Every year more than 3 million people from 140 countries take the IELTS test. However, only a surprisingly small percentage, about 3-4% test takers, are able to score a band 8 or more.
You might be wondering – why is this the case? Is it because the students are not smart? Or because they don’t prep well? Or perhaps it’s just because IELTS is super hard? So many questions!
To answer all your questions and to address the underlying concerns, we have compiled this Ultimate Guide – your go to resource for everything you need to know to get an 8+ band in IELTS.
This guide is written keeping in mind that many of you who are taking the IELTS test do not use English as their first language. In fact many of you may not be using English at all in your day to day communication. To get band 8 and above, there is no one-size-fits-all mantra but we do have a great plan of action for you.
Let’s get to know IELTS
As a first step, it is critically important to understand the IELTS exam inside out.
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is one of the most popular standardized tests in the world. It is globally trusted and accepted as a reliable indicator of English language proficiency by over 10,000 organizations and higher education institutions USA included.
To cater to both academic and non-academic purposes IELTS offers two test variants. IELTS Academic is designed to evaluate English language skills required for further learning environment. It is slightly more difficult with complex tasks and reading texts. IELTS General Training is the easier version of the test designed to measure English communication skills in everyday context. It is suitable for jobs and immigration programs.
In terms of content, the test is a complete assessment of English including reading, writing, listening and speaking. There is no pass or fail classification. Instead IELTS has a scoring band system which goes from 1 (the lowest score) to 9 (the highest achievable band).
|8||Very good user|
|3||Extremely limited user|
In case you haven’t achieved your desired score, You can take the test as many times as you want in a year. It is recommended though that you at least have a couple of months gap between two attempts to give you enough time to prep better. The validity of the result of Academic IELTS is two years from the date of your test.
Since we have a better understanding of the purpose of the test, let’s move onto the next step.
Now is a good time to Register
Set the test date even before you start prep. Have a deadline. Use it to plan your study schedule and motivate yourself to meet your goal.
To create your own deadline here’s how you find out the amount of time needed to prepare for IELTS. Evaluate your current skill level by taking a timed mock test. There are many available online but you could just take the official one on the British Council IELTS website. Now use the mock test score and your target score to assess the number of months needed for prep. Keeping in mind that you probably have other personal and professional commitments, it is generally recommended that if you need to raise your score by more than one band, give yourself at least a month per band with around 10 hours or more of study per week. For example if you’d like to get from band 5 to band 8, give yourself about 3 or months of study. Set your test date accordingly.
IELTS test is challenging, even for students with excellent English language skills. Therefore in any case try and give yourself a minimum of 6-8 weeks of preparation. If you’re on a tighter schedule, try increasing the hours invested per week in order to get more time to prepare. For weekly and monthly schedules refer to already made study plans online.
Kickoff IELTS preparation in Style
Now that you’ve set the date, let’s gear up for some hard work. For the next 2-3 months you are going to eat, breath, sleep IELTS. It becomes very easy if you make lifestyle changes so that IELTS can become part of your everyday routine.
For individuals who are self disciplined and determined, self preparation is a totally doable option. In fact some of the best resources are available online for free and if followed correctly, can produce your desired result. However, many test takers find that it is difficult for them to self study. This is where preparatory schools can be beneficial and can help you improve your scores.
Once you’ve decided on the mode of preparation the next steps include finding the best material resources, understanding the test format, practicing the past papers and tracking progress.
Best Resources for Preparation and Practice
Luckily the internet has loads of study resources including guides, past papers papers, videos and e-books available. Some of them can be accessed free of cost. This tremendous amount of information can become overwhelming and at times too distracting. Therefore we have shortlisted the best possible resources that can help you comprehensively prepare and practice for the IELTS examination.
Reference Books, e-books and Guides
Some of the world’s leading English language specialists have written books and guides to help you prepare for the IELTS test. Here is some of the most recommended ones:
- The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS – the book covers material for all sections of the test including a list of common mistakes made by test takers.
- Vol. 1 Official IELTS Practice Materials (with CD) and Vol. 2 Official IELTS Practice Materials (with DVD) – this is a complete set of practice questions with answers and an examiners comment sections which gives insight into the marking methodology. The books come with a CD-DVD for practicing the Listening section.
- Cambridge English: IELTS 1-14 Academic with Answers – this a compilation of past paper questions and is pretty helpful because it also comes with an answer sheet
Websites and Applications
For those of you who are more tech savvy and spend a lot of time on your laptops and computers, there are great resources that can be accessed through websites and mobile apps. We have shared the most popular ones with you:
- Road to IELTS – an online prep guide offered by the British council. It includes a free test drive, a last minute version with 30 hours of practice sessions and a paid full version containing 9 complete practice tests and 300 interactive activities.
- IELTS Prep App – a mobile app available on iOS and Android. It contains free practice tests, sample questions and a progress tracker.
- IELTS Test Pro 2019 – a free mobile app for iOS and Android. It contains practice tests, flashcards, 3000+ practice questions and detailed statistics of your progress.
- IELTSLiz – a website recommended by many test takers. It is a comprehensive resource which includes practice tests and preparatory videos that are very useful during self study.
Social Media Resources
If you spend a lot of time on social media platforms, it’s a good idea to engage with communities and resources available there also. In fact sometimes you can learn from experiences of other test takers and get the motivation you need. Here are some facebook pages and youtube channels which have a great following:
- Facebook IELTS Tips and Tricks – a very popular private group on facebook that has 160k plus members who discuss questions, share tips and advice and sometimes help in scoring the writing section of the test for members.
- Youtube IELTS Essentials from IDP – one of the IELTS prep official youtube channel that has videos on how to attempt and ace all the different sections of the test.
- Youtube IELTSLiz – this channel compliments the IELTSLiz website and makes the preparation fully comprehensive in terms of written, audio and video study material.
Test Format and Hacks to Ace each Section
IELTS tests your English language proficiency in Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking in 2 hours and 45 minutes. The Reading, Writing and Listening tests happen on the same day whereas the Speaking test will take place either before or after the written exam. You will be pre-informed of the date via email by your official test center.
More than a test of language, IELTS is a test of execution. To be successful in this test you have to crack the tasks. Here is the detailed format of each section, the score you need and some easy hacks to ace each section of the test.
The Listening Section
This is the first section of the test. You get 40 minutes to complete this section. There are 40 different varieties of questions and each question is worth 1 mark. To achieve your desired score:
- Get 35 out of 40 answers correct for IELTS 8.0
- Get 37 out of 40 answers correct for IELTS 8.5
- Do not make spelling errors
In this section test takers will listen to four recordings narrated by English speakers with native accent. Each recording is associated with a set of ten questions including MCQs, map or diagram labelling, matchhing, sentence completion, table or note completion. The recording will be played only once and the answers appear in order in the audio. Here is a rough overview of the type of situations described in each audio:
Part 1 – an everyday conversation between two individuals
Part 2 – a monologue set in an everyday social context
Part 3 – a discussion between two people set in an academic or training context
Part 4 – a monologue dealing with an academic subject
Here are some insider pro-tips for the Listening section that will help you get a better score:
- Do not make notes while the audio is being played. You may be tempted because of the fear of forgetting but IELTS is not a test of memory. Instead read the question first and then LISTEN for the answer in the audio.
- Use the tone of the speaker to find the answer. This requires some practice but if you listen carefully you will notice that answers are spoken loudly and clearly.
- Be wary of the little tricks often used by IELTS examiners to confuse the test takers. In some questions the speaker will intentionally give the wrong information first and then correct it. In such cases write both the answers and scrap the irrelevant one.
- For fun and practice together listen to English songs and try to write down the lyrics, watch movies and create subtitles, tune into BBC world, CNN, Animal planet and more.
The Reading Section
This section forms the second part of the test. You get 60 minutes to attempt 40 questions and each question is worth one mark. To achieve your desired score:
- Get 35 out of 40 answers correct for IELTS 8.0
- Get 37 out of 40 answers correct for IELTS 8.5
- Do not make spelling errors
In this section the candidates are given three long descriptive texts taken from magazines, books or newspapers based on topics of general interest. The questions are asked in a variety of formats including MCQs, information identification such as writer’s views, matching headings and sentence endings, summary or note completion and SAQs. This tests the test takers’ ability to read in detail, skim read, find main ideas, comprehend logical arguments and recognize writers’ opinions.
Here are some insider pro-tips for the Reading section that will help you get a better score:
- Most questions in IELTS only require you to locate information. For these you do not need to fully understand the passage. The best method to solve this section is to read the questions first, skim the passage and find your answer.
- Never waste time skimming through the entire passage. Read with full concentration the heading followed by a couple of opening lines of each paragraph to get a clear understanding of the content of the passage.
- Each question has a keyword to help you locate the answer. Once you identify the keyword in the question, match that to the keyword in the passage. Then read the line before the keyword, the line of the keyword and the line after the keyword to find the answer to the question.
The Writing Section
This section is the last part of the written test. You get 60 minutes to attempt two tasks both of which should be fully completed. Each task is scored independently by a certified examiner. To achieve your desired score candidates need should have exceptional performance in the following:
- Task achievement for Task 1 – It is a measure of how appropriately, accurately and relevantly the answer addressed the requirements of the task
- Task response for Task 2 – It is a measure of how well the test takers developed a position in response to a given prompt and how well was the position supported by examples.
- Coherence and cohesion – this assesses how clearly and fluently are the ideas linked through logical sequencing
- Lexical resource – this is an indicator of the variety and accuracy of the vocabulary used
- Grammatical range and accuracy – this is a check on sentence structure and grammatical soundness
The first task of the writing section is presents information in the form of tables, graphs, charts or diagrams. The candidate is expected to understand and explain the visual information in words. The answer composed should be about 150 words long and completed in 20 minutes. The second task has more score weightage and requires 250 words of an essay written in less than 40 minutes. The test takers respond to the prompt with their personal point of view and support their argument with a concrete set of examples.
Here are some insider pro-tips for the Writing section that will help you get a better score:
- Use a solid structure. Always have at least five paragraphs, each focusing on just one thing. For task 2 as a rule, there will be an introductory paragraphs for introducing your point of view, three body paragraphs presenting your opinions and a closing paragraph for summarizing your argument.
- Make sure you spend at least five minutes brainstorming and planning. Organize your thoughts in bullet points before writing the final content.
- It is better to use simpler english correctly than to use complicated vocabulary and risk the chance of getting the spelling or meaning wrong.
- You will lose marks for writing less than the word limit. You may not necessarily gain marks for exceeding the word limit
- You will not lose marks for expressing opinions that are different from those of the examiners.
The Speaking Section
The speaking test takes place on a separate day. It consists of a 11-14 minutes one on one conversation with a certified examiner who assesses the candidate’s spoken English capabilities. Every test is recorded. To get your desired score:
- Speak fluently and with almost zero hesitation
- Use linking words to develop ideas in a smooth flow
- Use advanced vocabulary to express precise meanings
- Construct error free simple and complex sentences
Part 1 of the oral interview is fairly straightforward and is designed to make the candidate comfortable with the test situation. The examiner will take 4-5 minutes to ask you general questions about yourself, family, work and other familiar topics. We then move on to Part 2 in which the examiner will give you a topic card with prompts. You will be given a minute to prep and then a couple of minutes to speak about the topic. The examiner will then move on to Part 3 where they will discuss the topic in further detail with you touching some abstract ideas and issues. This is the last part of the examination and will take 4-5 minutes.
Here are some insider pro-tips for the Speaking section that will help you get a better score:
- You do not need to impress the examiner with your complex sentences, ideas or opinions. Instead concentrate on speaking fluently and using simple clean English that makes sense.
- To be fluent, you do not need to speak fast. Try speaking slowly, clearly and with completely formed sentences that connect with each other to express your thought process in a precise manner.
- Add tonality to your speaking style. Emphasize on certain words to help the listeners understand you better.
- Speaking in a fake accent will not give you a better score
Do you really NEED this score
With all said and done, the reality is that many organizations and universities do not require band 8 or more. So most of you should not worry too much and just try and give this test your best. However, some top-tiered universities and programs specifically consider candidates that fall in the 8+ band to ensure their ability to handle complex detailed argumentation in English language. If this is your requirement try and follow the guidelines shared above, practice as much as you can and then go rock this exam.
Tips for the Test Day
Remember, do not fear the test even if English is a difficult language for you. Tell yourself that you’ve worked hard and are ready to ace the test. Do not study any more. Make sure you’re well rested and have had a healthy breakfast in the morning. Take this test as a learning opportunity. No matter what score you get, you will come out of this experience more proficient in English language communication skills.