Top Tips for IELTS

8 ways to pass IELTS

In many ways hate IELTS because some candidates don’t really understand it and because of that they don’t get their score and because of that their careers go phut. Bad news. Here I am going to try and give some practical advice  with 8 ways to pass IELTS by preparing better.

I should add that all this advice is personal to me and it is about how to study and is not a list of exam tips. There are of course other lists. Here is another with some very good advice. It may be different from my list, but that’s not the point. The point is to think about how you are going to study. If you do that, you have a chance.

7 habits of highly ineffective IELTS takers

My 8 ways to pass IELTS

1. IELTS is a test of English – find a teacher of English

The best way to prepare for IELTS is to learn good general English. This should be obvious, but often candidates forget to do this. They prepare for an exam and they learn strategies and tips believing that that is the best way to pass. It is not. Tips and strategies only work if your English is good enough.

I like people who learn for themselves. In many ways that is the best way to learn. At some stage, however, you need someone to help you with the language. That person does not have to be a native speaker. That person does not even have to be a qualified teacher. Although it is clearly much better if it is, so I suggest you check out the teachers on this site.

2. Learn from your mistakes

This is a basic of language learning. You are going to make mistakes, that isn’t the problem though. The problem is if you keep making mistakes. What you need to do is to correct them – frequently this does not happen as people practise quantity not quality. How can you correct your mistakes?

  • find a teacher to tell you where you are going wrong with your language. Make a checklist of your mistakes.
  • with your skills, if you do an exercise badly, do it again. This works in speaking, writing, reading and listening. Do the test. Correct it. Look at the answers. See what the correct answer is. Do the test again. It doesn’t matter that it is not exam conditions. You will be learning.

3. The only exam tip you need is to answer the question

The longer I teach IELTS (10 years and counting) the simpler it seems to me. You will find websites and books full of tips and tricks. You will find some tips here too. In truth, in the exam the only tip you need is to read/listen to the question and answer it. You would be surprised how many problems that solves. You should note that this is the exam tip. What you do before the exam may be quite different. See below.

4. Realise that everyone is different – beware of big promises

You will know people who improved their score in one month. They were band 6, then by magic they got band 7. I know this is true because it has happened to some of my students. The danger is that you believe that you too only need a few weeks. You may be lucky, but probably not. Let me explain a little

What has not happened is that their English has improved by a band. Their English was always band 7. What has happened is that they have learnt to read and answer IELTS questions. As I say, IELTS is a simple exam. It only takes a few weeks (or sometimes days) to learn what to do in it.

The problem is that for many/most people the problem is with their English, not the exam. English can take months to put right. A difficulty is that you will find websites and teachers who promise success by just following a few simple tips. Sorry, no. It’s a test of English. Here again, this is where you need a teacher. If the first one says 2 weeks, get a second opinion.

4. Learn skills, don’t practise questions – less can be more

Language is a skill. Skills need practice, but they also need to be practised in the right way and that means quality, not quantity. The problem here is that too many people believe that practise, practise, practise is good advice. It isn’t if all you are doing is repeating exam questions. That way your skills and language are going to improve slowly.

It is in fact much quicker to learn slowly. Just as the tortoise beat the hare, so will the candidate who learns to write paragraphs beat the candidate who only ever writes essays. See my Lionel Messi post.

5. Preparing for the exam is not the same as taking the exam

What you do before the exam and in the exam are two different things. In the exam, there should only be one thing in your head: read/listen to the question and answer it. If you are thinking of more than that, then you are not concentrating on your English. All the other  skills should be almost automatic: you don’t waste time thinking about them, you just do them.

It takes time, however, before you reach this point. How long depends on you. What you need to do before the exam is practise those skills carefully. As you are doing this, you will find that you work more slowly because the skills maybe new. Don’t worry. All that means is that you are not quite ready yet. You are still learning and learning is a positive process.

6. Learn English, don’t memorise it

You are in a hurry. You need to pass the exam as soon as possible. What do you do? You go and find some sample essays and learn them or you look for sample speaking questions and learn what you are going to say. This tends to be a HUGE error. If you do this, it’s probably too late and you won’t believe me, but let me try and explain.

  • Examiners will know you are not using your own language. Trust me on that one. They hate this more than anything else. It can be regarded as a form of cheating. Bad news. You want the examiner to like you.
  • Perhaps, you have learned an answer to a similar question, not that exact question. Disaster. You won’t answer the question. There is no bigger crime in IELTS. You could lose several band scores for this.
  • You may feel more nervous, not less. In the exam, you are under pressure. Typically, you have to work harder to remember something written by someone else than to say it simply for yourself. You end up making more mistakes, not fewer.

If you still don’t believe me, take a look at my IELTS training video. It’s a joke of course, but there is a serious point behind it.

7. Learn some general English

Yes, there are special IELTS topics. Yes, you can sort of predict the right language to learn. No, in my experience, the best thing is not to concentrate solely on that English. This is very personal, but the IELTS candidates who succeed most quickly are those who take an interest in learning English. Why? They are interested and interested people tend to be people who learn.

In contrast, candidates who only do IELTS work, often get stuck. Either they get bored (IELTS is boring) or they don’t understand why they need to learn English. This is personal, but typically bored people and people who don’t see the need to improve their English, don’t improve their English.

It is for this reason, I include my little but often/daily exercise posts and IELTS word of the day on this IELTS blog. It may not seem like it, but they will help you improve your score just as much as any top tips will.

8. Learn the exam format

Is this too obvious to mention? I nearly didn’t. But IELTS does have a format, learn it.



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

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Writing Guide

Essay writing guide

Academic task 1 guide

Letter writing guide

Reading guide

Listening guide

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50 Responses to 8 ways to pass IELTS

  1. Hieu Phan December 17, 2009 at 9:28 am #

    Thank you very much for sharing… It makes me more confident for the test on Jan-09.

    • Dominic Cole December 17, 2009 at 7:43 pm #


      January is quite close, isn’t it. I’m planning a full article or maybe a series of articles on what to do when preparing, just before and immediately before the exam. The point is that typically you should be doing different things at different stages.

      ALL candidates are different of course, but this is my general advice. In the week before the exam, do whatever it takes to relax yourself. Relaxation is really important, as is concentration. Myself, I wouldn’t be doing too much practice at that stage: it’s too late really to make a difference. More than that it is likely to make you more stressed and stress does not help. What I would be doing is going through old tests I have done before to remind myself of what to do and what not to do. Make it an open book exercise where you can see the answers – you can learn a lot that way.

      The other thing you need to sort out before you go into the exam room is what plan do you have for timing etc. There are different options on different papers. None is necessarily right or wrong – the only wrong plan is to have no plan at all. It really does help to have a strategy because that makes you feel more confident and confidence tends to lead to better performance.

      In the exam itself the one thing to concentrate on is the question.

      Good luck

      • Denish March 11, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

        First of all, thank you so much for your kind help and your articles.

        I have been able to score 8 band with this website help.

        I scored.

        L 9
        R 8
        W 7
        S 8
        Overall 8

        I’ve tried all possible steps and strategies to score 7 band. I’ve bought many books and watched many YouTube videos. However, they all were useless for me.

        After reading your articles, I tried the simple language with effective writing. I learnt a lot from this website.

        God bless you for your kind support.
        All the best to all IELTS takers.


        • Dominic Cole March 14, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

          Thank you for the comment. I’m glad that “simple” worked for you.

          • jacqueline August 1, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

            hi dominic i am desperately trying to get a score of 7 or more in my test but seems to downfall in some areas.ive read your feebacks and it seems very helpful can you please tell me how i can get your articles and whatever help i can?

      • Varinia Flores January 12, 2015 at 10:55 pm #

        Hi I was wondering if you could send me the link where you wrote about what to do when preparing, just before and immediately before the exam. Please . Thank you.

  2. Name May 7, 2010 at 6:23 am #

    thank youvery much

  3. Name November 10, 2010 at 10:08 pm #

    Thank’s alot for the great sdvices

  4. kussotare December 2, 2010 at 6:40 am #

    this is awesome thanks. i’ll do my best for the test.

  5. michael mitchell February 17, 2011 at 3:16 am #

    “As everyone knows, I am very boring.”

    I am teaching IELTS and find your list extremely useful. You have probably stated what we all feel and your remark near the end about those who don’t want to improve (guess what?) … they don’t improve!

    We need more people like yourself who state what we have always experienced, …. the student who is throwing their parents’ money away! Despite our advicesssss!!

    It heartens us all to hear a bit of truth about some students. Not everything is the teacher’s fault.

    • Anonymous January 29, 2016 at 6:34 am #

      Plz help I give 2 times ielts exam I got only 5 bands. I wont to get higher score in ielts 6

    • Kay March 21, 2017 at 6:06 pm #

      Hey I applied recently for a test online I wanna have more information about what kind of questions they will give us plz I need some help I’m nervous

  6. tins May 23, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

    I am having the exam in two weeks, so I’m trying to immerse into English as much as possible. I just still have that feeling that I am not prepared enough… Anyway your advice on this blog seems quite useful thank you for working it… I consider the possibility of reading tips and experiences from IELTS very supportive and helpful 🙂 Keep on like this

  7. salini September 6, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    Hi Dominic,
    Finally I found you.I was searching for a good IELTS trainer but unfortunatly i couldnt found a good trainer in my locality.But i am so happy that your tips can help me a lot. I am taking this test for the second time (over all 6.5 and speaking 7 for academic writing).Also i am in dare need of an 8 band score in each module.I took it as a challange for am lagging so behind to reach the goal.I will definitly go with your tips.


  8. Anonymous September 29, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    hi can anyone give a good website that i can pass ielts

  9. maria November 1, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    i wish all the student pass the exam
    with more than 7.5 score in all skills

    • Anonymous September 11, 2014 at 4:11 am #

      Thank you!

  10. M.H November 2, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    Well, I think, no wait a minute, I believe that just real practicing (NOT just practicing) is the

    only way to learn English.

    Thanks anyway …

  11. S.T January 24, 2012 at 6:21 am #

    Thank you 🙂

  12. anil balal February 6, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    i want to improve my english language

  13. ielts coaching centers in hyderabad October 19, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

    Please check this site for top ielts coaching centers in Hyderabad

  14. ekereobongsunday stephen September 2, 2014 at 10:50 am #

    this is a nice tips, i wanna practice them.i’m going for exams tomorrow if the tips workout i would come back and drop my comment.

  15. Anonymous September 29, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

    I want to improved my speaking an writing

  16. Anonymous September 29, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

    hi Frd I want to improve my writing and reading

  17. tariq November 13, 2014 at 7:02 am #


    really helpful post. hoping this will help me to clear. one thing i understand that the best way to clear exam is learn general English. all the best to me and to everyone who is preparing for the exam.

    • Anonymous December 20, 2014 at 7:05 am #

      Hello Friends, I will Writing ielts exam on feb 28.. First time.. I am average student still i am learning very good.. there is any possible to get 5.. or not tell me boss please…

  18. Arron December 10, 2014 at 10:19 am #

    Thank you guys for your opinions.I just want to share some information about my experience with @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@.[name of school deleted by Dominic – see comment] I took a “Free” course on their website “try for free”,which gave me quite a lot of materials.Than after a while I was wondering about purchasing a course,since if You want to study with whole process it’s necessary.I’m very satisfied about my progress with this course-I can recomment to anyone who want to improve their english.

    • Dominic Cole September 15, 2015 at 9:15 am #

      If this course was any good, I imagine a real student would write in about it and not some idiot from Fiver.

  19. Achu December 25, 2014 at 9:56 pm #

    Want so score a decent band in IELTS. Read newspapers. Trust me, you will improve your vocabulary.

  20. Roman February 3, 2015 at 9:14 am #

    This site helped me a lot to prepare for ielts writing: ielts@@@@@@@@@@@ (amended by Dominic!)

    • Dominic Cole September 15, 2015 at 9:12 am #

      I haven’t published the link you left or the name of the site. I personally don’t believe in a service that charges $3 a piece of writing. How long does anyone look at it for? What feedback can you give? Is that person even remotely qualified?

  21. Inder Kaur March 30, 2015 at 5:14 pm #

    Plzz help me to improve my ielts score lst tym my ielts score was 4.5 in each module

  22. Olajumoke May 9, 2015 at 8:40 pm #

    Good day sir, please how do I improve on my writing skills? I keep scoring 6.5 and it’s becoming frustrating. I have another test scheduled for the end of the month, I need help.

  23. Amer June 22, 2015 at 11:33 am #

    Thanks on these advances, its really helpful and I hope to work with me.

  24. chhiwat August 26, 2015 at 6:40 pm #

    This is great! Thank You For All Tips

  25. sugandha October 18, 2015 at 2:08 pm #

    Hi I want to crack ielts test in december. but my focus is not only to crack test but my focus is to improve my english.So that i will be able to write well. I have joined one institute for ielts programme but their main focus is on the exam only not on the whole improvement of english.
    I hope you can help me out..

    Looking forward to hear from you.

  26. Gill Sir's IELTS Coaching Ahmedabad October 21, 2015 at 3:29 am #

    good tips for IELTS

  27. Mani November 26, 2015 at 8:42 am #

    Hi dear Dominic, great site. I would be happy if you reply my question. How can I chart my progress and make the results feasible for myself ?
    I think this can make me create a big, clear picture of what I am going to do with my IELTS. I have found some progress charts on the net for school use, but I have no idea how to customize it for IELTS. Thanks in advanced.

  28. Elvira Cabigon December 12, 2015 at 9:03 am #

    Hi i am planning to take IELTS. I would like to know if the general and academic is a different test? If so, do i need to take both test? pls help me.

  29. Fina December 18, 2015 at 3:35 am #

    Hello. Thanks for the simple tips and long explanation. Really helpful and make me know more about IELTS and its strategy to pass it. Thanks

  30. Anish N George April 22, 2016 at 4:21 am #

    sir i have appeared for the IELTS exam for 6 times and the latest exam result is L 7, R 7, W 6.5, and S-6.6. i am in need of 7 band in all. how can you help me/where do i need to concentrate more.

  31. Mehak May 27, 2016 at 10:31 am #

    Hey, could you please tell me what speaking topics would most probably come in the ielts exam in 2016?

  32. Brampton June 25, 2016 at 11:07 am #

    Yes its really seems usefull tips, i have passed my IELTS exam from brampton. they was teach me three tips afom above. and these tips was really helpful

  33. Naghme August 8, 2016 at 10:38 pm #

    I really like to improve my English language, but it’s very difficult for me.I don’t have someone to speak with them.

  34. Waqar August 10, 2016 at 1:20 pm #

    This was a very Useful article and I learned many new things out of it. I think Self believe is the first for success of any exam. I am reading and speaking English from long time but i have never speak english with any native speaker so I am a bit shaky due to this reason. I think it will take one month to get ready for the exam and I advice all the learners that be confident and test your luck with full preparation.

  35. Study Smart September 29, 2016 at 1:48 pm #

    Nice Post

  36. Catherine Roberts October 19, 2016 at 8:35 am #

    Thank you so much.

  37. Anonymous December 1, 2016 at 5:53 am #

    IELTS is similar to PTE Academic

  38. Prosper Sebuabey April 22, 2017 at 1:13 pm #

    My name is Prosper and wants to partake in the ielts exams.Am not stress out at all,all I know is that one must learn English all out in order to face any English challenge,anything at all you come across goes,all you got to do is understand what you reading and I bet that success is yours.Anyway am not a grammarian, just trying my best to pass it once and for all,all your cautions and advice’s taken,thank you so pmuch for those pieces!

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