Preparing Students for IELTS

by Richard Twigg in Blogs & Articles

Preparing Students for IELTS

Firstly, you should take the test yourself, not the real test but you should do a practice test under full test conditions. Ideally do it in the order that the candidates do it. In Europe it’s Listening, Reading and then Writing. Did you know that there are three partners in IELTS? Cambridge write and distribute the tests, and the British Council and IDP IELTS Australia are test partners but also delivery agents. Candidates can choose to take the test with either a BC or an IDP test centre and the test content will always be the same. The next thing to be aware of is there are two types of IELTS test. Academic and General Training. Academic is for access to university or professional registration such as a doctor or nurse. General Training is for immigration to an English-Speaking Countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand. For immigration to the UK, you need to take the IELTS for UKVI a very different test. The listening and speaking parts of the tests are the same with only the reading and writing differing with regards to content and question type.

IELTS works on a 9-scale band score from 1 (non user) to 9 (expert user) – see how IELTS is scored.

So now that you have taken the test, the next thing is to understand how it is marked. For a detailed description of the requirements for both writing tasks and speaking, have a look here writing task 1writing task 2; and the speaking. These are public versions and both teachers and test takers should be fully aware of their content.

The test consists of four parts: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. You get a band score (0 - 9) for each part.

Writing has two tasks.

Tasks 1 and 2 are marked against the following four criteria:

  • Task Achievement (task 1) Task Response (task 2)
  • Cohesion & Coherence
  • Lexical Resource
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy

Speaking is marked against these four criteria:

  • Fluency & Coherence
  • Lexical Resource
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy
  • Pronunciation

For speaking the four scores are added to make the overall band score. With writing all eight scores are added to make one final score. If you meet all the criteria for a level, then you are awarded that score e.g., 5. If you reach some, but not all, of the criteria for the next band you can be awarded an additional .5, for example 5.5.

Let’s look at each paper separately.


Listening consists of 40 questions that have to be answered in 30 minutes. You get to hear the recordings only once but you have time before each batch of questions to read before you listen and similarly you get 30 seconds to check your answers before moving on to the next section. Names are spelt although numbers are generally not repeated. You should always follow the text as you listen.

At the end of the listening test you are given ten minutes to transfer your answers to the answer sheet. During the transfer you should check that the answers make sense in the context, make sure the spelling is correct and that you don’t copy any words from the answer booklet e.g. ‘in the ________’ , on the answer sheet only write ‘morning’ or ‘afternoon’. All answers can be written in BLOCK CAPITALS. This makes it easier to read and you don’t have to worry about capitalisation. Also, numbers should be written as numbers rather than letters to avoid spelling mistakes so ‘40’ rather than ‘forty’. You can abbreviate where possible especially with measurements.


Moving onto reading, you have 40 questions to answer in 60 minutes. There is no extra time for transferring your answers to the answer sheet, so you need to manage your time carefully otherwise you will end up with a blank answer sheet and hence a band score of 1 for reading. In the Academic test you have three passages with a variety of question types, including True-False-Not Given (you are required to say whether a statement matches (true) or contradicts (false) the content of the passage or if the information isn’t contained therein (not given), summary completion, heading matching and multiple-choice answers. You should spend 20 minutes on each passage including the time needed to transfer your answers.

You should always read the questions first and then find the answers in the text. The only exception to this is with heading matching. You will be given a list of headings – e.g. 1) How the scope of research is limited 2) The impact of constructing more bike lanes 3) Possible advantages of cycling for daily travel, etc., and you need to match each heading with the relevant section of the reading. Here you should read the first two (topic sentence) and last (summary) sentences of each paragraph and then choose the appropriate heading from the list. It is best to start with the shorter paragraphs first and then move onto the longer ones, once you have eliminated a few of the headings. 1

With multiple-choice (see example below), it’s best to read the question and then look for the answer in the text. Then you can select the best option from the three or four possible answers.

Questions 11 – 13

Choose the correct letter A, B, C or D

11    According to the information in section F, it seems that safety for cyclists

    1. necessitates the introduction of wider lanes and paths for cyclists.
    2. depends on having an infrastructure for cycling for daily travel to develop.
    3. means that cycling for daily travel should be restricted to adults only.
    4. accounts for a disproportionate share of the Oregon state budget for highway funds. 2


The last part of the “written” part of the test is writing. Here you have two tasks and 60 minutes in which to complete them. For task 1 you need to write a minimum of 150 words and for task 2 a minimum of 250. There is no maximum word count, but remember the more words, the more likely you are to go off topic and make mistakes. Task 2 is worth more marks so you should spend more time on task 2 than on task 1.

In the Academic test you have a variety of task 1 questions including describing a graph, pie chart(s), table, diagram, flow chart or map. For example:

The diagram below shows the number of houses built per year in two cities, Derby and Nottingham, between 2000 and 2009.

Write a report for a university lecturer describing the information shown below.

Write at least 150 words. 3

There are two crucial pieces that must be included in the first part of your task 1 response: an introduction, which is a paraphrasing of the question and the data provided followed by an overview. The aim of the overview is that the examiner should be able to imagine the “visual” you are describing without actually seeing it. Make the sentence general describing the main change or trend – no specifics or it will not be treated as an overview but part of the body.

Paragraphing is crucial – the first paragraph should contain the introduction and overview only. Paragraph two should contain the main comparisons and explanations. The final paragraph should deal with the less significant details. In task 1 no conclusions or predictions should be made.

Task 2 is an essay type response to a statement or question, for example:

People today seem to be increasingly buying consumer goods such as the latest domestic appliances, clothes and electronic gadgets. Do you think this is a positive or negative development? 4

It is crucial that both sides of the argument are covered and that examples from your own knowledge or experience are included. As with task 1 paragraphing is crucial. Paragraph one should contain the introduction. Paragraph two the first idea or argument plus personal example. Paragraph three should contain the opposite argument and or the second idea or argument and both must include personal examples. The final paragraph should be a conclusion with no new ideas introduced.


The final part of the test is speaking. This is always done face to face with just one examiner and one candidate in the room. The speaking lasts between 11 and 14 minutes. There are three parts. Part 1 consists of general questions and part two (see example below5) is the most important. The candidate is given a topic card, which they have to talk about for two minutes. The examiner will give them a pencil and a piece of paper and one minute to think about the topic. During the two minutes the candidate needs to speak fluently and coherently while showing the examiner their full range of grammar and vocabulary. After two minutes, the examiner will stop them even if they are mid-sentence. Part 3 is a series of follow-on questions on the topic in part 2.

Describe a market near where you live that you sometimes use.

You should say:

what kind of produce or services the market sells

what the market looks like

where the market is located

and explain why you like to use this market.


Now that the candidate has done all the hard work, it’s time for the markers and examiner to step in. The listening and reading are marked and double checked by two different markers. Likewise, the writing tasks are marked by two different writing examiners. Should a candidate have what is known as a jagged profile, i.e. their speaking and or writing is two band scores different from either their reading or listening, then either one or both are remarked before the candidate’s results are issued. Once all these checks have been carried out, the results are released and the candidate receives a Test Report Form 13 days after they have taken the test. If a candidate receives their results and believes they should have got a higher score, they can request and pay for an “enquiry on results”. Should their score change as a result, they will be refunded the EOR fee. The TRF is valid for two years from the date of the test.

1. Example of Headings Matching taken from Ready for IELTS 2nd Edition, Student’s Book, by Sam McCarter

2. Example of Multiple Choice taken from Ready for IELTS 2nd Edition, Student’s Book, by Sam McCarter

3. Task 1 sample question taken from Ready for IELTS 2nd Edition, Teacher’s Book, by Sam McCarter

4. Task 2 sample question taken from Ready for IELTS 2nd Edition, Teacher’s Book, by Sam McCarter

5. Sample part 2 topic card taken from Ready for IELTS 2nd Edition, Teacher’s Book, by Sam McCarter:

About the author

Richard Twigg has over 20 years teaching experience and has been in EFL for the last 15 years. He is currently the director of Englishconsultancy.com and he works as a freelance teacher / teacher trainer in Turin, Italy. Previously Richard was the director of International House Milan, and he has taught in both the U.K. and Malta. While in Malta he was the Director of Studies of IH Malta, and he completed his DELTA in 2007. In addition, Richard set up an administered the first IDP IELTS test centre in Italy and the first CD IELTS test centre in Europe. Richard has presented at TESOL Italy and delivers teacher training seminars across Italy for MacMillan Education.

by Richard Twigg in Blogs & Articles