Read this Before Taking Your IELTS:
Complete Guide to Passing Your Exam in 2023

IELTS | The best way to prepare

Your IELTS score depends on two things, your English skills and the so-called IELTS skills. Learning IELTS strategies and techniques can help you boost your score quickly. To be more precise, it can help you get the best score your English skills allow you to get right now, and pass your IELTS.

To improve your score further, you should work on specific areas of your English skills. So let’s talk about each section of the IELTS exam and what EVERYONE should do to prepare and what you can do if you have a bit more time before your test. You can download the IELTS Study Plan with links to all the resources. Let’s get started!

IELTS Listening | Manage your attention

In IELTS Listening, if you’re only listening to a recording, you’ll probably understand all of it or most of it. If you’re only reading the questions, they are manageable. It’s when the two come together at the same time that the difficulties arise.

The primary goal is to learn how to manage your attention because we can’t really listen and read at the same time. And there’s some time to read questions in each section, but sadly not enough to really read everything.

However, the instructions are always the same. If you take several tests, you’ll learn the format and then you can use the time spent on listening to instructions to reading questions instead.


After each section, there’s time to review your answers. And this time is also better spent on questions coming next. If you manage to read all the questions and options before the recording starts, especially when there’s a lot to read, it will be easier for you to find the answers. 

Listening sample section 3

Learn strategies for the most difficult types of tasks

In this test, there are many different types of tasks. Some are easier than others. You should learn strategies for the most difficult types of tasks. In this case, you’ll know what to concentrate on in each type of task.

For example, many find maps particularly challenging because there are so many details. However, if you know that questions come in order, then you have a starting point. The tour will start at the entrance, in our case, in the reception. You’ll be looking for a coffee room, then a warehouse and so on.

IELTS Listening map sample

Use little tricks

There are some little tricks that can help you find answers. For example, highlighting keywords to remember what each question or option is about. And crossing out incorrect options. Even if you couldn’t find the correct answer, select one of the options you haven’t crossed out.

Don’t leave questions unanswered. There’s always a chance to guess correctly and you don’t lose points for incorrect answers.

Use official IELTS practice tests for your preparation

Unofficial tests may be easier or more difficult, with questions built differently or simply incorrect. Several practice tests are available for free on the official IELTS websites and they are linked in my study plan. But the best tests that are just like the real exams are Cambridge English Tests.

Get one of the recent books, from number 15 and up. Each contains 4 tests and this should be enough for you. Doing lots of mock tests won’t help you improve your score.

Cambridge IELTS Academic 16 practice book cover
Cambridge IELTS General 16 practice book cover

Work on your listening skills

Now, how easy is it for you to understand the recordings? Here’s a great exercise that can help you improve your listening skills.


In Cambridge practice tests, you can find the transcript of each test at the end of the book. After you’ve done the test, listen to the recording again, this time while reading the transcript; try to hear every word. Then, close the book and listen to the recording alone.

Do you still understand everything? If not, open the book, read the phrase, then listen again until you can hear it. This exercise is very effective in helping you improve your listening skills.

Listen to audio books/podcasts/news in English

If you have several months before your test, just switch everything to English. Listen to audiobooks in English and watch English-speaking YouTubers. Listening is a passive skill; you can improve it while doing something else.

IELTS Reading | Manage your time

Let’s talk about the second section. IELTS Reading. If the motto in IELTS Listening was manage your attention, in IELTS Reading it’s manage your time. There’s just a lot to read.

reading speed + vocabulary size = IELTS Reading score

Your score here depends on how fast you can read in English and how many words you know. Indeed, IELTS Reading requires the widest vocabulary out of all IELTS sections. Let’s talk about some techniques that can save you time and help you answer more questions.


Read and answer in succession

Questions come in order, which means that you don’t have to read the whole passage first. You can read the first question, find the answer, read the next question, find the answer and so on. In this case, you can skim the text until you feel that the answer is somewhere there. Only then should you slow down, read the question again, find what the answer is and move on.


Here are the main question types that come in order and questions that don't come in order:

IELTS Reading Questions that come in order: Missing words/filling the gap, True-False-Not Given, Yes-No-Not Given, Sentence endings, Multiple choice questions with 3 or 4 options and 1 correct answer
IELTS Reading Questions that do not come in order: Matching headings, Matching paragraphs, Matching information, Multiple choice questions with 5 options and 2 correct answers, Questions at the end of the Reading test

Follow the 15-20-25 rule

Questions in IELTS Reading become more and more difficult as you progress through the test. Section 1 is the easiest, Section 2 is more difficult, and Section 3 is the toughest of all. The key is spend as little time on the first section as possible while maintaining accuracy to keep more time for the third section. Think about 15 min on the first section, 20 on the second and 25 on the third.

IELTS Reading time allocation pie chart

Learn strategies for the most difficult types of tasks

And just like in IELTS Listening, you should learn the strategies and practise answering the most challenging questions. Typically, these are True-False-Not Given questions and Matching Headings, and also any questions you personally find tricky.


Analyse your test results

In IELTS Reading, there’s a great exercise that can help you improve. Once you complete a practice test and check your answers, go back and find answers to all the questions you didn’t get right. Find your mistakes and try to understand them. Also check the questions you weren’t certain about. Some mistakes happen because you don’t know certain crucial words, but others are mistakes in reasoning or thinking. This exercise can help you spot and correct the latter.


Read IELTS-style articles and learn new words

If the IELTS strategies we’ve just discussed don’t get you to the required score in Reading, the next step is to take a bit more time before your test and read IELTS-style articles and learning new words.


Reading more will help you read faster. If you start reading regularly, you’ll notice how you improve. Plus, IELTS Reading requires the widest vocabulary. So learn new words you are likely to meet in IELTS again.

To prepare for Academic IELTS, you should read more scientific articles. You can find them in the Science Magazine or BBC Science section. The Guardian newspaper is great too. For General Training IELTS, you need various instructions and job descriptions, and The Guardian would be great too.

IELTS Writing | Improve your writing skills

This is the section on which I would spend most of my time. Indeed, most people get their lowest score in IELTS Writing. And that’s because the assessment criteria here are very specific and it’s hard to fulfil them if you don’t know what they are even if your English skills are great.

Indeed, only 50% depends on your English skills (vocabulary and grammar); the other 50% is determined by your essay-writing skills.

IELTS Academic average results graph chart

Develop your essay-writing skills

Both your answers in Task 1 and Task 2 must have a clear structure where you fully answer the question. Each sentence must be relevant.

If you’re just writing something about the subject more generally, you will LOSE marks. If your ideas are repetitive – you’re just saying the same thing several times – you will lose marks too.

IELTS Writing 4 assessment criteria: task achievement/response, coherence & cohesion, lexical resource, grammatical range and accuracy

Indeed, you need to develop your ideas. You take an idea, you explain why this is, give an example, explain consequences, then move on to the next idea. So that each sentence flows smoothly from the previous.

There’re some requirements that are very specific to IELTS Writing. For example, Task 1 Academic you must give an overview – a sentence or two where you explain the main thing you’ve learned. It’s not the same as a conclusion, and actually, you don’t need a conclusion in Task 1. Learn the requirements and how to fulfil them.


To be more precise, learn what to write in each part of your answers in Tasks 1 and 2. Learn about different types of tasks and how to answer each of them. And practice writing essays every day. You only have 60 minutes to finish both; most likely your essays won’t be perfect, to put it mildly, but you must finish both.

Click here to read an article on how to write a Band 9 Task 2 essay.


Learn important vocabulary

If you have a bit of time before your exam to learn some words, I’d start with this, Linking words for Task 1 and Task 2. Examiners check if you use a variety of linking words. Task 1 may also require specific vocabulary. If you take IELTS Academic, learn vocabulary to describe data. For Task 1 General Training, learn common phrases for different types of letters (invitations, complaints, thank you notes, etc.).


Indeed, IELTS Writing and IELTS Speaking require the most specific preparation. If you’d like to get everything I’m talking about in one place, check out my IELTS preparation packs that can help you prepare in less time and achieve a higher score.

IELTS Speaking | Anticipate

The motto of IELTS Speaking preparation is anticipate. IELTS Speaking exam is intense. You get a lot of questions and have to answer them one after another, whether you like the question or not, whether you know what to say or not, whether the examiner interrupts you in the middle of your answer… yes, that may very well happen. If you know what to expect and what’s required, you’ll be able to deal with what’s coming much better.


Get used to the time pressure

The timing of each section in IELTS Speaking is strictly controlled and managed by the examiner. For example, Part 1 must last between 4 and 5 minutes, including the identity verification and about 11 questions on three topics.

If your answers are too short, you don’t show your English skills. If your answers are too long, the examiner has no choice but to interrupt you and move on to the next question.

Being interrupted is not a pleasant feeling, but it actually doesn’t affect your score as long as you can pull yourself together and answer the next question. And yes, examiners can’t change questions in Part 1 so if a certain question sounds weird after what you’ve just said, don’t blame the examiner.


For a high score in Part 2, you should try to talk for two minutes until your time is up to prove you can speak at length and to show more vocabulary and grammar.


In Part 3, questions are longer and more abstract. So try to give longer answers and avoid talking about your experience and particular situations. Talk about people more generally. This part lasts between 4 and 5 minutes and includes around 5 main questions.


Practice with a timer

Practice answering typical IELTS questions with a timer. You need to learn how long your answers should be. This will help you a lot during your test.


Be talkative

The best tip for IELTS Speaking is to be talkative. There’s no need to give smart answers. And you shouldn’t try to talk formally either. Speak the way you would normally talk to a slightly older person; be respectful and polite, but be chatty.


Communicate naturally

In IELTS Speaking examiners assess your ability to communicate in English. So give a direct answer to the question. There’s no time to tell stories, apart from Part 2.

Memorised answers are so obvious, and harmful to your score so speak naturally. If you don’t know something, explain why not. And don’t try to use some super-fancy words or grammatical structures you might struggle to use. It’s better to speak more fluently than hesitate looking for that complex word.


Speak for 15 minutes every day

What’s the best way to improve your speaking skills? Well, to speak English. You can speak to yourself. Before your exam, speak English for 15 minutes every day and you’ll improve your fluency and pronunciation.

Your IELTS score depends on two things, your English skills and the so-called IELTS skills. Learning IELTS strategies and techniques can help you boost your score quickly, or to be more precise, it can help you get the best score your English skills allow you to get right now.

To improve your score further, you should work on specific areas of your English skills. Split your IELTS preparation into small tasks and complete them one by one.

My free IELTS Study Plan can help you take the quickest path, and you can download it right now:

Prepare for your IELTS with a customized study plan