IELTS exam day tips

These are some tips for what to do on the day of the exam itself and immediately before it. While IELTS is a test to measure your English, it does of course feel like an exam and the people who do best in exams tend to be those who have exam day strategies. This is my selection of what to do and what not to do. I have tried to keep it short as I believe it is important to keep thing simple on the day itself. Some of this advice may surprise you.

Don’t worry if you disagree with it. Different people are different and different things work for different people. My personal belief is that the only good advice is advice that actually works and if something else works for you – great! I’d add that the most important piece of advice is the first one – have a strategy.

General

1. Have a strategy – any strategy

This one sounds strange, no? What I mean by this is that if you have a strategy, you will feel more confident and if you feel more confident, you will perform better. What that strategy is will depend on who you are. I’d suggest that you try different strategies before the exam and see what works personally for you.

2. Forget all the advice you have been given and just focus on the question

Again, this will sound strange. What I mean here is that in the exam you are under pressure and people tend to perform strangely under pressure. If you are trying to remember all the different advice you have been given, you are putting yourself and your brain under more pressure. In my experience, most avoidable mistakes are caused by not focussing on the question and it is the avoidable mistakes you need to focus on: you can’t do anything about the unavoidable mistakes.

3. Don’t practise before the exam

What? IELTS is a test of skill (language is a skill), it is not a knowledge based exam where you can revise at the last minute. You are not going to improve your skills by doing four tests in four days. You will probably just make yourself more nervous.

4. Practise before the exam

Of course you do need to practise just before the exam. Though you need to think about how to practise and why you are practising:

  1. Most people who take IELTS for the first time are surprised at how tiring it is: by the end of the day they are exhausted and lose concentration. It helps to do a complete exam in a day just so that you are prepared for what it will feel like.
  2. Timing is an issue in reading and writing: you need to practise under exam conditions to know that you can finish in time. However, be warned that in the exam you will be on adrenaline. It is a marvellous drug in many ways as it makes you go quicker. That is good, but be warned again that you don’t need to go quicker, but go quickly and accurately.
  3. It is good to practise getting things right, it is bad to practise getting things wrong. The danger of doing a test immediately before the exam is that you do it badly and you lose confidence. Bad news. Here’s a suggestion: practise doing a test you have done before or do a test while looking at the answers. It can work as you are improving your skills and seeing how to get the answer right and that is what you need to do in the exam.

5. Don’t book one exam, book two

The first time you take the exam it will be a strange experience, no matter how much preparation you have done and you may well underperform. If you have booked a second exam, the pressure is off as you have another chance. I have never met a candidate who was upset because they passed first time after booking two exams. Would you be?

Speaking

Bad advice – always give a long answer

Keep on speaking until the examiner stops you and say as much as you can. This is wrong as the examiner may never stop you and you may start talking rubbish. More than that, the longer you speak, the less coherent you are likely to be and coherence is a key factor.

Bad advice – learn what to say and practise saying it

Look at lots of exam questions before the exam and learn what you are going to say. This is wrong because you will become more nervous, not less nervous this way and the chances are you will not answer the question you were asked, but another similar question. (Most “exam” questions on websites are not accurate but are badly remembered.)

Good advice – listen to the question

Listen to the question and answer it. If you have more to say, say it; if you don’t have too much to say, give a reasonably extended answer and wait for the next question.

Good advice – speak English before the exam

It’s important to relax before the speaking, but the one thing you should not do is relax by chatting to your friends in your language. Rather speak English before the exam so that you go into it thinking in English. Every little helps.

Reading

Bad advice – no more than one and half minutes per question

There are 60 minutes and 40 questions, so you should spend one and half minutes on each question. No. There are different strategies that you should also consider. In each text, the first questions will take longer because you do not yet know how the text is organised or what it is about. Therefore it can make sense to give more time to the first group of questions in each text and less time to the last questions when you will already know how the text is organised and what sort of language it uses.

In general IELTS the first text is much easier than the last text. In academic IELTS the difference is less obvious, but the last text is more complex. You have to decide how to divide your time. The paper says 20 minutes/20 minute/20 minutes. That’s possible. You could though decide to spend more time on the last text as it is harder to give yourself more chance. Another possible strategy is to spend more time on the first text in order to get 14 out of 14. If you need 23 correct answers for academic band 6, you are more than half way there. You only need another 10 questions right.

In summary: 20/20/20 minutes, 25/20/15 minutes, 15/20/25 minutes are all possible strategies. You need to try them all to see what works for you.

Bad advice – always read the question first

You should always focus on the questions first. No. It works for some people, it doesn’t work for everyone. Often it helps to read the text quickly to get an idea of how it is organised. You save time later by knowing which part of the text to read for each question. In truth, the only good strategy here is the strategy that works. Try both approaches and see which one works better for you.

Good advice – focus on the whole question

What this means is that most avoidable mistakes are made not because the text is difficult, but because the candidate didn’t focus on the meaning of the whole question. Mistakes happen because candidates look at key words and forget about meaning.

Writing

Bad advice – give yourself as much time as possible to write

No. Timing can be a problem in the writing paper, but the way to finish your writing is not to start writing quickly. This will be different for different people, but the best advice is to leave as much time as possible for the planning bit. The idea is that if you know what you want to say and if you know what words to use, you will write more quickly and more accurately than if you start writing after 2 minutes. Time yourself. How long does it physically take you to write 250 words? If you know what you want to say, the answer is very unlikely to be more than 20 minutes. Now consider whether it is better to think about what to say before you start writing or as you are writing. Your choice.

Good advice – check your writing for repetition

Checking your writing is not an optional extra for if you finish 5 minutes early. It is a must. It can be hard to see your own mistakes, but one thing anyone can see are repeated words. This is very practical advice. You will lose marks if you repeat the same language. So check repetition.

Listening

Bad advice – Listen for key words

I have written about this before, but it is worth repeating here. The cause of most avoidable mistakes is that candidates focus on key words in the question. In fact, until you have listened there is no way to know what the key words really are. What you need to do is focus on the whole question, not just a part of it.  At most, the “key words” tell you when the answer is coming, not what the answer is.

Bad advice – write as much as possible as you are listening

Put simply, if you are writing, you are not listening. It is a listening test.

Good advice – focus on the meaning of the whole question

Just as in the reading paper, look at the whole question and listen as closely as possible. Yes, you do need to read, write and think at the same time, but you need to spend as much time as possible doing the listening bit.

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50 Responses to IELTS exam day tips

  1. Bob kalangi December 18, 2009 at 12:35 am #

    Hello,
    First i want to give a special thanks to Dominic Cole
    i read your article above “IELTS exam day tips” it’s a clear and giving guidence
    for the students those who want to learn the ielts. Great guidence you are furnishing in your website.
    Your Sincerely,
    Bob kalangi

  2. Name December 18, 2009 at 3:12 pm #

    I THINK IT IS ONE THING TO BE WELL PREPARED FOR AN EXAMINATION,AND IT IS ANOTHER THING TO PROPERLY GUIDED . THANKS SO MUCH . I APPRECIATE THIS WONDERFUL INFORMATION.

  3. fram June 23, 2010 at 4:56 pm #

    thanks

  4. iFFi November 6, 2010 at 10:57 am #

    ~~worthwhile text that makes the difference over all other blogs…Th@nks Indeed ! …………………….Plz keep on .

  5. Saad December 2, 2010 at 12:31 am #

    Big thank go to you on this valuable tips:)

  6. ana January 21, 2011 at 3:28 am #

    Thanks a lot….these are really valuable tips……writing about appreciating this work is like pouring a drop in ocean !

  7. ana January 21, 2011 at 3:33 am #

    is this a good idea to start with third passage in academic reading exam ?

  8. nel March 28, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    I tried to Google a lot of free IELTS site but this site really makes sense. KUDOS :)

  9. Zahid May 7, 2011 at 12:38 am #

    Very nice.. Thank You So Much..

  10. Hiranya May 17, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    very well guided thanks , it helped me a lot too improve on my mistakes

  11. samser ali May 23, 2011 at 8:10 pm #

    nice post. i think it will be helpful.

  12. Baljeet kaur August 16, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

    hello,
    i have read all the tips for the day of exam.
    http://www.dcielts.com is a very informative website.
    there are so good, accurate,and authentified
    advices related to ielts exam. it really helps a lot
    to be perfect in every aspect.

  13. Hyder Mohammed August 28, 2011 at 8:42 am #

    Finally, I found the best website for IELTS preparation. My exam is on 3rd September. i wish if i could found this a month ago.

  14. R Mathur September 16, 2011 at 12:14 pm #

    Hi Dominic,

    Below are my scores that i got today.

    Listening 7.5
    Reading 8
    Writing 7.5
    Speaking 7.5

    I have decent command over English and studied for 10 – 15 hours for the test one week before exam. I focussed on exam pattern and ensured that I follow the scoring rules. Writing is my weak area and I followed your advise (or advice?). All thanks go to you.

    Best Regards
    R

    • Avatar of Dominic Cole
      Dominic Cole September 16, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

      Well done. A really good set of scores there.

  15. R Mathur September 17, 2011 at 3:31 am #

    Well, the credit goes to you, especially for my writing score. This is how my essay looked like:

    There is some controversy about______________. While it is possible to claim that______________ , my view is that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. In this essay, I shall explain my point of view by analysing both sides of the argument.

    Para 1

    There are several reasons why ______________________. One is that ___________________________. It can also be argued that we ___________________. It should also not be forgotten that___________________________________.

    Para 2

    Those who argue for _______________________________. Firstly, it is claimed that ___________________________________. Then, there are concerns about ______________________________.

    Conclusion

    While there are strong arguments on both sides of the case, my personal belief is that ______________________. I suggest that __________________________________.  

    Read

  16. sadaf October 27, 2011 at 7:23 am #

    plz pray 4 me today my general ielts speaking tst in serena hotel……………

  17. sadaf princess October 27, 2011 at 7:25 am #

    please pray 4 me today my general ielts speaking test in serena hotel……………

  18. GURTEJ SINGH November 29, 2011 at 8:45 am #

    well this site is very ultimate and very useful for me LISTENING 6.5 READING 7 WRITING 6 SPEAKING 6

  19. Jsm January 18, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

    plz help with sentence ” Job satisfaction refers to the degree of pleasure employees can feel when working ”

    why after when ” they are” has been omitted .

    • Avatar of Dominic Cole
      Dominic Cole January 19, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

      Good question. This is a “reduced relative clause”. That means that we can (and do) shorten/change verb forms after a relative pronoun – here “when”. I have another lesson on relatives due shortly I hope.

  20. Jsm January 19, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

    Thank you Dominic . As you up to date your site daily , to some extent I get confuse where I did send my post. !!!

    I have another questions :

    1)I saw this sentence and I was wondering whether we put “Of” in the beginning of sentence

    “Of those factors that contribute to job satisfaction, some are …..”
    2) It is of broad interest to employers

  21. Jsm January 19, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    Hi again

    Sorry for asking a lot . In your essay you wrote:

    There are many much more urgent projects on Earth that require investment.

    Why you wrote ” many much more” how we can bring many much consequently

    Is it needed to write ” The” before Earth . As I have seen somewhere written “the” before Earth

    Many thanks

  22. jsm January 20, 2012 at 5:48 am #

    Hi
    .of equal importance are public internet facilities

    Can we higher grammatical criteria through using such writing style
    Regards

  23. Jsm January 22, 2012 at 6:01 am #

    Hi Dominc,

    Im afraid of Im not considered be impolite as I asked too much questions. Since I did not find any site to answer my questions related to IELTS Im using your site for this reason. Actually Iv learning many things through your site.

    Many thanks

  24. Maha January 23, 2012 at 4:00 am #

    Hi Dominic,

    Thanks heaps for this site. I was struggling for band 7 before going through this site. Finally I am successful in getting band 7 and this credit goes to you.

    Keep it up.

    Maha

  25. Sharon January 24, 2012 at 11:19 am #

    Hi Dominic,
    I know your site is mainly for students. I’m interested in becoming an IELTS examiner. Do you have any tips for teachers who want to do this?
    Thanks

    • Avatar of Dominic Cole
      Dominic Cole July 12, 2012 at 11:09 am #

      Stupidly late reply I know but there we go. I don’t have any particular insight into this never having done the IELTS examiner thing. I spent a good few years as a main suite examiner then got bullied into training to become an IELTS examiner because they were so desperate. In the end, I ducked out at the last minute as I didn’t really fancy spending my weekends away from home having just got married. But I did immensely enjoy the main suite examining – which is more social than the IELTS gig – and I did learn heaps from it.

      Advice: go for it. I rather think it depends on where you’re resident on the amount of work you’ll get. In the UK, there is a healthy waiting list but in China they are desperate.

  26. shital April 15, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    hi dominic,myself is shital.i am from india.currently leave in england.i am an overseas nurse/trying to get my registration as a nurse in england.I have tried ielts couple of time but my band score is not satishfactory.I need 7 in each module.i have been looking at your website and found interesting.I desperetly need your help and advise to achieve required score.

    Any help would be much appreciated.
    looking forward to hearing from you
    Thank you so much
    shital

  27. Mehar mauzam April 21, 2012 at 11:49 am #

    Dear thanks nice tips.

  28. Molly May 23, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    Hi Dominic,

    I just want to say thank you for sharing your invaluable IELTS strategies. Just got my results: Overall 8.5! I couldn’t have done it without this amazing website.

    Thanks again :)

  29. Tuya August 14, 2012 at 9:52 am #

    Hi Dominic Cole,

    I’d like to ask a question about IELTS preparation. An half month ago, I took IELTS exam and got band score 5.5. After around 2 weeks later I’m going to take exam again. Actually my extend score is the 6.0. Could you advice me some appropriate ways in this short time?

    Thanks
    From Mongolia

    • Avatar of Dominic Cole
      Dominic Cole August 15, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

      Hi there

      It’s very difficult to give you advice without knowing you but here goes. Yes, do practice tests but my advice is to focus on quality not quantity. By this I mean that you should make sure you do each test as well as you can and spend plenty of time afterwards going through it to see where you went wrong. The danger is if you concentrate on quantity (ie doing lots of tests) you don’t get any better! Make each test feel like the real thing. On writing don’t forget to focus ont he question and make sure your writing is coherent. This is good advcie for now as you can improve this quite quickly, where as you are unlikely to improve your grammar and vocab quickly enough.

      • Tuya August 16, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

        Hi Dominic Cole,

        Thank you so much for your valuable advice. I will follow your advice and visit in your blog.

        :-)

  30. Pomalo August 23, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

    I am delighted that I found your website. I now have a great tool to prepare for the IELTS exam. Thank you Dominic.

  31. Marlon September 1, 2012 at 8:04 am #

    I’ll do my IELTS tomorrow, this exam is crucial for a government program called “Science Without Borders” in Brazil, which provides scholarships to various countries.

    Thank you so much Dominic, you helped me on this journey!

  32. Parisa September 28, 2012 at 2:45 am #

    Dear Dominic,I must just say that you’re magnificent! I’m about going insane,really!
    you’re helping me great buddy thank you…That’s…just…GREAT!!!

  33. Shirley December 15, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

    Dear Dominic,

    I relied on your blog during my entire IELTS preparation and my results improved from 7.5(S),8 (L), 8.5(R), 6.5 (W) to 8.5(S), 8.5(L), 8.5(R), 7(W). It is a huge accomplishment for me and with this better result I am able to move forward to a better stage of life. thank your for giving us such valuable information in this blog. Hope you will continue to help students and i am truly appreciate your contribution. thanks again and god bless you.

  34. Ravi January 8, 2013 at 1:22 am #

    I would like to thank for all your lessons especially on writing. I had spent 6 months on improving my writing band to 7 with multiple attempts but could succeed finally only with your writing lessons. My scores are
    Listing-9
    Reading-9
    Writing-7
    Speaking-7.5

    Thank you so much for all the work on your site. Your free lessons change the lives of many students like me. You have a great success ahead in your path.

    • Ana March 2, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

      bravo for Ravi!! I hope to achieve a similar score.

    • Angela B April 5, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

      Waw! that’s an awesome score! Congrats! Tomorrow it’s my big day, and all I wish to achieve is a band score 7. I agree with you Ravi, Dominic does a great job here. I will let you know what my score is going to be. I don’t feel ready with my reading but even though I will try. I wish to know how to improve my reading skills. I tried everything Dominic suggested but still doesn’t work. I feel awful. Good luck everyone…

  35. Shahan April 19, 2013 at 2:34 am #

    Hi Dominic,

    I followed your lessons 2 days before my test date and got
    Listening 8.5
    Reading 8.0
    Writing 6.5
    Speaking 6.5

    Overall 7.5

    Though my score is good but i need above 7 in all. Any advice on speaking and writing would really be great.

    • Avatar of Dominic Cole
      Dominic Cole April 20, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

      You really need to talk to a tutor personally. On the face of it, you should be able to get a 7.0 judging by your reading/listening. But you really need to know which part of of writing and speaking is letting you down. One possible suggestion is grammar – something that is common to both papers.

      • Shahan April 20, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

        Thanks for the reply.
        I was really confident in getting 7.0 in writing (As i did get a 7 three years back in Academic)
        I uses pen for writing and did a lot of cutting. Does it have any effect?

  36. rahul May 9, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

    really fantablous tips..
    i ws using dese tips only,,… and shokd by seeing d same here :D

  37. Akshaya August 31, 2013 at 2:14 am #

    Hi Dominic,

    I appeared for IELTS General Training on 17th August’13 for the first time and with just 5 weeks of preparation based upon your website content, I achieved my target band 7 in each section (L- 7.5, R – 7.0, W-7.0 7 S -7.5, Overall 7.5).

    I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your perfect step by step guidance and your selfless efforts in mentioning about every possible tip in tackling the IELTS phobia.

    Thank you so much for helping many of us. I wish you all the happiness and blessings from God!

  38. Jay October 3, 2013 at 4:03 am #

    hello dominic cole,
    This is jay and i’ve no words to say as you helped me indirectly. This is totally unexpected I had been seeking for solution of my problems with tests but after searching so far I opened this page and I read this article. Now I got the solution of unseen problems occurs during tests.
    It’s like sometimes I get 28 or above 30 around 32 marks in reading and writing tests but sometimes I get only around 20 even I’ve practiced hard. Suffering from fluctuation of marks due to loosing concentration and some silly mistakes.
    I got an exam on 12th October and I hope this will be helpful for me in order to get good bands.
    Thank you so much. you are great really :)

  39. Debashish October 16, 2013 at 1:23 am #

    Hi,

    I just read your tips. They really increase my confidence. I have my exam on 19 of this month and I am quite nervous, as i am not scoring well in the reading and writing sections of the test. In writing, my tutor says, i am not crisp with my writing and tend to do a lot of grammar mistakes. Moreover, I also sometimes do a few spelling mistakes. I try my best to get it right but in vain. so far i am scoring 5.5 as per her assessment. With respect to reading, I miss on the key words. I get stuck and tend to loose time on particular questions. as i started practicing, i used to get on an average 25 right answers on an average. But, now i am hardly getting 20 right and am unable to finish it on time. My speaking is OK, but it make me quite anxious. Listening i do manage to get 8 at times. Please help! :(

  40. Avatar of SAMYA
    SAMYA April 21, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

    * thank you so much ,♥__♥

    I took twice and got a 3.5, then 4

    , and now I hope to get 5.5 :”(

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