Top Tips for IELTS

One week to IELTS – a plan

It’s one week to IELTS, what should you do? Here are my suggestions. You’ll find below lots of checklists, practice and study ideas. They’re based on the idea that you already know what IELTS is and have done some preparation. IELTS in one week can be done – I know I’ve done it – but really and truly the best preparation needs a bit more time.

Here’s what I suggest in this lesson:

understand what you should do in general

use some checklists to monitor what you know and need to do

ideas to focus on in each skill – things that you can achieve in a week

some practice exercises for each skill

a general timetable on how to practice

some links to key lessons on this site to guide your learning

one week to IELTS



Organise – work out what time you have to study and also organise a quiet place to study where you won’t be interrupted

Plan – decide how you are going to use your time.

Focus – it’s too late to try and do everything. Do that and you’ll end up doing nothing. Decide what you need to do most

Practice – of course.

Relax – not of course! But just as important. It really helps to get your head right. IELTS is a test of communication and communication works best when you’re confident and feeling good about yourself

General points

Cover all 4 skills

There are 4 papers and they all count equally. You may decide you want to focus more on one or two skills but it helps to keep all 4 skills working. Don’t forget that you can practise some skills together. You can read about something and then write about it.

practical idea: decide how you can cover all 4 skills and think about how you can combine different skills. I give you more detailed advice on this below.

Review what you have done so far

This is the time to step back and think about what you have done so far. Thinking about that in the right way will help you decide what you still have to do. Further down you’ll see checklists for each skill. See how many of those posts you can check off.

practical ideas: one idea I give you below is that you repeat tests you have already done. This is a good way to focus on skills – knowing how you get the answer. You’re not just testing yourself at this stage, you’re making sure you have the right skills.

Focus on your weaknesses

Hopefully you have already done quite a lot of IELTS preparation and you should know what your weaknesses are. One sensible approach is to focus on a few specific problems you have.

practical idea: make a list of what problems you have. Be as specific as possible. Don’t say writing, rather say writing an introduction. You can learn to write an introduction in a few days but not learn to write a whole essay.

Remember your strengths

It can be dangerous only to think about problems – that can harm your confidence. You should remember that you also get credit for things you do well in speaking and writing – it’s not all about counting mistakes.

practical idea: go through your work to date and see what you have done well – these are things to repeat in the test. Make a checklist of these too.

Don’t just do practice tests – limit how many you do – make them count

Although you only have a little time left, it isn’t the case that you should do practice test after practice test. That can be very tiring and bad for your morale (how you feel). Give yourself a break and do some more specific skills practice too and just surround yourself by a much English as possible – perhaps by listening to something in English on the radio/net.

practical idea: limit the number of practice tests you do. Each time you do one make it important and make sure you do it under test conditions.

Taper down – think skills and not vocabulary

The temptation is to do lots and lots in your final week. Yes, you do want to work efficiently but you must remember your goal is too arrive on the test day feeling good and with mental energy to spare. This may mean that you do slightly less as the week goes on.

Remember that the chances are that revising vocabulary and questions at the last minute will do no good – you have no way of predicting the questions and what you revise may well not help you. It’s normally much more effective to focus on the skills – you know that they will be tested!!

practical idea: don’t do anything on the day before the test itself other than make a plan for the big day – or doing some open book tests.

Ideas for different papers

This is mostly a series of checklists of what you need to know before the test. I’ve linked in key lessons to help you if you feel unsure but the idea is that you focus on where your needs are. If you feel okay, move on. You won’t have time to do all of this in one week.

The ideas to focus on are simply suggestions for what may make the most difference in one week.

You’ll also see I’ve added ideas for low stress study and how to combine different skills. Even if time is short, don’t ignore these – they all help with exam skills. You also can learn better when you are less stressed.

Writing in general

Make sure you understand the band score criteria in full. Just knowing how the papers are scored will help you. It’s never too late to learn about this.

Ideas to focus on

Be practical – it’s very hard to change your vocabulary and grammar skills much in a week. You can, however, do quite a lot with task response and coherence and cohesion – you need less language for this – they re largely understanding skills. This is something that you can work on in a week.

task response – learning how to answer the question

coherence – organising your writing

cohesion – linking it together


general checklist

Make sure you can complete an essay in 40 minutes

Understand the question types you may be asked and how to answer them

Know how to spend your planning/thinking time and how long you need

Know what you need to do in each part of the essay (introduction/body paragraphs/conclusion)

Have a map of your essay in your head – you may need two with one 4 paragraph and one 5 paragraph one

Know what your common mistakes are and have a reviewing strategy

Study and practice ideas

Look at some sample essay questions

Practice planning for 3/4 different essays – most essays go wrong at the planning stage!!

Decide what ideas you’ll use and not use – learn to select the ideas

Write introductions but all the essays but don’t write the whole essay

Write one complete essay untimed

Then write one more timed in 40 minutes

Extra ideas – low stress studying

Consider re-writing an essay you have already written – this time better! This can help you focus on the skill of writing. The ideas and the language are already there.

Also consider re-writing one of my sample essays – using it as a model. This should help as the essay will give you the structure you need and a lot of language and ideas – all you have to do is make it yours. This is another low stress idea.

Do some other skills too – more low stress general English work

Try to read something about the topic you are going tot write about – you just need to use Google to search. This can help with words and ideas. It’s also a good way to do a  little stress free language work that can help with IELTS

Watch a video on the same subject why not? Videos are great for listening practice -especially if they come with transcripts

Try to speak about  the same topic you write about. They really don’t need to be IELTS format questions. Just see if you can speak for 2 minutes about the topic. Ask yourself some simple opinion and/or like/dislike questions. All you’re trying to do here is practise speaking in English a bit – this is especially important if you live somewhere where English isn’t spoken

Task 1 writing

general checklist

Make sure you can complete a task 1 in 20 minutes

Make sure you understand what the instructions tell you to do (see video below)

Be comfortable with the different types of chart/graph

Know how long it takes you to spend thinking and analysing the chart/graph – it’s important to see the big picture

Know how to write a summary statement

Know how to organise your writing into paragraphs

Review the language of trends, comparisons and numbers – they’re the bits of language that are most likely to help you

Know what your common mistakes are and have a reviewing strategy

Ideas to focus on

task response: This is a task where task response really counts. It really does help to have a clear idea in your head what you need to do. Watch this video.

just spend time understanding some task 1 visuals: once you know how to “read” a task 1 chart/graph/map then the writing part is quite straightforward – all you need to to is organise the information logically.

practise how to write a summary statement : if you can do this, you are half way to writing the full report. It’s not an extra bit you add on – it’s the key to understanding the report itself. It doesn’t just show the key ideas – it also helps you organise your paragraphs.

practice organising  and combining information in paragraphs: this is something that you can learn quite quickly and it can make a real difference to vocabulary (less repetition) and coherence.

Study and practice ideas

As with essays go through 3/4 practice questions and just decide how you answer them. You don’t have to write them all, it can help to concentrate on picking out the main details.

Write some summary statements just by themselves.

Look at the practice questions and just decide how you can order the information in a logical way and see if there are bits of information you can combine. Then write the paragraphs. This is an idea that can make a real difference to how you write. Easily a useful as doing lots of complete practice tests.

Do one untimed exercise and then one timed one. The first time you are just reminding yourself of the skills and then in the timed one you’re testing your ability to finish in 20 minutes.

Here is one task where it does make sense to focus on vocabulary – it’s very predictable.

Ideas for low stress studying

One thing you can do is make a bar chart/pie chart of your own life/day and then talk/write about it. This is a good idea as if the information is about you, you are much more likely to be able to interpret it – it’s the same skill as you need in the test.

Give yourself a maths test! Look at some random numbers and think of different ways to express them e.g. 1/3, 33%.


 general checklist

be ready to answer basic questions about yourself, your job/education and home town

Make sure you know how to extend answers in part 1

Know how to make notes in your 1 minute preparation time in part 2

Have different strategies to make sure you can speak for 2 minutes in part 2

Revise your opinion vocabulary – this is the one piece of vocabulary you’re likely to use most

Be prepared for harder questions in part 3

Ideas to focus on

Know how to extend answers: this is important in parts 1 and 3 – it’s a large part of your fluency and coherence score and is something you can learn to improve in a short space of time

Make sure you can get to 2 minutes: you do need to speak for 2 minutes in the long turn – again there are strategies and techniques that you can learn in short time that can help with this

Study and practice ideas

Speak as much as you can in English: this may sound over simple but if you’re living somewhere English isn’t spoken then this is the time to get comfortable speaking English – make it a habit and feel natural

Practise recording yourself as you speak – this puts a little pressure on you and will make it closer to the feeling of the test.

Try and find a friend to give you a complete mock test. One of the problems you may find in the test is that you are speaking continuously for around 14 minutes – that’s different from doing questions one by one.

Look at practice questions of course and try different ways to answer them.

Definitely practise making notes for part 2 – make sure that you make notes that you can use as you speak.

Extra ideas – low stress studying

Go through your photos on your phone and practise talking about them. This is great for reminding you of memories that you may have forgotten and may well help in the speaking test which is about what you know.

Play a game with yourself and see how long you can speak about a topic without repeating yourself at all. You can of course repeat yourself a little in the test but you don’t want to repeat yourself too much.

Consider studying skills together

When you’re doing a listening part 2 or 4 make notes of what you hear and try and give the talk yourself using some of the words you have heard – you can also use the transcript for this. This can help you with the skill of long-turn speaking as well as showing you how the listening is structured.

You can do the same thing with writing. If you have an essay you can ask yourself some opinion questions about the topic of the essay. Try and give two or three sentence answers. This helps with part 1 and 3 speaking and can also help with focusing on your main point of view in writing and how to support it with reasons and examples.


 general checklist

Make sure you can complete the whole test in 60 minutes

Be familiar with all the question types

Have a timing strategy for each block of questions – know when to guess and move on

Decide if you’re going to read the whole text (skimming) all the time or only for when you have matching paragraph type questions

Have a marking scheme to help show where you find answers and when you need to guess

Ideas to focus on

Reading is a tough skill to work on in a week. My experience is that it is the one paper that takes longest to improve. If you’re worried with one week to go I suggest you work on the problems

timing: most people find timing in reading difficult – make sure you have a strategy to complete the test in time

know when and how to guess answersthis is just practical

Study and practice ideas

Do some open books tests. These are test where you look at the answers and then see why they are correct. You can learn a lot from this type of reading – more than you can by simply testing yourself.

Practise reading blocks of questions. Time how long it takes you to do each block of questions. This is key information for the test.

Also practise reading one text at a time – here your goal is 20 minutes. Do this first before you try and do the complete test.

Now do a complete a test and time that. You should find it much easier to do once you have practised blocks of questions and single texts.

Low stress ideas

Read a little every day – not IELTS readings. Here you are just getting used to reading native speaker texts. Spend 10-15 minutes doing this each day. It is definitely not a waste of time – especially if you focus your reading as I suggest here. It’s a good way of beating reading fear.

Combine reading with writing and speaking

One way to get a little more useful reading done is to read an article about a topic before you write an essay. This can help with both reading and writing and shouldn’t take too long. It’s a good final week exercise. As you read make notes for your writing – ideas you wan to borrow. That skill can be quite close to skim reading in the test


general checklist

Be familiar with all the question types

Focus on reading and listening skills – this involves predicting answers

Know how to fill out the answer sheet

Remember spelling

Have a strategy for keeping pace with the recording

Ideas to focus on

Practise reading questions before you listen and deciding what the answer might be and/or when you have to listen for the answer – prediction. This is a test skill that you can pick up quite quickly – a good final week task.

Study and practice

As with reading it can help to do an open book test before you try and do a complete test. You learn a lot by seeing the answers before you listen – IELTS listening questions are quite predictable. You can do this exercise with a listening you have done before.

Focus on each part of the test by itself i.e. do a part 1  and then do another one, do a part 2 and then another one. The reason for this is that each part of the listening paper asks you listen in a slightly different way. Get used to each type of listening task before doing compete practice tests.

Definitely practise filling out the answer sheet – you don’t want to make any mistakes there.

Also practise how you make notes as you listen. You have 10 minutes at the end to fill out the answer sheet. Make sure the notes you make are  useful to you.

A possible timetable

This is just one possible plan. The idea is that each day you concentrate on one skill/paper and then do some exercises on other papers. At this stage I suggest you focus mostly on one skill at a time – then towards the end of the week combine them.

Day 1 – focus on essay writing

The idea here is to get mentally prepared for the test. You write 2 essays – one timed and one not. Also spend time thinking about planning different essays and writing the introductions. The idea is to help you go into the test with a good idea of starting the writing process. Once the plan is made and the introduction written, then the rest of the essay comes more easily.

You might also consider doing a complete practice test with task 1 to get the timing for both right.

Day 2 – focus on reading and listening

These two skills best belong together – the types of question are fairly similar and the skills are too. Do some complete tests but also practise doing parts of tests as well. You’ll learn as much or more by doing a few questions at a time.

Day 3 – focus on speaking

Speaking is a skill you should really be doing every day as you do other skills. You want to train yourself to be comfortable talking. On your speaking day spend time going through questions and record yourself speaking about each one. I wouldn’t bother trying to “learn” topic vocabulary, focus instead on the more functional words that you know you’ll use.

Day 4 – focus on task 1 writing and review of essays

More or less the same as with essays. Do at least one untimed exercise before doing timed practice – remind yourself of the skills. Also I really suggest you focus on task response and how you answer the question.

Essays are worth twice the points of task 1 and this is a good time to go back and review essays again. It’s also another chance to make sure you can complete both tasks in 60 minutes.

Day 5 –  focus on all 4 skills

Have a general review day. Go through the remaining problems you have with each paper one by one. Decide what solutions you might have.

Day 6 – complete practice test timed

Don’t do this the day before the test! Lock yourself away in a quiet room and simulate the test. How you do isn’t that important – what you’re really doing here is getting to know what it is like to do one test after another.

Day 7 – review day and relax

I have two posts here which may help:

how to beat stress

what to do on exam day and before it


Get more help with IELTS preparation on the main pages of my site

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Speaking Guide

Writing Guide

Essay writing guide

Academic task 1 guide

Letter writing guide

Reading guide

Listening guide

IELTS vocabulary

IELTS grammar

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One Response to One week to IELTS – a plan

  1. vidya October 15, 2016 at 7:09 pm #

    Thanks a million Mr Cole, i did not expect you to post it this soon. i really appreciate it a lot. As of this moment this site is a life saver. THANK YOU

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