I’ve written this official IELTS step-by-step preparation guide because I get a lot of the same questions from students and this may help you achieve the score you want!
There are a lot of areas to consider.
If you have specific questions, comment them below!
Starting with IELTS Writing
The lowest score for IELTS is almost always for writing.
This has been confirmed in numerous studies all around the world. See the official studies here.
Therefore, you should start your writing practice first.
Start by writing a whole essay, then check it against the links below.
Then practice individual skills before writing another whole essay.
Here are some links to get started:
- Writing Task 1 Academic Guide
- Writing Task 1 General Training Guide
- Writing Task 2 Academic Guide
- Structuring your Essay
- Writing your Introduction
- Ideas and Body Paragraphs
- Writing your Conclusion
- IELTS Cambridge 16 Guide
- How to Guides for Task 1 Academic
- IELTS Writing Task 1 Band Descriptors
- IELTS Writing Task 2 Band Descriptors
Writing will be the most important skill to improve for IELTS and you should break it down skill by skill and improve each one before working on your whole essay.
IELTS Writing Resources
Now that you know writing is the most important and you have some practice in, what’s next?
I would recommend you begin by studying sample answers more closely.
Pay close attention to the structure and then you can focus on the vocabulary and grammar after that.
Be careful because there are a lot of bad sample answers out there that will do more to hurt your English and IELTS score than help it.
Here are trustworthy IELTS sample answer essays that I have personally written:
- IELTS Task 1 Academic Essays
- IELTS Task 2 Academic Essays
- IELTS Task 1 General Training Essays
- IELTS Task 2 General Training Essays
- 100 Topics for Quick Practice
- IELTS Questions Organized by Topic
- My Ebooks
Start learning from reliable sample answers and focus on consistent structure using my essays.
Know How Long you Will Need to Prepare
This is a really important question and will determine how you study.
You have to know first of all:
What score do you need?
When do you need it?
What is your score right now?
Once you can answer all those questions (if you need help about your score, consider signing up for my Patreon for practice tests), then you have a timeline.
If you need your score really soon and are close, then you can study about IELTS using online resources.
If you don’t need your score for a long time (it doesn’t matter if you are close or far from it), then you should focus on long-term goals.
Be careful you don’t make the mistake that many students do: don’t spend years studying IELTS while your band score remains the same because your English is not improving.
Here are a few helpful links:
- ‘What’s my Current English Level and IELTS Band Score
- How to Learn IELTS… Faster!
- ‘How Long do I need to Study to Get my IELTS Score?’
- Why you Shouldn’t Study IELTS to Improve your English
Establish a realistic timeline based on your English level and desired IELTS score.
Study Consistently Rather Than in Big Blocks
Research has shown that it is much more effective to study a little bit consistently every day instead of studying in big blocks sometimes.
Consistent study, even less than an hour a day, can dramatically aid memory retention.
Therefore, try to study every day!
The best way to do this is to tie it to a habit you already have.
Try studying right before or after you have coffee in the morning, before you go to work/school, before or after dinner, right after you brush your teeth at night, etc.
Make it a habit and stick to it consistently!
Here are some ideas for study that might help you:
- Top 10 Most Common Mistakes Students Make in IELTS
- How to Make an IELTS Study Plan
- ‘Are you Studying the Wrong Words?’
Study a little every day and tie it to another daily habit.
This is important because it will force you to study consistently, motivate you and make sure you are not wasting your time.
You can ask friends who got good scores on IELTS or contact a local centre or study online – with me for example!
Here are some resources that might help you:
It is important to have feedback from another source so that you can be sure you are not wasting your time.
Identify your Strengths & Weaknesses
It’s important to work on your strengths and your weaknesses.
In my experience, 90% of IELTS students have the same weaknesses: writing task 1 overviews, writing task 2 main ideas development, speaking fluency and pronunciation, reading T/F/NG and listening multiple choice.
Most students should focus on those areas.
Your weaknesses might be different though so you should seek outside advice as well.
Here are some resources to deal with the problems above:
- The 10 Most Commonly Misspelled Words in English
- How to Write an Overview
- How to Improve your Pronunciation
- How to Improve your Fluency
- Listening Multiple Choice
Improve the most common weaknesses for IELTS candidates.
Develop your Speaking Skills
Speaking is another area that presents huge challenges for students.
You will often find that your speaking lags behind your other skills.
This is because speaking is fast and it takes practice to make all the words you can understand in reading and listening run out your mouth faster when you talk.
It is also really hard to improve compared to other skills.
If you don’t have a partner or a class to work with, you will have to be creative with different methods.
If you study the exact same way every time, then your progress will be slow.
You must change it up – think of new ways!
Here are some resources to help out:
- 15 Activities to Improve your IELTS Speaking Without a Speaking Partner
- How to Improve your Pronunciation
- Top 5 Ways to Make a Mean IELTS Examiner Like You
Change the ways that you practice speaking – be creative!
IELTS Speaking Resources
This comes down to the four areas you get marked on: fluency, vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.
Here is an explanation of each of the band scores you are marked on:
Fluency: how fast you speak, how much you hesitate (use um/uh) or pause, how much you over-use words like ‘like’, how much you correct yourself, how much you repeat yourself, if you answers make sense logically, how long your answers are
Vocabulary: range (lots of different collocations, phrasal verbs, expressions) and how accurate (correct) they are, can you paraphrase
Grammar: range (how many different types of complex grammar you use), and how accurate (correct) your grammar is, how much you repeat the same structures
Pronunciation: how easy it is to understand all the sounds/words, word stress, sentence stress, intonation, chunking, how natural you sound
Here are some of my speaking model answers with ideas for creative practice:
- Recent IELTS Speaking Topics and Questions 2021
- IELTS Speaking Test: Newspapers, Concentration, Smartphones
- IELTS Speaking Test: Lists, Famous People, Food
- IELTS Speaking Test Sample: Picnics, Sports, Games
- IELTS Speaking Practice Test Sample
- IELTS Speaking Model/Sample Answer: Running (Real IELTS Speaking Exam)
- IELTS Speaking Model Answer: Voice (Real IELTS Speaking Exam/Test)
- IELTS Speaking Part 1 Model Answer: Talking about School
- IELTS Speaking: How to Talk About Where You Live and Your Home/Apartment
- IELTS Speaking: How to Talk About Your Friends (Part 1)
- IELTS Speaking Vocabulary: Talking about Cell Phones/Smartphones/Mobile Phones
- IELTS Speaking Part 2 Sample Answer (Band 8): A Person from History
- IELTS Speaking: How to Talk about Holidays
- IELTS Speaking Model Answer – What do you do in your Free Time?
- IELTS Speaking Band Descriptors
Improve all four skills and learn from my model answers.
Improve your Listening
There is a major different between learning about the IELTS listening format/test and improving your actual listening skills.
In order to improve your listening, you must find motivating listening sources and listen over and over again.
That is why students who enjoy YouTube and watching movies or listening to music have really well-developed listening skills.
Practice tests are not always helpful – they are only for learning the structure of the test and occasional practice.
Learn more below about the proper way to study listening:
- How to Improve your IELTS Listening: The 3 Keys
- Should you Watch the Subtitles on Movies and TV when Learning English?
- Practice your IELTS Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking with The Avengers
And here are some useful listening resources:
- Spotify Podcasts
- Vanity Fair
- Stitcher Podcasts
- New York Times
- The Atlantic
- ASAP Science
- Cambridge IELTS
- Practice IELTS Listening
Don’t waste all your time doing listening test after listening test.
IELTS Listening Resources
To improve your listening and prepare for IELTS, find a balance between IELTS and other resources.
I would always recommend that after you listen, you go back, read the tape script, and highlight the answers you got wrong.
Figure out the reason why you got an answer wrong and then try to develop that skill – it might be vocabulary, the way a word is pronounced, a trick in the test, a difficult synonym, etc.
When you are ready to focus on just IELTS here are some resources you can use:
- A Beginner’s Guide to IELTS Listening
- The Complete Guide to IELTS Listening (FAQ)
- The 6 Basic Listening Tips you’ll Learn in Every IELTS Course
- IELTS Listening Tips: A Simple Way to Improve at the Beginning of each Section
- IELTS Listening Question Types: Labelling a Map
- IELTS Listening: Multiple Choice Questions
Right before your test, start focusing on the IELTS listening test itself.
Improve your Reading
Improving your reading and improve it for IELTS is the same problem for reading as listening.
Don’t focus too much on either side.
Find a balance.
For reading, focus on the problem types that give you the most trouble.
The most valuable piece of information that you will receive is the answers you got wrong.
Figure out the reason why.
Was it vocabulary? Or grammar? Or the question type?
Then use that information to direct your studies.
If you are struggling with vocabulary, then learn more vocabulary.
Don’t just repeat practice test after practice test because you will only be testing yourself and not developing your skills.
Here are some reading tips:
- The Complete Guide to IELTS Reading (FAQ)
- The Basic Steps to Follow on IELTS Reading (to Read Faster!)
- The Most Important Skill to Improve your IELTS Reading Score
- The Difference between Testing and Improving your IELTS Reading Score
- IELTS Reading Practice Tests
Find out why you got an answer wrong and improve that skill or question type.
IELTS Reading Resources
Don’t neglect other reading sources!
It doesn’t have to be just the news.
Websites like Twitter also provide valuable reading practice.
Here are some more authentic reading sources to practice and develop your English with:
- How to Read the News and Improve your IELTS Reading Score
- Google News
- The New York Times
- The Atlantic
- The New Yorker
- The Guardian
- The Best International News Sites
- Twitter Search
You will develop reading a lot faster if you use interesting, native English sources.
Choose the Paper-Based or Computer-Based Exam
Here is a summary of 12 main differences for each section of the exam:
- The paper-based test means you will use a pencil and answer sheet. The computer-based uses a keyboard and mouse.
- The test is in exactly the same order.
- For listening and reading, you do not get 10 minutes at the end to transfer your answers for the computer-based test (you do have time in between sections to double-check your answers and 2 minutes at the end to check all your answers).
- You have your own computer and headphones for the computer-based test.
- For the computer-based writing test, you can more easily edit your writing and see the time and your word count clearly.
- Most people make more typos on computers (me included!) so you must be more careful about careless mistakes.
- You will still receive a pencil and paper for notes on the computer-based test (for listening, reading, and writing).
- For the computer-based reading test, you can see the reading and the questions at the same time so you don’t have to flip back and forth between pages.
- For reading on the computer, you can also copy and paste your answers to avoid spelling mistakes and increase the font size.
- For the computer-based listening, you can highlight parts of the text.
- For listening on the computer, you should try one online to get familiar with how to move between pages and do the different question types.
- You get your results faster for the computer-based test.
Personally, I would go with the computer-based exam because I am confident on a computer and there are a lot of advantages (especially for writing).
The speaking test is the same for both.
Practice with both tests and then make your decision!
- Computer-based Listening Practice Test
- Computer-based Reading Practice Test
- Computer-based Writing Practice Test
Practice both and make a good decision about which one suits you the best.
Change your Mindset
The most important factor learning English and studying for IELTS is motivation.
Studies have shown again and again that nothing is more important than motivation when it comes to success with English.
Many students become discouraged when they fail or make mistakes.
But there is a simple way to avoid feeling bad about yourself.
Just remember that you are improving and that your mistakes are not about you – they are just about the work.
That simple shift – from criticizing yourself to criticizing your world, will take tons of psychological pressure off you and free you up to have fun studying.
Change your mindset and everything will go a lot easier in your studies and not feel like a chose!
Here is an article on the importance of mindset:
Your mistakes and failures are learning experiences and are not related to who you are as a person.
There are a number of psychological tricks that I teach my students so that they can stay motivated and get the most out of their study.
I mentioned one before – break up your study into parts.
Don’t focus on a whole essay – just write topic sentences.
Work on the parts and then combine them to write a whole essay later.
Another useful strategy is to focus clearly on your goals.
Whenever you lose motivation to work, write down why you are studying IELTS.
Write down all the ways English will help you later and use that as a boost to study harder.
Finally, remember that there may be times when your English almost appears to be getting worse.
That is good – it is like cleaning your house.
Sometimes you have to make a big mess to start so that you can later clean everything up.
You may have to hesitate more when speaking, make more mistakes with grammar and vocabulary.
Keep in mind that this is part of the process of improving and try to enjoy it.
If you can enjoy it, you will make faster progress!
A good example of this would be one of my techniques for brainstorming ideas.
Don’t put all the pressure on yourself – brainstorm from another person’s perspective and that will relieve the psychological pressure on you:
The mental parts of IELTS are really important so focus a lot on your own thinking.
Signing up for your IELTS Exam
Depending on your country there are lots of different options.
Lots of students as me about signing up for IELTS, but I am not involved with that process.
It doesn’t make a difference if you choose IDP or British Council for the actual exam.
Instead you can find a center for British Council or IDP below:
- IDP: https://www.idp.com/vietnam/ielts/book-my-test/?lang=en
- British Council: https://takeielts.britishcouncil.org/take-ielts/book
- What is the Difference between British Council and IDP?
It doesn’t make a difference if you choose British Council or IDP.
The Test Day
The test day itself is really important.
You should take it seriously so that you can make the most of your opportunity.
Here are resources that might help you get ready:
- How to Prepare the Day before your Exam
- Why is the Examiner like a Robot in IELTS Speaking?
- What Will really Happen in your Speaking Test
- How to be Relaxed and Confident in the IELTS Speaking Test
Take the day of your test seriously!