Academic IELTS Test 

Tips and Mistakes to Avoid 

Academic IELTS TestMany students, some with very good English skills, take the academic IELTS test (International English Language Testing System) and fail to achieve the score they had expected or hoped for.

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In order to avoid this and to do the best you can, it is important to:
  • Have an understanding of what you need to do in each part of the exam

  • Have some basic strategies

  • Know what you must avoid doing

You will be tested on your writing, speaking, reading, and listening

In this article, I will provide you with some basic preparation for each part of the test. 

This article focuses on the academic module of IELTS for those intending to study abroad.

Academic Writing

The academic writing test is one hour, and there are two parts:
  1. Task 1: Describe a graph, table, process, diagram or map

  2. Task 2: Write an essay

Task 1 Strategies

  • Timing
    Spend no more than 20 minutes on this part. This accounts for fewer marks than the essay, so more of your time should be spent on task 2.

  • Planning
    Spend 3-5 minutes making sure you understand the graph or diagram and planning your answer. You have time to do this as you only need to write 10-15 sentences to achieve 150 words. Identify key trends and patterns in this time.

  • Organization
    Use paragraphs to good effect. Introduce the graph and give an overview of the main points in the first paragraph. Then use the remaining paragraphs to discuss these main points in more detail.

  • Language and grammar
    There are various types of language you may need to use in this part, depending on what you are asked to describe. 

    For example, if you are asked to describe a graph over time, you will need to use language of change, whereas if no time is involved, the focus will be on language of comparison and contrast. If you write about a process, you will need to be able to use the passive voice.

    Also, a graph can be in the past, present or future, so you need to use the appropriate tense.

    So make sure that if you are not having IELTS preparation classes, you check a good IELTS website so you are aware of the differences in language that may be required.

  • Checking
    Leave 3-5 minutes at the end to read through your answer and check for any mistakes.

Task 2 Strategies

  • Timing
    Spend 40 minutes on your essay as this is worth more marks than task 1. 

  • Planning
    Spend about 10 minutes at the beginning on the following:
  1. Making sure you understand the question and what you need to write about

  2. Brainstorming ideas and support

  3. Grouping these ideas into paragraphs

  • Organization
    You need to show you can write a coherent and cohesive paragraph, so make sure you have an introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion. 

    Your introduction should have a thesis statement and each paragraph should focus on one main idea or topic. 

    Make your essay and paragraphs easy to read by using appropriate transitions and linking words.

  • Language and grammar
    In order to achieve a higher score, you will need to show the examiner that you can use a mix of sentence types, so before the test, make sure you know how to write simple, compound, and complex sentences correctly.

    Most of the time you will find you are using the simple present when you write your essay as you are likely to be writing about a current issue in society. However, you will have to make use of other tenses as well, so make sure you review other common tenses such as the simple past, present perfect and future.

  • Checking
    Leave 5 minutes at the end to read through your answer and check for any mistakes.
Click here for more information on IELTS writing.


The speaking test lasts 11-14 minutes and is divided into 3 sections:
  • Part 1: One way general questions (4-5 minutes)

  • Part 2: The long turn (3-4 Minutes)

  • Part 3: Two way discussion (4-5 minutes)

Part 1

In this first section of the test, the examiner will ask you questions around general topics related to your life.

For example, you may be asked about your hobbies, family, work, studies, movies, holidays, pets etc. This is the easiest part of the test.

Here are some example questions:
  • What are you studying at the moment?

  • What do you usually like to do in your free time?

  • What kind of movies do you like to go and see?

Part 2

In part two of the test, the examiner will give you a card with a topic on it and you will need to talk about it for two minutes. You will also be given one minute to prepare what you are going to say.

You will always be asked to describe something, usually a person, place or thing e.g. a possession of yours, a family friend, a holiday you went on, a sports event you attended etc. You will have some "sub-points" on the card that you can also cover.

Here is an example:

Describe your best friend.

You should say:
  • Who he/she is

  • How you met him/her

  • What you usually do together
And explain why he/she is your best friend

Part 3

In part 3 of the test, you will have a two-way discussion with the examiner. This will be on more difficult and abstract topics than the questions you had in part 1. The topic will be related to the card you were given in part 2.

So, for example, you could have questions like these that are related to the long-turn:
  • Do you think it's important to have good friends?

  • How has the internet changed the way people make friends?

  • How do you think friendships will change in the future?

Speaking strategies

  • Don't give very short answers
    Don't just answer 'yes' or 'no' to questions. The examiner needs to hear you speak, so always give extra information.

    For example, for part 1:

    Q: Do you have a big family?
    A: Yes I do. I have my parents, and I also have 3 brothers and 2 sisters. My aunt lives with us as well. So I would say that is quite a large family. It can get quite noisy in our house, but it's still a lot of fun!

  • Keep to the Topic
    It is important to extend your answers, but at the same time you must be answering the question or talking about things related to the topic. You won't gain extra marks for talking for the sake of it if it has nothing to do with what you have been asked!

  • Listen carefully
    Always listen carefully to what the examiner asks you. Again, you don't want to be talking about something different to what you were asked.

  • Ask if you don't understand
    If you don't understand a question or you don't hear it, then ask the examiner to repeat it. There is nothing wrong with needing to do this a few times during the test.

  • Talk for 2 minutes
    It will be difficult to talk for 2 minutes in the long-turn if you just follow exactly what is on the card. 

    It is ok to give extra information, so feel free to tell the examiner everything you can about the topic. 

    But remember you need to keep your talk coherent and organized, so plan what you can say in the 1 minute preparation time and think of what extra information you can give.
Click here for more information on IELTS speaking.


The reading test takes 60 minutes and there are 3 reading passages. 

The passages are genuine readings taken from journal, books, newspapers and magazines. 

Each one is around 700-900 words. 

There are a total of 40 questions in the exam. 

There is no time to transfer the answer to the answer sheet at the end so you need to do it during the test.

Reading Test Strategies

  • Know all the different question types
    There are many different types of question you can get in the reading test, such as multiple choice, sentence completion, matching headings to paragraphs, identifying a writers views, and several more. 

    Find a good website or book and make sure you practice the different kinds that you may encounter and the different skills required for each type.

  • Watch your timing
    Only spend 20 minutes on each section. 

    If you have not finished, then still move on to the next section. You can return to any parts that you have not finished if you have time at the end. 

    And don't spend too much time on one question. If you cannot get the answer then make a guess and move on – remember you won't lose marks for guessing even if the answer is wrong!

  • Read the instructions
    Always read the instructions carefully! These will tell you exactly what you need to do for each question and the maximum number of words you can use to answer the question.

  • Practice
    The only way to get really good at reading is to keep doing it! Make sure you practice reading as much as you can to improve your general reading skills and vocabulary knowledge.

Click here for more information on IELTS reading.


The Listening Test

The listening test lasts 30 minutes and you then have 10 minutes at the end to transfer your answers to an answer sheet.

It is divided into four sections, and each section is harder than the one before.

Section 1: A conversation between two speakers
Section 2: A speech by one speaker
Section 3: A speech between up to four people
Section 4: A speech by one speaker

Listening Strategies

  • Read through the questions
    Before each section you are given 30 seconds to look through the questions. Make sure you do this, and do the following to help you follow the listening and fully understand it:
  1. Underline any key words
  2. Think about the context i.e. who is speaking and why?
  3. Guess what some of the answers may be i.e. is it likely to be the name of a person, a number, a date?
  • Keep two questions ahead
    When you are following the listening, don't just look at the next question. Look at the next two questions. This way, if you miss the one, you will still catch the next and it will stop you getting lost.

  • Be aware of the different questions types
    As with the reading, there are lots of different question types you may encounter – multiple choice, gap fills, completing diagrams etc. 

    If you are not having IELTS lessons, then make sure you refer to a good book or website to practice.

  • Take care with your answers
    Remember, if you are completing a gap fill (as will be the case with section 1 of the test), your answers must fit correctly into the gap, logically and grammatically. 

    The spelling must also be correct, as must be capitalization. 

    For example, if the answer to a question is 'Monday' and you write 'monday,' your answer will be wrong.

  • Read the instructions
    As with all the IELTS test, read the instructions carefully! This will tell you how many words you can use in your answer. If you use more than you are allowed, then it will be wrong. 

  • Practice
    Practice makes perfect! 

    Make sure you practice your listening skills whenever you can.  Use IELTS practice tests, watch English TV, listen to English radio and speak to people in English when you can.
Click here for more information on IELTS listening.

In this article we have given a brief overview of what is in each part of the test and some general tips to help you through the exam.

Nothing is as good as a lot of practice, though, so make sure you take lessons if you need to and find practice materials online or in books.

This article was contributed by IELTS Buddy – Free Online Exam Preparation.

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