IELTS Tips: Get the Grade You Need | Top Universities

IELTS Tips: Get the Grade You Need

By Laura Bridgestock

Updated February 2, 2015 Updated February 2, 2015

Guest post: Gill Balfour

Getting the grade you need in the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) can seem like a mountain to climb. The wide range of vocabulary you’ll be exposed to, the complexity of the topics used in the reading paper and the fear of the dreaded accents in the listening section is enough to send even the keenest English language student into a panic. Three words are all you need to remember:  preparation, preparation, preparation. 

This is a high-level test of your English language ability, but it is surmountable and these IELTS tips will help you get the best grade possible.

IELTS writing tips

Part 1 of the IELTS Academic Paper gives you a graph, table or diagram to summarize.  Make sure before you go into the exam room that you are familiar with the types of data you might be presented with and that you know the right terminology. Then follow these tips to get you through the IELTS writing tasks:

When examining the information you’ve been asked to summarize, focus on finding extremes and similarities.  The word count is only 150 words, so just focus on identifying the main trends.

Make sure you’ve got the vocabulary you need, including:

  • Linking words,
  • Signposting language,
  • The language of change,
  • The language of cause and effect,
  • The language of comparison and contrast.

Think about the structure of your writing.  Treat this IELTS writing task as you would any other essay:  introduction, main points, conclusion.

IELTS reading tips

Many students find the IELTS reading section the most difficult part of the test, mainly due to the vast amount of text. The topics used are varied and sometimes very technical and the amount of vocabulary can be daunting.  The main point to remember is that you don’t need to understand every single word. These additional tips may also help during the IELTS reading section:

  • Focus on the questions and read with a focus on finding answers to the questions.  Make sure you get hold of practice papers, as this is an area you can really train yourself in.
  • What does the title tell you about what you’re going to be reading? The title should give you the gist of the article before you read another word.
  • Grow your collection of synonyms. Every time you learn a new word find some synonyms.  This will help you greatly in the IELTS reading paper with the use of parallel words.
  • The True, False or Not Given questions can be tricky, but it will help if you change the statements into questions. If the text doesn’t answer the question, it’s ‘Not Given’.

Great websites to help with your IELTS preparation:

  • Flo-Joe is a great website for anyone studying for the Cambridge exams, including the IELTS. You will find practice tests for all the papers, including IELTS reading, IELTS writings and IELTS listening. They’ve also got weekly practice tests in the kinds of topics that may arise.
  • Learn English, a website run by the British Council, has downloadable podcasts, games, academic writing help, including a section dedicated to IELTS preparation. 
  • The BBC’s Learning English site features a variety of resources for students including Words in the News with news reports that you can listen to and read. There are also quizzes, Phrase of the Day and many other great resources to help with your IELTS preparation.
  • ESLPoint offers help in all the skills you need for the IELTS. It includes online practice exercises with clear explanations and IELTS tips. 

Use these IELTS tips in your preparation and you will go into the exam with a head start. Good luck!

Gill Balfour is the editor of, a resource for international students, their parents and counsellors to guide them through their international study experiences. Gill previously worked as an ESL teacher in the UK and Spain.  

This article was originally published in June 2014 . It was last updated in February 2015

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