The IELTS test, which stands for International English Language Testing System, has been a requirement of many universities, professions and immigration visas worldwide since the 1990s.
Also, largely due to covid, there have been some innovations by the British Council and their partners such as IELTS on computer, IELTS Indicator, and there are IELTS test pilot programs that aim to allow the student to do the entire official Academic English or General Training test online including the speaking test.
A lot of students struggle with IELTS preparation online, especially with organising themselves and making sure they understand the test format, as well as allowing sufficient preparation time for practice tests.
There are plenty of IELTS preparation online free resources, but you need to choose the right website to help you progress! We have compiled some useful tips that will help you with your IELTS exam preparation and can be used to make progress and improve your English language studies ahead of your test.
IELTS Academic test preparation
Write your objectives and debrief your sessions
How do I start my online IELTS preparation?
Most students start their online preparation with very little time left to actually prepare.
Although not ideal, it’s very common!
Here is a better test strategy:
- For the reading and listening tests, take practice tests and discover where you are currently losing points
- Focus on your weak spots to start with
- For the writing, get your essay evaluated asap*. Again, you want to focus on the areas hurting your current score.
- Your speaking preparation should be similar: Get feedback and identify what needs improving.
*Asap because improving your language skills while improving your exam skills can be quite overwhelming for test-takers.
Reverse engineer the reading and listening tests
Find official IELTS exams, the Cambridge books are said to be the best because they are slightly harder than the real test.
Just make sure you have the answer key, as some places offer free practice for the listening test but sell the answer key separately (nasty!).
The Cambridge practice tests are the best for IELTS practice as they are also written by the same professionals who write the official exams. You cannot go wrong!
Sit down with an exam and go to the answers first. Deduce and reverse engineer, which means to find the fragments that contain the answers.
Work out how the questions on the practice tests are asked, the styles and the test format.
This style of IELTS prep makes it far easier to find answers when you do mock tests the normal way.
Our IELTS Reading course prepares you for the exam by breaking down the most common questions and sharing strategies to boost your band score.
We have video lessons and a mock exam for you to test your knowledge, along with a full breakdown explaining the logic.
This is just one of the preparation courses we offer.
Get familiar with the test
Your IELTS prep not only involves improving your English language skills but also your exam skills.
IELTS test exam skills can be boosted by getting familiar with the IELTS exam.
For the writing, IELTS sample essay questions will help you prepare for the different styles of questions asked.
Also, practice mock speaking exams, and feedback for these can you identify your errors, and again speed up your IELTS prep.
How long does an IELTS course take?
Our IELTS course can be completed in 10 days if the test taker is working fast and completing the assignments we set quickly.
Most students complete the course in a month, but you have up to three months of access (90 days). This course access can always be extended.
The online course contains over 20 hours of detailed practical tutorials with model answers, often with an action step for test-takers to do afterwards.
We usually return our students essays within 24 hours. Speed, motivation and momentum are pretty much baked into our prep course!
Our training platform includes two native English speakers (Ex-IELTS Examiners).
IELTS Writing preparation
This is probably the part of the IELTS exam most students struggle with, even native English speakers struggle with writing academically!
Past practice tests and writing questions with model answers are a great place to start, as our sample Band 9 essays will show you.
In our IELTS course, we recommend that when you are writing answers remember to first allow yourself plenty of time, and then later build up to answering both questions, part 1 and 2, in one hour.
Some students copy with a pen and paper model answers they find online, this is a great inexpensive way to improve your writing and boost your vocabulary.
Getting your essay evaluated is also an incredibly fast way to improve and speed up your IELTS prep.
IELTS Speaking practice
For speaking practice, try speaking with a friend or family member, on a regular basis. Try to find as many opportunities for free practice as you can. I have heard of students speaking to their grandparents in English even though their grandparents could not understand a single word!
Here is a more detailed online guide for preparing for the exam.
A person who is good at English will be obviously the best choice for an IELTS speaking partner because they can correct your mistakes and also share their experiences in speaking to provide you with insights about common questions on your test.
If no one near you speaks fluent English, it’s time to find a good website. There are many online speaking partners available on websites like Italki, or online language exchanges which can provide you with extra free practice and don’t need to be specifically IELTS practice sites.
Our IELTS Speaking Confidence course has over 15 hours of confidence-building techniques and strategies. This course also includes lessons of quick score boosting phrases.
There is even a lesson on how to structure your Part 2 cue card presentation.
IELTS Academic test preparation
The Academic Test Preparation IELTS course is designed for students who are planning to study, work or live in an English-speaking country.
This IELTS preparation course not only includes practice tests for the IELTS exam, but you also get online feedback on your essays. Remember, when you do a practice test, you should look for some kind of feedback.
Most smart students know that feedback and practice test essay evaluation is the fastest way to improve.
This IELTS Academic Test Preparation course includes modules about choosing and selecting the correct information and covers the more rare questions such as maps and flowcharts.
Writing for this part of the exam requires strong English language skills but also an entire set of new exam skills such as:
- How to organise your Academic IELTS writing
- How to select the right information
- How to write at a Band 7 level
- How to review your practice test writing and improve your score
Write your objectives and debrief your sessions
Plan what you aim to work on at the start. Speaking? Listening, reading, writing? For example, will you be copying out IELTS band 9 essays from our website? Getting some section 4 listening practice? Download some sample answers? Or working on improving your vocabulary, using lists and definitions?
After assigning specific tasks to each session, remember that when you have finished, review and write about what the next step is for your IELTS prep to maximise your scores.
Here is an example of a student’s test prep debrief:
Listening practice: Practiced up to part 3 of the listening, need to review collocations and complete the online course videos, also use free time to check vocab and analyse test format.
This ensures that when you next sit down to study you not wasting time figuring out what to do or trying to choose a new practice test website. You know that, for example, today you will work on reading, writing and speaking in 3 separate sessions and you have reading, writing and speaking resources ready to go. Tomorrow you will complete a full listening test, analyse the listening question format and assessment criteria, check that each answer is correct and memorise new listening vocabulary. You are immediately productive.
A lot of students can waste an hour or two just getting started and figuring out what to work on next.
Keep track of your results and improvement
Ask someone to proofread your essay, for example. It’s better if the teacher is familiar with IELTS and has a good command of English.
This way you won’t waste your time when preparing.
If your IELTS results show that you’ve gained ground in one area, get to work on your next weak point. If you are struggling to improve in one area, try different types of resources ( website, textbook, practice test, Youtube videos) and you may find some types are more effective for you than others.
Preparing for IELTS online can be a lonely experience for some students, but it doesn’t have to be. You can get your writing evaluated online, good tutors should motivate you to continue improving your score.
Every time you complete a practice test or practice IELTS exam, write down your score. Log it in a spreadsheet. Over the course of your IELTS prep, your score will improve.
Be clear about what band score range you are trying to achieve. There is no point working on Band 4 resources if you have already achieved a 6.5 and need a score in the 7-8 range. After consistently hitting your target band score range (Band 7 or 9), you are ready to take the IELTS test.
Use your time to your advantage
Identify when you’re most productive.
- Time: Some people work most effectively in the morning, while others prefer to solve problems in the evening. Your aim is to find out what works best for you, in accordance with your own style.
- Space: It’s also important to define where you can really focus on the work you need to do – preferably a place with no distractions (for example, a library or a coworking space).
- No distractions: Turn off your phone and give yourself a chance to study properly! Bring all the necessary materials with you, and check that everything you need is close at hand and your book is open to the correct page.
Again, your IELTS prep training depends on you.
Establish a routine – and stick with it.
It has been proven that studying too much may not have the best results. So it is important to establish a routine, to use your time wisely.
Work smarter, not harder. If you suddenly have to go out and can’t postpone the trip, find a logical breakpoint in your work at the end of a page or task.
Write a note to yourself so you can quickly remember where you need to start again.
I like to set four to eight sessions of 50 minutes, starting at exactly 9. a.m each morning. In fact, I do exactly the same tasks each day at this time.
Organise your study time
Pay attention to your weak points first. Identify where you need to improve and provide yourself with extensive training.
The thing of paramount importance here is a schedule, be as detailed as possible.
Write down dates and times, and specify exactly what you’re going to practice.
Studying online can be more difficult due to all the distractions. I find switching my phone off, and keeping just one tab open at a time, makes it much easier to focus and practice.
Start with small steps, and stay realistic
I find breaking down my entire preparation into smaller bite-size sections makes it easier to complete.
For example, one day could be assigned to reviewing the preparation course or making notes of practice questions.
The next day could be dedicated to reading, specifically reading multiple choice practice questions.
Don’t assign yourself more tasks than you can manage to do within the time you’ve allotted for them and be sure to make time for all four skills.
Test takers often get overwhelmed and overstressed when studying for the IELTS exam.
If you periodically review your progress, follow your online course, you will find your IELTS preparation slowly improving.
Remember to ask people around you how they did on their preparation, and what methods worked well for them in terms of exam preparation practise and materials.
Our online IELTS course breaks down each exam skill needed and assigns tasks to complete around these skills.
Break up your study time
Take a 5-minute break after every 25 minutes of work. Repeat this for 6 rounds.
This way you won’t feel completely exhausted and will be able to keep working longer.
This method is explained in more detail here: www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique
A lot of students find Focusmate an amazing tool to get the most from IELTS training. The price is $5/month, but well worth it.
Online or offline prep course?
Offline IELTS prep courses often have a high price and can be a little antiquated.
Although the IELTS test currently has a face to face component in the Speaking section, with Covid a modern-day hazard, the speaking test will most likely be moving online.
Online preparation courses enable you to study depending on your schedule, not the local academy.
British Council classes are an option but are often more expensive, and with Covid ever-present, access could be unpredictable, making practice difficult and potentially delaying assessment.
Also, if you prepare online you have access to world-class tutors to give you extra tips and help you understand the features of the test that might not be available in your city, town or village.
Online learning resources for IELTS preparation
Although Youtube is free and has some great videos of practice tests with real students, just be careful about information overload. You need to go section by section and take your time.
A lot of students want to learn more effectively but get confused by different tutors saying different things.
Each tutor usually has their own way of teaching so going to different IELTS preparation courses is a fast way to get confused.
I recommend students find a tutor they trust and stick with their online course. Mixing and matching prep courses usually ends in confusion.
Also, be careful in deciding what online course to take. It’s common for test-takers to become obsessed with IELTS, so much so they forget their English skills and just focus on IELTS skills. This is definitely not the best IELTS preparation strategy.