Writing Hints & Tips

  1. Task 2 is worth more: Writing Task 2 is longer and thus is worth more points than Task 1, so be sure to spend time on it.
  2. Vocab is key in Writing Task 1: In the Academic Writing Task 1, the graphs, tables, charts, diagrams, etc can look frightening at first, but there are a lot of easy-to-learn vocabulary words and phrases that can be memorized. What’s more, once you have learned these words, you can use them for any Academic Writing Task 1 essay. In the General Training Task 1 Writing, the vocabulary is different because it is a letter. You must focus on formal and informal letter writing vocabulary. In both the Academic and General Training Writing (both Tasks 1 and 2), connectors (however, moreover, conversely, in other words, etc) are crucial.
  3. Academic Task 1…only analysis, no opinion: Writing Task 1 should constitute formal analysis, which means there should be no personal pronouns (no I, you, we), no opinions from the writer (no I think, in my opinion). It is useful to focus on passive sentences and more indirect sentences starting with the subject ‘It’ (It is obvious that the sales increased over the given period of time).
  4. Outline: It can be difficult to organize your thoughts without a plan. Spending a minute to write an outline at the beginning is an easy way to save time towards the end.
  5.  Be careful of the word count: It is time-consuming and difficult to count the words of your essay. Practicing before taking the test can help you develop an internal rhythm that will help you to understand when you are approaching the correct word count. The minimum word count for Task 1 in both IELTS tests is 150 words, and for Task 2 it is 250 words. Points are taken if fewer words are written.
  6. Analyze Academic Task 1: Look for trends and important or interesting changes. Generalize trends and mention important trends again in the conclusion. Always make note of important or interesting changes (for example, highs and lows, or peaks and troughs, are easy observations to make).
  7. Follow the directions in General Training Task 1: Forgetting to talk about one of the prompts is a quick and easy way to get bad marks.
  8. Use a variety of vocabulary: After you have used a vocabulary once, try to find a synonym for it. For example, if you have already written ‘increase’, try ‘rise’ or ‘go up’, and if you have used ‘large decrease’, try ‘significant decrease’ or ‘considerable ‘decrease’. Remember that points are awarded for using a variety of vocabulary.
  9. Practice Test Writing and Time Yourself: Before taking the test, do timed writings. Aim for 18 minutes for Task 1 and 35 minutes for Task 2. That leaves you a whole seven minutes of review time.
  10. Write clearly: Many test takers have poor handwriting. If the IELTS examiner cannot read a word or sentence, he or she will not spend time trying to figure it out. They will mark it wrong and you will lose points.
  11. Leave time to review your writing: Leave time at the end s that you can review your essays and look for spelling, punctuation and grammar errors.
  12. Know IELTS writing topics: Be familiar with common IELTS writing topics: technology, social media, education, crime, environment, poverty, health, health care, cell phones, internet.
  13. Transition and connecting words: Study and know important transition and connecting words. Some examples are those for addition (indeed, in fact, furthermore), contrast (whereas, even though), or change gears (even so, conversely, on the other hand).
  14. Paraphrase: Paraphrase the question and words given in the prompt. Do not copy the vocabulary and phrases into your essay. This will lose points instead of gain them. If possible, paraphrase both the grammar and vocabulary.

Speaking Hints & Tips

  1. May happen on a different day: The speaking module may not happen on the same day as the other modules. The speaking module may take place the day before, the day after, or the day of the exam. It also may not happen in the same location. If it occurs the day of the exam, you will have time for a lunch break. The day and time of the test may not be chosen. Test date and time are disclosed several days beforehand, so it is important to check your email regularly for updates.
  2. Face-to-face: The speaking test is done one-to-one, face-to-face, just you and the examiner. The test will be recorded.
  3. Know the speaking tasks: You should be familiar with the three tasks and what kinds of questions you can expect from each one. In Task 1, since everyone who comes into the room has to have the questions in common, there are a limited number of questions that can be asked. Live action IELTS Speaking videos can be found on youtube.
  4. Answer questions using full sentences: If they ask you your name, you should not simply respond “Liz”. Speaking in full sentences. Repeat the question back to them, paraphrasing and elaborating if at all possible. “My name is Elizabeth, but people call me Liz.”
  5. Don’t make the examiner ask you “Why?”: Give details to support all of your answers, even if the question is a simple yes/no. For instance, “Do you like to dance?” may be answered with “I do love to dance thanks to my mother, who taught me how to waltz when I was in primary school.” If the examiner thinks you have given too much information, they will stop you and continue on with the next question.
  6. Don’t worry if the examiner cuts you off midsentence: The speaking test can last just 11-14 minutes and you must be asked a certain number of questions so that the examiner can gauge your understanding and speaking ability.
  7. Present yourself well: Use good posture, don’t fidget, look the interviewer in the eyes (don’t always look down or around the room), don’t stutter, speak clearly. In a nutshell, the same rules apply for a job interview as for the speaking test.
  8. Fluency is vital: Speaking fluently and confidently is more important than finding the right word. If you can’t remember a vocabulary word, explain the idea.
  9. Be expressive: Use hand gestures, joke, smile, be witty, funny, and be monotone (modulate your voice tone).
  10. Alter the question: You may be asked a question about which you have no information. For instance, “Tell me about a popular form of art in your country.” If you have no idea about art, you may not say “I don’t know, I’m not into art.” However, you may try to rephrase the question in the same way, but alter the idea about which you have no information. “I am afraid I don’t know much about art, but may I tell you about a popular form of public entertainment in my country?” The examiner may say yes or may insist that you answer the original question, but points will not be taken for asking pertinent questions.
  11. Take notes during Task 2: Again, take notes in Task 2! It is a mistake not to. It is important to organize your thoughts and write down some key vocabulary you may use. If you are prone to blanking out (forgetting what you were going to say), you may be glad that you have your notes to help you out.
  12. Keep it interesting: Think up some interesting answers to common questions. Remember that the IELTS examiner talks to dozens of students each day. Boring and common answers may not get you the points that you want. For example, if you are asked, “What do you do for fun?”, don’t say “I watch television.” It may be true, but it is boring. Instead of that, try something like, “I love to run, so if I have spare time, I usually go for a jog on the seaside.”
  13. Task 3 requires more detail: In Task 3, giving examples is imperative. Feel free to be chatty and talkative. Tell a story or a joke, give an example from your life something famous and well-known.

Reading Hints & Tips

  1. In Order: Reading module questions are in order most of the time, and this means approximately 98 percent of the time. An exception to the order rule is in the Yes/No/Not Given, True/False/Not Given questions where there may be idea or paragraph summaries. In such instances, the test taker must give an answer based on an overall understanding of the previous paragraph, paragraphs or idea as a whole.
  1. Scan and Skim: Skimming and scanning techniques should be used for Sentence Completion, Fill in the Blank, and Short-Answer Questions. Valuable time can be saved with these questions types. A greater amount of time can then be spent on more difficult question types such as Matching Headings that require the test taker to read in depth.

Important note: For Sentence Completion, Short-Answer Question and Fill in the Blank question types, it is practically impossible to guess the answer, so these question types should be done first if you are running out of or pressed for time.

  1. Time: It is advised that no more than 60 seconds be spent on a difficult question. After that, if it is possible, make a guess (for some question types, guesses are not possible). If you can, make a 50-50 guess, note which question it is, underline the part of the reading passage that the question is connected with, and if there is time later, return to the question. If there is not time, go with your best guess.
  2. Read the Question First: Read the question first. Do not first read whole paragraphs or even the whole text. It is often possible to skim and find quick answers without reading whole paragraphs.
  3. Key Words: Practice active reading of questions. This means you should underline key words in each question. Remember that the IELTS is a paper test and may require you to look back and forth between and often turn pages. In addition to the questions, identify and underline key words in the reading passage, but do not think you have answered a question just because you have found the same word. That hardly ever works. Instead, look for synonyms. Also, it seems obvious to say, but be sure that while reading the questions you identify the most important key words, namely proper nouns (Turkey, Portugal, Spain) and numbers (August 12, $7 million).
  4. Synonyms/Antonyms: If a key word is something like ‘slow, it can be assumed that you are looking for a synonym of ‘slow’, or an example of something slow. Simply looking for the word ‘slow’ may deceive you into choosing the wrong answer. However, it is possible that you should be looking for an antonym of slow (fast, quick), or an example of something that is fast. It is a mistake to match the same word in the question and the text because the IELTS test writers create the test knowing that students will be looking to use this obvious (and wrong) tactic.
  5. 50/50 guess: In questions that present you with multiple answer choices, it is often possible to cross out one or two options that are obviously incorrect. If you are unsure of the answer to a question that presents you with multiple answer choices, try to narrow down the answer to one or two choices. This will maximize your chance of guessing the correct answer.
  6. Guess: Always guess, even if you do not have any idea what the correct answer is. Do not leave anything blank. If the time is almost finished, first complete any question type that gives you multiple answer options, then proceed to start filling in blanks and finishing short answer questions.
  7. If you don’t know the answer to a Yes/No/Not Given or True/False/Not Given question, select True or False as they are the most frequent answers to this question type.
  8. Active Reading: While reading questions and the text itself, it is imperative to underline words, numbers, phrases, and ideas that might be important. Doing so will not only help you focus on the text, but will making a note of which question correlates to which part of the text will help you to go back and double-check your answers later. If you do not make a note in the text about where you found which answer, it is very difficult and time-consuming to go back and check your logic.
  9. Is time running out?: First, do questions that you can’t guess. This means fill in the blank and short answer questions. Leave questions that you can guess for later. Yes/No/Not Given and Matching Headings questions can be guessed, often with some precision.

Listening Hints & Tips

  1. Listen only once: You only hear the audio once. It is not repeated a second time.
  2. Active reading: You will be able to read the questions before you listed to the audio. Read everything carefully and underline key words.
  3. Guess: Even if you miss an answer, write something down. Guessing is better than leaving a question blank.
  4. Jump ahead: Before the test starts, there is an introduction that lasts approximately two minutes and 30 seconds. Read the upcoming questions and acquaint yourself with the questions types.
  5. Don’t dwell on missed questions: If you don’t catch the answer to a question, make a note if you have a guess, but otherwise don’t worry about it. Dwelling on the missed question could result in your missing other questions.
  6. Lost?: If you get lost and can’t find which question is next in line, this probably means you didn’t look carefully enough at the key words. Before listening, look for signpost words (key words) in the questions. Don’t expect the words to be the same; you may be listening for synonyms. If all else fails, turn the page when everyone else does.
  7. Numbers: Some numbers are easy to confuse: 13, 30; 15, 50; 16, 60. Be sure that you know how these numbers are pronounced.
  8. Practice, practice, practice: Do lots of listening to prepare for the test. Watching movies and tv shows without subtitles is a good method to use. You can also purchase tried and tested IELTS training materials from Cambridge.

IELTS General Training Test Writing

Task 1 from the Writing Module of the General Training Test is different from that of the Academic Test.

Task 1 of the General Training Test requires a letter to be written. The letter must be no fewer than 150 words in length. 20 minutes is the recommended amount of time to be spent on this task. The essay should consist of minimum three, maximum four paragraphs.

Task 2 of the General Training Test and Academic Test are the same. The essay must be a minimum of 250 words. It is recommended that approximately 40 minutes be spent writing the essay. The minimum number of paragraphs should ideally be four, maximum five.


The IELTS Speaking module may be done on the day before, the day of, or the day after the test itself. It is approximately 10-14 minutes in length and, unlike such tests as the TOEFL, which is done while talking into a computer microphone, the IELTS Speaking is done one-on-one with a trained IELTS examiner.

The test is comprised of three tasks.

Task one is made up of a series of general questions on various topics such as where you are from, what your favorite televion series/movie/music is, what kinds of food you like, etc. The logic behind these questions is that each student who takes the test will have a background in and idea about the topic. Example questions include “Do you live in a house or in an apartment?”, “Have you ever had a pet?” and “Which colors have special importance in your culture?”

Task two is called the Long Turn. In this task, students must speak for 1-2 mintues without stopping. Before speaking, test takers are given a card. On the card are a series of prompts (sentences that tell you which topics to talk about). The test taker has one minute to read the prompts, organize a speech, and must then speak for 1-2 minutes. This task emphasizes organization, clarity of speech, and time management.

Task three contains questions which are related thematically to the topic in Task 2. For instance, if in Task 2 you are prompted to speak about a gift you have received, Task 3 will ask you about presents, gift giving and receiving, and perhaps special days on which gifts are exchanged. Task 3 can be the most difficult because it is often not as straightforward ask Task 1. For example, ”Tell me about a special day on which gifts are exchanged.” Answers for this task should be thoroughly answered with relevant examples and experiences from your life.


The IELTS Reading Academic and General Tests are the same in that they have 40 questions each and last one hour.

However, the content and vocabulary of the General Test is easier. The General Test includes topics and vocabulary from social, work and academic subjects whereas the Academic Test focuses on topics that are commonly found in undergraduate university courses.

The General Test consists of four to five short passages and one long passage, in contrast to the three long passages of the Academic Test.

The General Test is generally taken by people who want to use their Band Score to prove their English proficiency for work reasons. For example, some employees in job sectors such as banking may get a raise or promotion upon achieving a certain score on the IELTS.


The Listening module of the General and Academic Tests are the same. The listening module is done first and consists of 4 sections with 10 questions in each section, which means there are 40 questions total. Students can read the questions and highlight key words before listening. The students must fill in blanks and circle answers audio while the audio is being played. The audio is played only once and is not repeated a second time.


The Speaking module of the IELTS is not always done on the day of the test. It may be done the day before the test, the day of the test, or the day after the test. It lasts 10-14 minutes and is done one-on-one with an IELTS examiner, who will be a native speaker of English.

The test consists of 3 sections, or tasks.

The first task consists of a series of general questions, which means that every student who comes into the room will have an idea about the topic. Example questions include “Where did you grow up?”, “What do you do in your spare time?” and “What is your favorite color?”

The second task is called the Long Turn. This part requires the student to speak on their own for 1-2 mintues without stopping. Students are given a card with a series of prompts on them. The student has one minute to look at the card, arrange their speech, and then talk for 1-2 minutes. The focus in this task is on clarity of speech, organization and time management.

The third task consists of a series of questions that are connected to the topic presented in the second task. For example, if the second task prompts you to talk about a concert, the third task will follow up with questions about music, entertainment, and other related topics. This task is often the most difficult because it asks questions in a more abstract way. An example is “What kind of music is best to listen to while studying?” Answers for this task should not be too short.