The Ultimate IELTS Preparation Guide 2020

A good IELTS preparation strategy is a determining factor of your final score and consequently of your dream of studying in UK.

But, how can you prepare for IELTS?

What is the IELTS?

The IELTS is a standardized test, designed in UK to help the university admission committees to accurately measure the English proficiency of their applicants. As such, the IELTS is the most common English proficiency test required at UK universities.

The test consists of four main sections

  • Reading
  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Writing

Note that the test includes various topics, many of which are unheard to you. But don’t worry because the IELTS is designed to only measure your English language skills and not the competence in your professional field.

No matter how good you are in English, the IELTS will put you into a serious test. Your performance won’t reflect your best if you don’t have a good IELTS preparation strategy. An accurate plan to prepare for the test is not optional, but a necessity to succeed.

Your IELTS preparation strategy

There are many resources on the web that repeat the same information which in turn may confuse you a lot. These guides you find on the Internet are usually vague and highly subjective. Probably you read stuff like “Stay motivated”, “Read as much as you can” or “Make mistakes”. Yes, these are true, but how to really deliver?

Follow these easy steps, techniques and learning tips to effectively prepare for IELTS

Important note: These are only major points of a bigger and much detailed learning plan. You’re free to refine and adjust it to your preferences.

1. Know the structure of the Test

Yes, it may sound like a no-brainer, but we ensure you that this is very important to know. Your whole IELTS preparation process must start from this point. It happens that some students who otherwise speak English fluently score low on IELTS and they start doubting their English skills.

Most of the time their problem is a redundant conformity (if we’re allowed to call it so) with their English, so they don’t pay attention to what the task requires from them. Or they may think that the task is a rocket-science question and may complicate the whole thing which absolutely hurts the final score.

Typically, the IELTS tests consist of four sections:

  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking

Three first sections are held in one day, while the Speaking section can be held in another separated day.

Pay attention to what are you required to do

On IELTS you should not focus on what you believe it must be said, but what the test is exactly requiring from you. For example, during the speaking section, the examiner may ask you to describe an unforgettable summer holiday you had in your life and you may start speaking (if the task is at the Speaking section) for a winter holiday. Well, you may have spoken brilliantly, but didn’t really respond to what you were required to.

Or, you may not be used with the fixed time limit in the writing section and you may not try to complete the task according to the time allotted. Most students never get themselves used with these time limits and end hurrying up during the test.

To sum this up, you have to understand the structure of the IELTS so you know what each task is precisely wanting you to do. Always have in mind that they don’t want to only know your English skills, but see if you can use them properly according to unexpected tasks. Adjust to that and keep it simple.

2. Identify your flaws

When setting a general framework of your IELTS preparation plan what you need to do is to identify parts of English where you need improvements. Identifying these points will help you pave a clear path of how to prepare for IELTS. Additionally, it will save a large amount of time for you to focus on things you really need to work on.

Make a list of your flaws in English and give priorities to particular ones whose role during the test can be major. For example, you don’t have a proper level of listening skills, although you may have heard quite a lot of English in the past. You may start listening to lectures on YouTube at a subject you’re keen on. Later on, you may watch TV shows and News where the pace of spoken English is faster, but they’re not boring and keep you engaged. At the final stage, you can collect some podcasts and listen to them often.

3. Start with familiar subjects

Preparing for IELTS should follow a progressive path. Don’t ever function with the idea: ” I’m leaving this now and come back later”. The formula is one step at a time.

One of the building blocks of this process is to start practising with familiar subjects. This way you will start adapting to the structure of the test and much importantly, it will boost your self-confidence. Slowly, move on to harder topics for you, if possible, still related to your professional field until you’re good to move to other subjects.

4. Learn on each section separately

As we said, your IELTS preparation strategy should be a progression. Therefore, it is good to work on each section separately (surely up to the point you have no other option). You can decide for your first week of learning to be fully concentrated on preparing about the Speaking section, then move to other sections.

5. Use the benefits of Technology

Sincerely there has never been easier than now to prepare for IELTS. And this thanks to the advantages technology is giving us each day it passes. You can sit down and log in to the Internet and browse countless materials for free. The main benefit of this is you can read and practice for IELTS no matter where you are at a bus station, drinking a coffee at the bar, laying in your front-yard garden etc.

There are also unlimited apps for free created to help you develop English skills. These apps are often such sophisticated that are entirely focused on one section, for example, listening.

On the other hand there many groups or forums of people who are learning or have previously taken the IELTS test. You can join in various forums and get to know from them how they did prepare or are preparing for taking IELTS?

6. Keep it fun

There’s a saying: “Enjoy the process, not just the success”.

How to prepare for IELTS if you don’t really feel the improvement? Well, we know that the test may be very important for you, but that’s not a reason to tear apart the joy while learning. It is scientifically proven that our brain works much efficiently when there’s fun in the process of learning.

One way of making fun while preparing for IELTS is by playing online games or learning jokes in English. There are many games which ask you to fill blank spaces with exact words or link words. This will help you expand your vocabulary which is very important at all IELTS sections.

7. Practice as much as you can

Practice is the only and the best measurement of your development you can make before heading to the test day. Sometimes you may think that you have practised enough so there is no need for further learning. But that is wrong and you must not do that. Surely you cannot predict what sort of tasks there will be during the test day, but your excellent preparation will leave no space for unexpected situations. The more you practice the higher your chances of getting a higher score will be.

A frequent question students make when seeking help how to prepare for IELTS is how to improve their skills on four IELTS sections.

Below we give general tips you can use while preparing to take the test

How to improve English Speaking skills?

Speaking on IELTS is supposed to be common English communication. However, you need to practice to adjust your spoken English to what it requires in the test. Here’s how you can improve your Speaking skills fast:

  • Choose a random topic and write something about it (no time limitation)
  • Choose a random topic and write something about it (with time-limited)
  • Choose a random topic and speak something about it (with time-limited)
  • Check for improvements
  • Try again
  • Find non-common topics and work out a spoken response
  • Find a partner with whom you can regularly talk in English
  • Make a restaurant order in English
  • If possible, hire a personal tutor

How to improve listening skills?

For English non-natives is hard keeping up with the fast pace of native speaking. This makes it hard to understand through listening. It is well-known that we collect a good amount of information through other senses except hearing. But what if there are no pictures or other clues to our senses besides voice?

Follow these steps to strengthen your listening skills in English

  • Watch TV news and comedy shows
  • Listen to the radio while commuting
  • Listen to music and write down what you hear, then compare it with its lyrics
  • Watch documentaries in your professional field
  • Listen to podcasts (start with easier and shorter one)

How to improve Reading skills?

You will be practising reading throughout all the time, even when you will be preparing for other sections. But on IELTS, there may be complicated sentences and words which are hard to understand even for native speakers.

None of us plans to spend a lifetime learning for the IELTS. Usually, from the day we decide to start learning for it to the day we take the exam there’s a month or two in between. Instead of trying to learn English from scratch to the most advanced level, you must make adjustments to the format of the test. With this being said, you should rely more on effective techniques rather than trying to learn everything (which is probably not possible).

Why push yourself to expand your vocabulary by memorizing mechanically new words? In the very best scenario, you can learn 100 new words which won’t make any difference during the test day because there are many strange words even natives find hard to understand. With this being said you must find a more helpful hack. One way of doing this is by learning about prefixes and suffixes. This is particularly effective if your mother tongue is an Indo-European language.

Here are some simple examples of how this can be very helpful

Prefix / Suffix Meaning of Example
mis Incorrectly, wrongly misunderstand
dis Opposite of displacement
un not unchanged
less without sleepless
ness state of being greatness
pre before predecessor
ative being characterized as talkative
sub under subdomain
inter between interchangeable
tion state or action organization


Follow these steps to improve your Reading skills

  • Read academic books (that’s the content you will encounter during the test)
  • Take notes of unknown words
  • Use flashcards
  • Practice the grammatical structure of a sentence to come up with word’s meaning without the looking at the dictionary
  • Practice coming up with a word’s meaning from the surrounding elements
  • Learn prefixes
  • Make practice tests

How to improve writing skills?

In most of students’ ‘How to prepare for IELTS’ strategy, the Writing section gets the least importance.  Mainly because we falsely believe that writing is that hard. However, writing in IELTS is different from our daily writings, plus there are time limits.

The Writing section of IELTS aims to evaluate your level of writing in an organized way and using appropriate and rich vocabulary. Below are some steps you can take in order to run your IELTS writing preparation mock-up

Choose a random topic and make a raw version of your essay

  • Make a personal examination of how well you have organized your ideas and examples
  • Ask a third-party to read it and tell you their opinion
  • Come up with a final essay
  • Compare your essay with one that has scored high
  • Identify your essay errors
  • Write often and different topics