IELTS Practice Activities and Resources

  1. Read before you listen – predict the answer:

    One difficulty in the exam is that you are not just listening, but reading the question and writing the answer all at the same time. One simple tip is to read the questions before you listen so that you know what you are listening for. It is a difficult skill to master, but it can sometimes help to try and predict the type of answer you are looking for: is it a name for instance or a number?

  2. Read as you listen – focus on the whole question

    A huge proportion of mistakes are made not because you haven’t listened well, but because you do not focus on the question. As you are listening focus on the precise wording of the question.

  3. Look at 2 questions at once

    One difficulty is that the answers to 2 questions often come quickly one after the other. Can you get both answers? Maybe, maybe not: but the only way you can is if you are ready for the next question.
    I’d add that it’s no problem getting one question wrong, the real problem is if you lose track of where you are in the listening and you are still listening for question 13 when the cassette has moved onto question 15.

  4. Don’t leave the writing to the end

    Sometimes candidates leave the writing part to the end, thinking that they will remember what they heard. In my experience, this almost never works: there’s a lot of information, you’re under stress and, most importantly, after each listening, you should be moving onto the next set of questions to read them.

  5. Practice your shorthand

    You do not have to write everything that you down: you have 10 minutes at the end to copy your answers onto the answer sheet. So what you need to do is to learn how to write down enough for you to recognize as you are listening so that you can write it out in full later. The one exception to this is in part 1 with numbers and names where you have to write everything out in full as you are listening – that is the challenge.

  6. Numbers and names – check your spelling

    In part 1, you are almost invariably required to spell names and/or write down numbers. These look easy, but in my experience can often go wrong and the problem is that if you get any spelling wrong, you lose the mark, Of course, you know the alphabet, but some letters can cause problems even for advanced learners, in particular:
    J & G
    A & E & I
    My tip is to make an association that you can remember: these are mine, but I suggest you make your own:
    J is for Jesus, but G is for God
    How do you spell “why”? W-H-Y
    A is for apple
    E is for elephant
    I is for ‘I”

  7. Don’t write the answer too quickly

    Sometimes you hear what you think is the answer, but the speaker goes on to correct themselves or give slightly different information:
    “So I’ll see you on Wednesday afternoon”
    “Sorry, I’m busy then. How about Thursday evening?”
    “Fine, Thursday at 7 0’clock”

  8. Don’t leave any blank answers

    There are 2 reasons for this. Firstly, your guess may well be correct, particularly if it is a multiple choice style question. Secondly, there is a danger if you leave a blank that you write the answers in the wrong boxes on the answer sheet and that can be a disaster.

  9. Listen for repeated information

    This doesn’t always work, but sometimes the words that are the answer are repeated: if you need to make a guess choose the words you hear repeated, they could well the be answer.

  10. Look for clues in the question

    A frequent question type is completing a table; in this type of question, you will often find clues to the answer by looking at the other information in the table. In particular, look at the headings of the rows and columns: if, for example, the heading says “equipment” and some of the completed boxes say “paperclips” and “cardboard” you have a good clue as to what you should be listening for.

Work with a teacher Write several sample essays and have them corrected by a teacher. You cannot prepare for the writing section of the IELTS alone, as you have no way of receiving feedback on your errors. If you are short on money, at least invest in a teacher or class to prepare for the writing and speaking sections of the IELTS, and then do the listening and reading sections on your own by working with a good preparatory IELTS guidebook.

Read the questions very carefully. Often the question will ask you to do three or four different things, aside from the main question. Jot them down and make sure you address all of them in your answer. The IELTS examiner will be checking for this.

Practice writing tasks within the given time limits. It really doesn’t matter if you can write a beautiful answer in two hours. Always recreate the conditions of the exam as closely as possible, when doing any kind of practice exercises.

Plan before you write. Even though you feel under pressure for time, spend the first few minutes planning your writing. Decide what you’re going to say and how you’ll expand on it. When you know what to write, you can concentrate on how to write it best. Experiment with the great variety of outlining and mind-mapping techniques to help you sketch out a plan quickly.

Write in an organized way. When you’ve planned in advance, you’ll end up with a more organized, logical piece of writing, which will earn you higher marks. There are many ways to be organized – linear, circular, etc. – but in the end, the final product must be cohesive.

Stay on topic. You will be penalized if you stray off topic. This is where the initial few minutes of planning can help you a great deal.

Divide your writing into paragraphs. It is confusing to be faced with a block of writing, with no divisions. You wouldn’t expect to read a magazine article or book like this. Always divide your writing into paragraphs.

Write clearly. This is not the time or place to experiment with new vocabulary or idioms. Use simple, clear English to get your ideas across in a powerful way.

Write legibly. Though marks are not granted or taken away for poor or messy writing, the examiner should be able to read what you have written without undue difficulty.

Spell correctly. Yes, this does affect your score so avoid careless mistakes. A careless mistake is when you have spelled the same word in various ways in the same piece of writing or when you misspell a word which is already given in the exam topic and all you have to do is copy it correctly. That’s not okay. Watch for this when you’re practicing and resolve to overcome it.

Don’t use slang. This is the time to show off the best English you know. Find the correct way to express your thoughts and convey your ideas, without resorting to slang. Be aware that certain expressions, such as “kids” instead of “children” and “guys” or “gals” instead of “men” or “women”, also fall into the category of slang and should be avoided.

Don’t use contractions in the Academic Writing tasks. In English, contractions are used in informal writing, and the Academic tasks demand formal writing.
Use rich vocabulary. You have learned English for many years and this is the time to use what you know. Stay away from over-used adjectives such as “good” or “bad”. Instead, use more dramatic, expressive words, such as excellent, wonderful, superb, or adverse, horrible, terrible, etc. Choose the more precise word over the more general one. This will make your language come alive, in speech or in writing, and earn you higher marks.

Don’t write more or fewer words than you need to. Writing too many will take too much time, and there is a greater possibility of making mistakes. Writing too few is worse – it will cause you to lose marks.

In the essay, don’t repeat major chunks of the question in your answer. Instead, state what you understand the questions and what you plan to include in your answer.


Follow this Speaking test advice and try to talk fluently:

The Speaking test is a face-to-face conversation with a certified examiner. It is as close to a real-life situation as a test can get.
The examiner will ask you about familiar topics such as home, work or studies in part 1. This should help you feel comfortable when speaking. Try and relax so that you can speak as naturally as possible.
Take time before the test to practice speaking with a partner, friend or teacher.

Make the most of your Speaking test:

 try to talk as much as you can
 talk as fluently as possible and be spontaneous
 relax, be confident and enjoy using your English
 develop your answers 
 speak more than the examiner 
 ask for clarification if necessary 
 do not learn prepared answers; the examiner is trained to spot this and will change the question
 express your opinions; you will be assessed on your ability to communicate
 the examiner’s questions tend to be fairly predictable; practice at home and record yourself


What’s in the IELTS Speaking test?

The Speaking test is a face-to-face interview between the candidate and an examiner. The Speaking test is recorded.
There are three parts to the test, and each part follows a specific pattern of tasks in order to test your speaking ability in different ways.

Certificated IELTS examiners assess your speaking performance throughout the test. There are four assessment criteria (things which the examiner thinks about when deciding what score to give you):
Fluency and coherence
Lexical resource
Grammatical range and accuracy

Fluency and coherence assess how well you can speak at a normal speed without too much hesitation. It also includes putting your sentences and ideas in a logical order and using cohesive devices (including linking words, pronouns, and conjunctions, etc.) appropriately so that what you say is not difficult to follow.

Lexical resource assesses the range of vocabulary you use and how accurately and appropriately you use vocabulary to express meaning. It also includes the ability to express yourself using alternative vocabulary when you don’t know a particular word.

Grammatical range and accuracy assess the range of grammar you use and how accurately and appropriately you use it.

Pronunciation assesses your ability to speak in a way which can be understood without too much effort.

  • Time allowed: 11–14 minutes
    Number of parts: 3

Read Academic Texts:
Read in your free time! The IELTS texts are “general academic texts”. This means they are taken from sources such as textbooks and specialist magazines and journals. If you are not familiar with reading these kinds of texts in English it is essential that you start reading them in your free time so that you are used to the types of language and structure used when you meet them in the exam. Three typical sources for IELTS texts are (in order of difficulty – easiest first) the National Geographic, the New Scientist and the Economist. You can get these magazines in most newsagents.

Focus on the text first, the questions second! A good understanding of the text helps you answer the questions more efficiently and effectively.

IELTS exam writers select a range of specific types of texts. Learning to recognise the type of text you are reading can help you predict its structure and therefore understand it more quickly. There are four types of IELTS texts –
a) analytic texts, which discuss the reasons why something happened or make recommendations or explain a concept
b) descriptive texts, which describe a situation, explain how something is done or categorise something
c) discursive texts, in which different opinions are expressed about an issue and d) narrative texts, which explain a chronological sequence of events.

Develop your ability to skim. Skimming is reading quickly by skipping over unimportant words like prepositions and ignoring difficult words that you don’t need to understand. Do this to get a general idea about a text or a paragraph or to intensively search for the answer to a question.

Learn to scan. Scanning is what you do when you look for a price in an advertising text or a name in a telephone book. When you scan you do not actually need to read the text but move your eyes quickly over it. You can scan from left to right or right to left, from top to bottom or bottom to top. Do this to find the location of answers in the texts looking out for easy to spot words like numbers, dates and words beginning with capital letters such as place names.

Learn to recognise paragraph structure. This often involves spotting the relationship between the main ideas and supporting ideas in a paragraph. Paragraphs are most frequently descending, i.e. they begin with the main idea somewhere near the start and develop from there, although some, frequently the first and last paragraphs of a text, are ascending – the main idea is located towards the end. This can be particularly helpful when matching headings to paragraphs.

Get an overview of a text before dealing with the questions. Do this by reading the title and subtitle as well as focusing on the beginnings and ends (but not JUST the first and last sentences) of paragraphs. This helps you process the information in a text (and thereby answer the questions) more quickly.

Parallel Phrases
Learn to spot parallel phrases. These are different ways of expressing the same thing, such as, “I like to ski” and “skiing is enjoyable”. Many questions, e.g. YES NO NOT GIVEN questions and gap fills, test your ability to match up a similar phrase in the task with its equivalent in the text.

Don’t Panic:
Don’t panic when you encounter an unknown or difficult word. IELTS texts are packed with highly specialised vocabulary. Skip over difficult words which are not essential for your understanding of the text. For words you do need to understand, practise trying to guess their meaning using the overall context of the text and sentence as well as the form of the word – e.g. is it a noun or verb.

Manage Your Time:
Time manage in the exam. Most IELTS candidates run out of time in the third reading section. Each text should take you roughly 20 minutes (the examiners will tell you after 20 minutes have passed). Never spend too long on a single question – guess the answer or leave it to return to later. Also if you feel you are running out of time, tackle questions like gap-fills before doing “easy to guess” tasks like YES NO NOT GIVEN questions. Don’t forget you also have to have all your answers on your mark sheet by the end of the test. A good tip is to write them on the mark sheet in pencil as you go, correcting where necessary at the end.

 Remember it is a test of your English language ability.

 The better your English language skills, the easier it will be to approach the test.

 Concentrating on IELTS books and IELTS practice tests alone is not the best way to prepare for the exam.

 This may sound obvious, but the emphasis should be on improving your language skills not practicing for a test.

 The test is a means to an end not an end in itself and the danger of only concentrating on the test is that you are not seeing the wood for the trees!

 You may be lucky enough to pass the IELTS with the score you need but you will not be adequately prepared for what comes after it – your course, your job etc.

 How do you feel about this advice? Do you agree?