IELTS Preparation – The Ultimate Guide


30 Dec, 2019

So, you’ve decided to take the IELTS test – now, all you need is some guidance to help you come up with an effective plan for your IELTS preparation.

This guide will show you everything you’ll need to consider when preparing for your IELTS exam in 2019.

To begin, I simplify common challenges into three key stages of IELTS preparation. I will then walk you through my step-by-step approach to IELTS preparation, including how to get started, an in-depth understanding of the exam and a strategy for improving your skills.

As you progress through this article, you will also find links to some of the best free IELTS resources and practice materials around. Finally, I will help you develop a plan of action that suits your individual needs.

Doing IELTS preparation properly can save you time, money and energy, ensuring that you get the score you need the first time around. By following my preparation guide, you will equip yourself with all of the tools required to get the score you need.

Why is IELTS Preparation So Difficult?

Quite simply, there is so much information out there and students do not know which sources they can trust. IELTS can take months (sometimes years!) of hard work and thousands of dollars in tuition and test fees, so there is a lot of pressure to get it right the first time.

There are three main things you need to improve:

  1. General level of English (Slow)
  2. Test skills (Medium)
  3. Knowing how the test is marked (Fast)

General Level of English

IELTS is essentially an English language test, therefore, the higher your level of English, the better your score should be. Simply studying IELTS skills and doing practice tests will not be enough if your level of English is not high enough.

As indicated above, this is probably the slowest part of IELTS preparation. Most English schools recommend at least 6 months to improve a student’s level of English by the equivalent of 0.5- 1 band score.

I will show you how you can improve your general level of English, at home, below.

Test Skills

There are four parts to the IELTS test- Writing, Speaking, Reading and Listening. Each of these parts has many different possible questions and each of them has a specific skill that you need to acquire.

For example, academic students can expect to see one of seven different types of question in Task 1 Writing. Each of these different types of question requires differing skills.

The Listening and Reading tests have over 10 different types of questions each. Again, all of these questions requires a different strategy and set of skills.

The majority of your IELTS preparation should be spent learning these skills and when these are combined with a high level of English it should result in a high score.

Learning these skills does not take as much time as learning the language itself, but does take a significant amount of time. Most schools recommend spending 2-3 months learning these skills.

I will address how to improve these, at home, below.

Knowing How the Test is Marked

The fastest and most effective way to improve your score is knowing exactly what the examiners want and giving it to them. Most of my teachings are based on this principle.

However, you can’t simply learn this and get a high score; they should be combined with improving your level of English and test skills.

Below we will look at the official marking criteria to help us understand what the examiner wants.

Step-by-Step Approach to IELTS Preparation

  1. Decide if you are doing General Training or Academic

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2. Understand the Test Format

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3. Set Realistic Goals

The keyword here is ‘realistic’. There is a big difference between the score you want and the score you are realistically going to get.

Effective IELTS preparation will help you succeed and will ensure that you get the best score you can possibly get, but it does not ensure miracles.

Click here to read our article: How Long Will it Take Me to Get the Score I Need? 

4. Understand Marking Criteria

The article below will explain what the band scores mean, how examiners decide them and the official marking criteria used to mark your test. Click the link below.

5. Understand the Different Question Types

There are more than 10 different types of question for Reading and Listening. Again, there are more than 10 different kinds of question on the Writing test.

Knowing these will give you a huge advantage because each of them requires a different approach and strategy. I have them all for you in each of the skills sections below.

6. Perfect Your IELTS Skills

As mentioned above, there are many different approaches and strategies that you need in order to succeed in IELTS. For example, do you know how to write an effective introduction and conclusion? Do you know how to develop your answers in the speaking test? Do you know how to quickly locate the correction information in the reading test?

All of these skills will be addressed below.

7. Improve Your Vocabulary

Vocabulary is a huge part of the IELTS test. It covers 25% of your total mark in Speaking and Writing. It is also tested in the Reading and Listening tests.

You should implement a vocabulary improvement plan as quickly as possible. Click below to download one now.

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8. Practice English Every Day

When it comes to improving your English, there really is no substitute for practicing a little every day.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways you can practice every day and it doesn’t have to be doing boring IELTS tests. My most successful students have all found something that they enjoyed doing in English and then did this regularly. The more you use English, the more your skills will improve and the higher chance you have of getting the score you need.

Below are lots of ways to improve your English at home:

You can also combine learning English with the most common IELTS topics. There are some topics, such as the environment, education, and technology, that come up again and again. Reading and listening within these common topics is a very powerful technique that will help you improve your vocabulary and your ideas, all at the same time as improving your English.

Below you will find links to the most common IELTS topics.

9. Practice Tests

You should do IELTS practice tests in order to establish what your current band score is and also to familiarise yourself with the test.

However, there are two things that I should warn you about before doing these.

The first thing is that there are lots of fake tests. These tests can be found online or in your local bookstore. Where I live there are hundreds of books in my local store all claiming to offer ‘official’ tests. The problem with this is that they are often written by people who know nothing about IELTS and are simply looking to make a few dollars.

Fake tests can be very misleading and often prevent students from understanding what the real test is like.

You should only do tests from official and trustworthy sources. The best sources of past papers are the Cambridge Past Papers books.

Below are other reliable sources of practice tests:

British Council

IELTS Essentials


The second thing I would like to warn you about is don’t make these the only part of your IELTS preparation. Lots of students that I know do IELTS practice tests all day, every day and most of them improve very little. They should only be used as a test of your current ability. You should spend most of your time improving your level of English and your IELTS skills.

If you are practising all week, you should only be really doing 1 or 2 practice tests. In other words, they should be a very small, but important, part of your IELTS preparation.

You’ll find a full list of practice study materials here on our resource guide and here on our practice guide.

10. Get Your Speaking and Writing Assessed

It is very important that you get a qualified teacher to assess your speaking and writing. They will be able to tell you your current level, but more importantly, they will be able to tell you what your weaknesses are.

This is probably the most important part of your IELTS preparation. If you do not know what your weaknesses are, you are really wasting a lot of time because you have no idea what to focus on. You must focus on the things that you are not good at in order to improve.

The most effective strategy for IELTS preparation is to find out your weaknesses, go away and work on them and then come back and have your work assessed by an experienced IELTS teacher. They can then tell you if you have improved or not and then advise you on what to focus on next.

If you would like me to assess your writing, please click the link below.

Essay Correction Service

How will I know that I’m ready for the IELTS exam?

Hundreds of thousands of students fail the IELTS exam each year for one simple reason:

They book the test before they are ready for it!

In my experience, there is only one question you need to ask yourself to decide whether you’re ready for the IELTS exam. Find out what it is here:


IELTS Preparation: Pass 3x Faster

One of the most popular questions I get on my YouTube Channel is:

Chris, how can I prepare for my IELTS exam quickly?

Truthfully, the answer to this question will be different for every person reading this article, which makes it difficult for me to give one solution that will help everyone.

However, what I can tell you is how to prepare for your exam PROPERLY!

Find out how to improve your preparation and accelerate your IELTS journey here:

IELTS Writing Task 2 Preparation

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Writing Task 2 Skills

Below you will find links to complete guides on the essential Writing Task 2 skills.

Full Lessons

Below you will find complete lessons on each of the different Task 2 question types.

Sample Answers

Below you will find a link to lots of Band 9 samples answers. Use these to compare and assess your writing.


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IELTS Writing Task 1 (Academic) Preparation

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Writing Task 1 Lessons

Below you will find links to complete guides on the essential Writing Task 1 skills.

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IELTS Writing Task 1 (General) Preparation

Below you will find all the help you need to prepare for Task 1 if you are doing General Training.

IELTS Speaking Preparation

Part 1

In part 1 you will be asked questions on familiar topics. Click below for lots of sample questions and answers.