best extent.

    • Dominic Cole April 20, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

      7.5 is an extremely high score and in writing and speaking this means a v high level of accuracy as well as “fluency”. Sadly, it is not necessarily the case that 3 years in the UK is of itself enough. Yes, you should contact a tutor for speaking and writing, but you also need to work yourself on the reading/listening scores.

  4. Ali April 19, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    Hi, I m having some difficulties in putting examples in my essay. I read ur different essays and i noticed that in most of ur essays u have simply listed the reasons in the body para without explaining them through examples…..For instance here is a para from ur essay
    he first step is to understand why traffic has increased in towns and cities. Broadly speaking, there are three main reasons for this. One is that cars have become more affordable for the average consumer and they are no longer a luxury item, but something that most families expect to own. A second reason is that public transport has become increasingly unreliable in recent years, not least because many bus and train services have been reduced because of the difficulty in funding them. The third reason is that society has in general become more mobile and this means more people are prepared to commute to work by car than they were before.

    Now u havent given any examples for any of ur reasons, why is that? i m a little confuse here. can u explain when do we need to put examples and when we dont have to…..

    • Dominic Cole April 20, 2013 at 3:16 pm #

      Hi

      Interesting question. In fact, you should find that most of my essays are very much example based and that my standard paragraph is PEE based. I make a point, I explain and then I give an example. However, it is also important to be able to write paragraphs in different ways. The paragraph you cite is essentially a “listing” paragraph where I give a number of different reasons to support the main idea. You should see though that I do include examples here too. I just don’t say “for example”. Look at the words in bold and you should see that they act as/include examples:

      A second reason is that public transport has become increasingly unreliable in recent years, not least because many bus and train services have been reduced because of the difficulty in funding them.

      The third reason is that society has in general become more mobile and this means more people are prepared to commute to work by car than they were before.

  5. Jordan April 19, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    Dear Dominic,

    Just writing to say thank you for the wonderful website and for all the great advices. I just received my IELTS results and I got L9; R8,5; W7; S7,5 for an overall result of 8. I wish to say that your site was the only one I consulted when preparing for the exam, with greatest emphasize on the writing. Since I have never in my life studied English (in fact, I’ve never taken a class in English in my life – I’m 35) let alone learn to write essays, I knew my weakest skill was that, so I worked hard with your guidance and advice to improve this skill, and I succeeded. I am happy with the results, and in big part, it’s thanks to you.

    Keep it up Sir, and respect for your work.

    Jordan
    Macedonia

  6. Imran April 19, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    I scored 6 at wiring. However, I need 7 at writing. How can I practice?

    • Dominic Cole April 20, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

      There is quite a gap between 6 and 7. The first thing you need to know is why your writing is band score 6. This means analysing your task response, grammar, vocab and coherence and cohesion: they all count equally.

  7. mahdi April 20, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    thanks,
    please give us clear example here.

    • Dominic Cole April 20, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

      The examples come at the bottom. I have had students who improved a whole band score in a week – I showed them the test, discussed some basic test skills and bingo. They had all the language skills they needed. Then I have also had students who have worked on academic English for a year or more and only progressed by a band score or so. Why? They had limited English skills and came from backgrounds which meant progress was likely to be slow (little help form their own language, limited exposure to English outside class hours etc).

      You may find this a frustrating post, but IELTS is a curious exam in that a huge variety of people take it with very different needs. The general idea is to show you that there are different factors you need to take into account when you consider how long IELTS may take you – it isn’t just a case of practice, practice, practice. More specifically, the idea is to encourage you to do a needs analysis before you start.

  8. IELTS-TAKER April 22, 2013 at 11:50 pm #

    Hi Dominc,

    I should say I make a habit of studying for IELTS , I don’t know what I have to do after get all scores required. Sometimes I get worried about results making me feel nervous to take an exam. And Honestly I tent to add this that IELTS is not to me merely an exam, an attempt to conquere all those years conflicting with IELTS.

  9. malkeet May 14, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    i scored band5 in speaking and i requried 6.5 .how i improve

  10. emily June 12, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    pls suggest some tips to improve my academic wtiting score from 6.5 to 7

  11. Sreez July 3, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

    Hi Dominic Cole,

    Have been to many a websites but this is an incredible website. Apart from providing such awesome examples, you have been so interactive with people out here by giving reverts to all the questions.

    Hats off to you. Your explanations in the site are damn easy to understanding and been a great help to IELTS folks.

    Appreciate your help. An elated experience at this site.

    Cheers

  12. saba July 29, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    hi…I’m planning to do my PHD in uk and they need from me IELTS 6.5 , i already did the test and i got only 5.5, Im so sad and depressed because i don’t know how to improve my English in the rite way .. and unfortunately we are using Arabic in my work speaking, writing and reading in all manners. please help

  13. hammad September 5, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    hi dominic,
    i attempted ilets 2 times but each time because of task 2 in writing i got only 5.5 in writing each time.whreas i got 7.0/6.5 in other parts(reading,speaking,listening).i need atleast 6.5 in all parts.can you give me some tips how can i get required band in writing &improve perfomance in task 2,my performance in task 1 is quite well
    thanks in advance

  14. Maddy September 5, 2013 at 8:07 pm #

    Hi there,
    I am planing to prepare for IELTS and get 8 in all bands, can i have any suggestion’s how to start my preparation and by chance can i have any tutor.

    Thank you.

  15. GRE Classes in Nigdi-Akurdi September 18, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

    This Is The First Time I accidentally Visited Your Blog,& this Is Great For IELTS But Can you Share Something For GRE.

  16. Manish Srivastava September 26, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    Hi,

    I am planning for immigration.I have given IELTS scores are advised below for reference.

    Listening : 6
    Reading : 7
    Writing : 6
    Speaking : 6.5

    Overall Score : 6.5

    I need 7 in each band to clear immigration criteria.How and what course of action is required to get 7 in each band.

    Regards,
    Manish Srivastava

  17. Eshita Upadhyay September 29, 2013 at 5:52 pm #

    Hi dominic
    I have given ielts twice , I am getting a writing score of 6.5 both , I require a 7.5 , I need to know why I cant score well , can you help ?

  18. Peter October 31, 2013 at 12:31 am #

    Hello Dominic,

    I’m from Hong Kong and I have problem to get 7 in both writing and speaking…
    My last IELTS result was: L8.5/R8.5/W6/S6 (general module)
    I have no clue at all what should I do to improve my writing and speaking score..

  19. louise October 31, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    i got 5.5 in listening and writting . Can you suggest a way to improve the band score for this 2 section? Thank you for your effort.

  20. Monowar November 16, 2013 at 12:36 am #

    Which module is more tough?How they calculate marks on writing task 1 and task 2 ?

  21. jeffrey December 31, 2013 at 7:06 am #

    hi iam a dr from india.. appeared for ielts some months back and got L 7.5 R 7.5 S7.5 BUT WRITTING 6.5…. many of my friends repeated it immediately andcrossed individual7… is it significant to re write immediately and get through… I am planning to apply by jan 11 at acton ,uk as I am doing my pg here…. I am preparing from ur tips….. what r my chances to cross this time….kindly guide me.
    thanks
    jeffrey

  22. Sidd June 21, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

    Hi,

    I am from India and recently scored the following in IELTS general test:
    Reading:9, Listening:9, Writing:7.5, Speaking:7. Overall: 8

    I consider my English to be fairly strong and use it as my primary language to communicate with the people around. The only preparation I did for IELTS was to go through 3-4 sample exams.

    I have 3 months to retake the exam and need a minimum of 8 in all the sections.
    I am fairly confident that a good practice in writing will get me that 8. But I am not confident regarding the speaking section.

    Given 3 months of time, what can I do to improve the speaking capabilities by 1 point.

  23. praneta November 28, 2014 at 10:56 am #

    Hi sir , I have practiced lot for ielts but I can’t improve my result. First time when I was appeared that time I got overall 5.5 but now I got 5.5 but in writing I got 4.5. How can I improve it?

    • Dominic Cole December 1, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

      Sorry this is too general a question for me to answer. I suspect the real problem may be with your vocabulary skills.

  24. jamuna November 28, 2014 at 9:15 pm #

    hi dominic i have given a ielts test 6 times but i cant get 5.5 in reading can u please suggest me how can i overcome from this problem .

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