Top Tips for IELTS

Advice from a successful IELTS candidate – band score 9 reading

I asked Alan De Maria to write this piece for the site. He doesn’t mention it below but he scored a sensational band score 9 reading and an almost equally impressive 8.0 in listening. For me, that means he is worth listening to. If you read on, you will find

  • advice on how to approach learning for the exam in general
  • tips on each of the papers
  • some resources he found useful
You might also pay attention to what he says about speaking – his least impressive skill. It helps to know what didn’t work too!

How can I excel in IELTS?

No doubt this is one of many questions that pop out in one’s mind when studying for the test. Despite the fact that there is a huge amount of information about IELTS on the internet – its tricky details, subtle traps and how to tackle every question that might show up – it is hard to put every piece of advice on a coherent basis to support your learning process. This happens with every subject available on the world-wide-web and that is why books still are a reliable source: they concentrate what is sparsely and even chaotically distributed over the internet.

Suppose that you are a student like me and you can’t afford to buy books or to pay for a teacher to help you through teaching, what can you do to get the band score you want and, why not, excel in the IELTS test?

I will start by stressing out factors that are extremely obvious but controversially goes unnoticed by students. Then I will go for more test oriented advices.

      1. Face the truth: you can’t get any desired score if you don’t know English.

As absurd as this might sound, it is quite common to hear people (at least in my country) saying they know how to speak English just by watching movies without subtitles. However, in front of a native speaker they use more their hands rather than their mouths and, when needed to write, they use Google translate instead of their hands and brains. Maybe one can understand a word or another in a TV show, but this is not what makes  an English speaker. This is the type of candidate that will blame the test in any way: by the lack of time to write, by the bad audio quality of the room, etc. In short, you have to be HONEST with yourself to recognise, if so, that you don’t know the language or what you know is not enough to get the band you want. If you accept your position, then you are ready to go further.

     2. Work smart and hard as much as you can.

This is no secret at all but perhaps it is what makes most people fail to the test. If you followed the first advice and you know what is your real ability with the language and what level of proficiency you want to achieve, then you must proceed just like an Olympic athlete, i.e., you have to work every single day in order to achieve your goal. Even more, you must do it smartly, which means you have to work on your weaknesses and your strengths. Get a mock, do it in real time and see what happens. It will be easy to spot those silly mistakes, in what part of the test you will likely get lost, and by that you can aim your efforts. The sooner you catch the errors, the more you will be able to focus on your worst skills and improve them.

You must also get away from what deviates you from attaining your goals. For example, many people today have problems in concentrating and this might be due to the “internet pace” they are used to. Hence, you should study somewhere else rather than on the computer. It might be difficult in the beginning, but after some time you will naturally adapt to the new rhythm. If you claim that you use DCIELTS a lot – which is likely to be the case as you’re reading this right now – and you need to be connected to do so, then why don’t you select and print out some posts from time to time, in order to get rid of the internet?

Well, it takes a long time and effort to learn any language or to win a gold medal, if you are an athlete. But what separates the successful from the unsuccessful one is the continuously amount of patience and effort the first puts in his trainings. Take your time, but remember to work smart and hard whenever you can.

      3. Never get satisfied with your doings.

As I was saying, being honest with yourself means that you must hardly be satisfied with the achievements you have had. No matter how hard you have strived, there is always more space in your “knowledge room” to be fulfilled. Think about it: if it is difficult to master the language even for the native speaker, then how it is for the non-native speaker? Not impossible, though it should take more time and perseverance to reach higher levels.

Just to illustrate: I try to keep my mind up by reading or listening anything I can in English every day. Although I have achieved the score I wanted on IELTS, I visit Dominic’s blog on a regular basis. By doing this I don’t forget what I have learned and I also get new stuff every now and then.

If you bear these three philosophical advices in mind like I did, then there is a great chance you will end up having a better score on the IELTS test and, in fact, in any other thing you might do in your life. I can say this because after following these obvious tips I have started naturally to give my best in any activity, thus having more success than before.

Exam tips

As to some more practical tips for the test, I would say “learn the test”, but apart from getting used to time management, writing schemes and speaking patterns, I must add:

Reading

1.      For the reading section: read as much as you can. There is no such a thing like “I don’t like to read”. Maybe you didn’t find the right kind of reading that suits you best. For instance, if you can’t take your eyes off the videogame, search for the history of videogames. My reading skills rocketed when my bookshelf started to grow. In the last three years I read more than 60 titles of various themes and not by coincidence I managed to get a 9 band on the reading section. Also, I used and I have still been using the great Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary (CALD) on the computer since then to support me with grammar, spelling and learning new words.

Listening

2.      For the listening section: once again, practice with what suits you best. I would not go for watching TV, as it didn’t work for me when I was studying. Rather I listened to a lot of audios from BBC Learning English, and I also used YouTube to watch random videos of native speakers, interviews, etc. Don’t forget to practice this section of the test with the Cambridge IELTS books (borrow from library or from friends, like I did), as it gives you a fair example of what you should expect.

Writing

3.      For the writing section: my main source of tips and tricks for the writing section was Dominic’s blog. There are astonishingly many nice posts about various aspects of this section on the blog and it is up to you to put the information into practice. I must have done as many as 6 texts from each part of the writing section in 2 weeks that I have had to practice, and I have got a 7 on the test, which was quite ok for me (remember, never be satisfied!!).

Speaking

4.      For the speaking section: In this section I can’t say much because it was my worst band (6.5) and I didn’t manage to practice it well enough. Besides watching some interviews on YouTube and practicing some pronunciation with the help from the CALD, I tried to formulate some answers before the test in order to avoid surprises, but it was in vain. Speaking still is my worst skill and I think I will only get over it going abroad. If you can afford to pay a teacher to teach you and talk to you, definitely go for it!

I wish this text can be as helpful as Dominic’s writings were for me when I was studying specifically for IELTS. I hope you guys enjoy it and best of luck to all of you who are striving to get through and excel in this tough, yet important, test.

Let me know your tips

A big thank you to Alan for sharing this advice and if you have tips, resources or ideas that you want to share, please drop me a line either here on the site, by email or on the FB page.

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Writing Guide

Essay writing guide

Academic task 1 guide

Letter writing guide

Reading guide

Listening guide

IELTS vocabulary

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59 Responses to Advice from a successful IELTS candidate – band score 9 reading

  1. kenny August 18, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    Very helpful.
    Thanks.

  2. lana August 18, 2012 at 10:56 pm #

    thanx for that. it is really usefull)

  3. Chamila August 19, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    Many thanks for the advice given above. I think I should add something for the speaking section as I scored 8 when I did it in an English speaking country, New Zealand.
    I would say it is totally confidence that you made there with very rich vocabulary. Do not become afraid there because examiners are very friendly and helpful. Talk to them before your oral examination starts to wash out your nervous feelings. Look at examiner’s eyes while you talking. Smile, laugh use body language and bottom line is that you have to talk with them very very natural. If you do not know to answer any question they ask convince them that you do not know much about that topic and give them some reasons . the reason may be the lack of interest of that area. They do not check your knowledge, but your talent to communicate in English.
    It is the easiest module for me.

    • Dominic Cole August 20, 2012 at 9:00 am #

      Great advice – particularly when you say talk ot them naturally. IELTS speaking is the most natural part of the exam and there is really very little “special” about it. It is really just a question of haviing the confidence to speak to someone just as you would in real life. It is a conversation.

      It’s quite possible to go wrong by over-preparing the exam and by trying to learn IELTS answers. Treat the examiner as a real person and you won’t go far wrong.

    • sedeek September 22, 2012 at 11:50 am #

      this is realy very helpful

  4. yogesh August 19, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

    your post is very helpful in understanding the real scenario of the students of ielts like me.its actually a mirror image of every single student .thanks a lot for your views…..

  5. Anonymous August 19, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

    thank you for advise alan

  6. anish August 19, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

    thank you for advise alan

  7. seatrah August 19, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    I like that.Thanks to share it with us.

  8. Bharat August 19, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

    I am extremely motivated and hope I shall do my best on all four skills.Thanks to Dominic Cole.

  9. soumya August 20, 2012 at 1:57 am #

    think in english,walk in english,talk in english.this s a very hepful advice given by my ielts tutor,as i am not a native speaker

  10. aish August 20, 2012 at 5:30 am #

    thanks ,it is really helpful as now i am more focusing on my weaknesses.

    • Zakiuddin Mohammed January 15, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

      as I am now, focusing more on my weaknesses. Cheers!

  11. Sue August 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    Thanks for very good advice

    • Zakiuddin Mohammed January 15, 2015 at 1:22 pm #

      Thanks for your good advice.

  12. lala August 20, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

    Thanks a lot for your advice!! Really appreciate it!

  13. lala August 20, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    Thanks a lot for your advice!! Really appreciate it!

  14. bell August 22, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

    Many thanks!

  15. sydney August 23, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    thanks for all the tips. Although I got a 9 on readign, 8 in listening and speaking, I keep having 6.5 in writing and i am very disappointed as I had the feeling to have improved inbetween . Can someone tell me why there is no feedback at all from the IELTS correcter ? I dont mean a very long one, but just knowing in which aspect there is a problem : grammar, ideas etc ..

    • Dominic Cole August 23, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

      Too much admin I suspect. Although I personally see no reason why they shouldn’t break down the scores by the marking criteria – easy enough to do.

      Have you approached a teacher? There is quite a gap between 8 in speaking and 6.5 in writing. If your scores are consistently different, then that tells me that there is a particular problem you have. A good guess would be grammatical accuracy as it is much more evident in writing than speaking and unless you get around 50% of your sentences accurate then your grammar mark won’t go above 7. Alternatively, it may be that you need more essay writing skills generally (perhaps coherence which is also much more evident in writing) and that there is a problem in how you approach the questions. as matters stand, the only way you will finds out is to get a teacher to analyse your writing.

    • sydney August 27, 2012 at 3:01 am #

      thanks a lot dominic, My first score in writing was 5.5 and I have improved until 6.5 by reading your blog .; thanks again

    • freng October 13, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

      hi, i got also like 8.5 in listening, 8 in speaking, 7 in reading but 6 in writing…so awful and frustrating!!

    • Afghan August 18, 2016 at 6:38 am #

      Dear Sydney, can you please share your reading module techniques for preparation.

      Thanks Afghan

  16. Zahid Masum August 25, 2012 at 3:53 am #

    some coaching, teachers, etc offer 7+ guaranteed program within one month but how its possible! could you say something about that please so that most of the candidate can understand which is the best option to do for getting good score.

    • Karmaa September 15, 2012 at 6:22 pm #

      Hi Zahid,

      As far as my experience permits, scoring 7+ band highly depends on how much you practice!

      Till now I have taken many coaching classes, paid for different online packages (IELTS-Blog, ieltstestonline, iPassielts), and frankly, all these packages are really helpful for all four modules. Ironically, I am still stuck in this exam!

      To be honest, even before taking these online packages, I had scored band 8 in both L & R.
      So, in my case, it must be my bad-luck cum lack of practice?!! :-/

  17. Zahid Masum August 25, 2012 at 3:54 am #

    some coaching, teachers, etc offer 7+ guaranteed program within one month but how its possible! could you say something about that please so that most of the candidate can understand which is the best option to do for getting good score in real IELTS test.

  18. Teo September 2, 2012 at 5:52 am #

    Thanks a lot for your advice!!!

  19. dayangku mumtazah September 17, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    My result is quite average. I got 7 for listening, 7.5 for reading and writing and 8.5 for speaking. Overall: 7.5

    I can assure you that I am not good at English. Having said that, I do have some tips I’d love to share:

    Speaking:
    Be confident. If you think your grammar is wrong, don’t let it show. It’s also good if you have a native english friend with whom you can practise this skill.

    Reading:
    I personally think that instead of focusing on scanning the text, it is better to practice speed reading. During the exam, I limited my time to 6-7 minutes for every passage. I underlined / circled interesting words, guessing the main idea as I completed reading each paragraph.

    Listening:
    COFFEE! It helped me focus, A LOT!

    Writing:
    There is no magic to writing a good essay. Knowing that writing is not my strength, I created my own formula using acronyms to remember useful vocabularies, listing it down before I started writing.

    Lastly: I describe my preparation for this test as : 40% practice and 60% STRATEGY!

    All the best!

    • Mazen April 7, 2014 at 8:09 pm #

      That’s awesome!!!

      I wanna be like you T_T

      Could you please give us your strategies?

      Thanks,

      Mazen

  20. dayangku mumtazah September 17, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    My result is quite average. I got 7 for listening, 7.5 for reading and writing and 8.5 for speaking. Overall: 7.5

    I can assure you that I am not good at English. Having said that, I do have some tips I’d love to share:

    Speaking:
    Be confident. If you think your grammar is wrong, don’t let it show. It’s also good if you have a native english friend with whom you can practise this skill.

    Reading:
    I personally think that instead of focusing on scanning the text, it is better to practice speed reading. During the exam, I limited my time to 6-7 minutes for every passage. I underlined / circled interesting words, guessing the main idea as I completed reading each paragraph.

    Listening:
    COFFEE! It helped me focus, A LOT!

    Writing:
    There is no magic to writing a good essay. Knowing that writing is not my strength, I created my own formula using acronyms to remember useful vocabularies, listing it down before I started writing.

    Lastly: I describe my preparation for this test as : 40% practice and 60% STRATEGY!

    All the best!

  21. Masiha November 19, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    Thanks for your good advice.
    God bless you.

  22. Amrinder November 19, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    hello sir..is there anything we have to write more than 15 words in a sentence in essay in academic writing ….plzz tell..i am having same problem.6.5 in writing ..score didnt improve after coaching ….problrm is with coherence i think.. plz suggest

  23. zakir ahmed November 26, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

    hello dominic,
    very usefull tips….

  24. Mohammad December 5, 2012 at 11:51 pm #

    Thank’s to both Dominic and Alan for these useful advises. I hopefully will apply the mentioned points to my next month’s IELTS.

  25. John December 15, 2012 at 7:56 am #

    I entered the IELTS on the 1st December and got the following:-

    Speaking: 8.5
    Listening: 8.5
    Writing: 8.5
    Reading: 7.5

    All the advice given is very true. Practice makes perfect. Dont’ cram things to the last minute. Prepare in advance. If English is not your first language, don’t fret. Listen to many English speaking channels like BBC radio and other TV shows. Read a lot such as found in newspaper articles and train yourself to skim and scan.

    At the end of the day, IELTS is about mastering a technique. If you know the rules of the game, you will excel…

    Thanks Dominic… You’re site provides a wealth of knowledge…

    • Anonymous January 25, 2014 at 1:34 am #

      well but what about rules……does it mean only grammar …..

  26. ola lasam December 21, 2012 at 11:01 am #

    It is a big challenge. I need to put more effort to make the needed mark. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.’More grease to your elbows’

  27. brahm January 9, 2013 at 5:22 pm #

    hi dominic,

    thanks for your support through this portal. I have appeared for IELTS in December,2012 and scored 9 in reading. 🙂

    • Dominic Cole February 21, 2013 at 10:49 pm #

      Wow. Brilliant result!!!

    • Dominic Cole February 22, 2013 at 12:03 am #

      Big wow! I suspect a number of IELTS teachers may not get 9.0.

  28. Vera January 10, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    Great tips, thank you a lot! You’ve inspired me to create a small essay of how to perfect your speaking skill as you seem to have had troubles with it. I am about to send it to Dominic Cole’s IELTS and Beyond blog, as it may be useful (I hope!) for those experiencing the same problems.

  29. Anonymous January 15, 2013 at 1:54 am #

    iwrite a lot but not perfactly i need 6.5 band score how should i improve my self plz help me

  30. Rajib Das February 1, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

    Many many thanks for sharing your experience.

  31. Timo February 16, 2013 at 7:01 am #

    Hello DOminic,

    thanks for your page. I got my results today, : overall 8 and a minimum of 7 in each discipline (which was my target). Your page is a good starting point. Of course it is not enough, as one needs to practise with real test excercises. But to get familiar with the test in the first place it’s a good thing.

    • Timo February 27, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

      to be more specific L 9, R 7, W 7.5, S 8

  32. Anna December 4, 2013 at 5:13 am #

    Hi.
    Amazing collection of tips you have there. All though, it is hard to find anything truly practical, I should agree that all of this common knowledge facts are usually ignored by those who plan to take an IELTS exam, or, in fact, any other exam. I find your text rather inspirational than instructive. But that is most definitely not the main reason for this reply. No matter how astonished and fascinated i may be, it appears that i have some experience to share too.
    For my exam i had only one and a half week of preparation time, and that is where I am at the moment. Therefore, my first advice is to start preparing as early as you can, if you’re not otherwise engaged of course. As far as I can see, even a good knowledge of the language in its many aspects doesn’t guarantee a good band score. There is the test format, that seemed confusing at first. I remember that it was quite hard to answer the equivocal questions of the writing unit. However everything depends on experience and effort you apply. So for the writing unit i could suggest to learn how to paraphrase, so that you can elucidate the very essence of the statement/question given. Than comes the most exciting part: putting your vocabulary to a good use. And the second advice would be to read/listen as much as you can. There is a brilliant collection of oxford lectures on Youtube. They have a very diverse range of subjects you can choose from. By the way, the same advice could be applied to all four parts of the test.
    If to talk about speaking and listening, since this two are very dependent on one another, only life practice can be of any help. You can find people who would want to talk to you everywhere. The only Don’t in this approach is those sites that pose themselves as “you want to practice your English”. All though it is mainly because of the accents. You pronunciation actually reflects the accent you’ve percepted.
    So aggregating everything that has been said above (i refer to EVERYTHING), i could easily conclude that the idiom is “practice makes perfect”. But since perfection is unachievable, the more you practice the better you get.
    There is also another thing that is good to bear in mind, the band score, or indeed any type of mark, doesn’t determine ones knowledge, it only mirrors ones ability to respond to a fast format

  33. Nicola April 24, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    This exam is a money making scam. I have two degrees, got an A in my GCSE English, and can read a whole book in a day. Despite scores of nine in the speaking section and 8.5 in the listening and writing, I only got a 7.5 in the reading section. Every single person I know who required 8’s has failed the reading section. These people include five dentists, one nurse, a teacher, and bizarrely an IELTs tutor with a degree in English. Wake up people and don’t let them get away with this outrageous ripping of of decent people! The more people that complain, the better!
    Oh, and by the way, most importantly of all, I am English! Thankfully, healthcare professionals have the option of sitting an OET test. Which, although more expensive, seems to me a much more fair examination.
    I know people who have failed three times, six times etc on the reading. It is obviously designed to make people fail.
    Bizarrely, the reply from IELTs to my email of complaint was addressed ‘Dear Nicole’. I messaged back saying maybe you should take the reading test, as you have spelt my name wrong. It is Nicola, not Nicole. Absolute farce!

    • Dominic Cole April 24, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

      I feel the pain.

    • Peter Park February 19, 2015 at 10:10 pm #

      The same here Nicola. I believe that they have some policy and they manipulate the results according their policy.
      Is there any organisation to supervise the IELTS organisation?
      Also score 7 for reading (30/40) in an hour is hard and unfair. I oppose to it. It needs more time.
      Why should we experience such this stress without success for rather long time spending a lot of time of our dear life. Only because of immigration?
      It’s unnecessary and outrageous.
      Good luck for all

  34. Vinay August 8, 2014 at 11:07 am #

    Thanks for the suggestions.

  35. Gopalakrishna August 27, 2014 at 9:30 am #

    Dear Friends,

    I am very much thankfull for all your experiences, as I am the beginner I must take all the posts as great suggestions.
    All what I can advice from my end is to practice, practice and practice. Infact, it helps us to find our mistakes and can assure a definite development.

    Thank you.

  36. jane October 24, 2014 at 9:27 pm #

    Hi,

    I scored,
    7 in speaking,
    7 in writing,
    6.5 in listening and 5 in reading.

    I traveled a long distance to reach the city where IELTS exam centre located. I was tired in the morning and I had to go for all the modules the same day. I had no chance for the preparation and so it was just a try test sort of thing. Can you please guide me if I appear in the examination with 2 week preparation, would I be able to score 7 in each module?

    • jane October 24, 2014 at 9:29 pm #

      please do reply soon… i an anxiously waiting.

    • Dominic Cole October 25, 2014 at 7:27 am #

      There’s no way of honestly answering this question I’m afraid. Yes, there are people who jump a band score very quickly – i.e. within 2 weeks and there are others who need much longer. For others it takes much longer.

      It is possible that if you turn up fresh on the day and well-prepared you will get the score you need. You have 7 potential obviously judging by the reading/speaking scores. The good news for you I suppose is that you judge your own score/ability in reading/listening quite well by doing practise tests. But your writing and speaking may also be borderline 7 and in that case you may not get 7 next time!

      Talk to a tutor who can judge you. Distrust any book/site that guarantees success – that is always a stupid promise. Much of the IELTS industry is very dishonest.

      (There are plenty of experienced tutors who advertise from this site)

  37. Rupak February 3, 2015 at 4:22 pm #

    I scored R:9 W:7 L:8 S:7. The tips provided in this site really helped me . It is really a great site to prepare for the IELTS. Thanks for your great work.

  38. Jan February 4, 2015 at 7:51 am #

    I just received my IELTS result and now surfing the net for a debrief. Like closing the barn door after the horse escaped. A bit about myself: I started learning English at the age of ten, and only started using it full-time at the age of fifteen. By the time I was twenty-five it was as good, or even better, than my mother tongue, which I hardly used. To paraphrase one of the comments above, I think in English, speak in English, write in English, dream in English…

    And this is what I got for the exam, without any preparations. Academic module.
    Listening – 8.5
    Reading – 8.5
    Writing – 7
    Speaking – 8
    Overall – 8

    To be honest, I’m rather disappointed with my writing test result. But a little introspection reminds me that it is probably the most “trainable” of all the sections – it is where practice and exam technique really pay dividends. I am aware that my writing is often not very grammatically correct. It does take extra effort to do so and it slowed me down while doing the tasks. I made a lot of corrections and it looked very untidy. Task 1 requires some familiarity with the format, and specific vocabulary and sentence construction. Task 2 requires that you be comfortable with presenting a balanced, cogent piece of writing under time pressure.

    The speaking test was surprisingly pleasant. You arrive at the venue, register, wait and enter a room. A friendly examiner confirms your particulars and asks you to say your name and where you are from for the recording. The conversation (and it felt much like a conversation than an exam) started with her asking me to describe the place where I lived, then segued into other light conversational topics, e.g. what I liked about the place and whether I invited people over. Afterwards, I was asked to read a prompt and was given a minute to prepare my answers. The topic was about getting lost. There were specific questions I had to answer while telling the story. Subsequently there were questions tangentially related to the prompt, such as my travelling habits, my views about adventures and explorations.

    Tl;dr – for speaking test, I guess doing a lot of conversations in English on a wide range of topics might help. And stay calm. It’s just another human being talking with you 😉

  39. Anonymous March 20, 2015 at 8:41 pm #

    nice . i will definitely follow your tips

  40. Yoges Rao June 12, 2015 at 6:53 am #

    Hi , i sat for ielts test , i scored Listening – 5.0 , Reading – 5.5 , Writing – 5.5 and Speaking 6.0 . What i should do in order to improve my score . Will be very happy if i can score band 6 in all three components .

    Thank you .

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