Experiences with the IELTS-Test and its Preparation

A. Introduction

Some time ago, I wrote about my experiences with the TOEFL. Today, I can write about my experience with the (academic) IELTS-Test, which I took about three weeks ago.

After a brief introduction, I will give some hints for preparation and point to a few aspects of the test, which should be improved. I would like to encourage everyone who had or will have to take the test to write to those responsible for this.

This time, I even had two weeks time to prepare for the test (albeit I could not work full-time on that every day). I would recommend to take more weeks, if you can, although with the right approach and help, it may still work out, for, fortunately, I have got enough points for my purpose. I received the letter with the results already one day after their having been published online.

I am  really thankful to all those angelic and higher powers, to the Beings of Light, to the Saints, the Prophets, the Divine and the entire Company of Heaven whom I had asked, and to whoever else helped me, for the results. I appreciate that in my most important examinations ever since university, their hand could be felt or seen.

B. Preparation

I. Do take the test seriously, even if you know English. While not having lived yet in an English-speaking country when taking the test beyond a few weeks of student exchange, I had English as one of my “Leistungskurse” in high school with 15 points continuously, travelled a lot, read a lot of English books and even published articles in English, watched a lot of films and talked to a lot of English-speaking people. (And, of course, I am writing in English just now.) Oh, I also taught English in Japan for a little while. So I do believe to have a certain competency in this language, and still I did right in trying to prepare as much as I could.

You should start as early as you can.

If, now, my words should cause fear: just take them as an opinion and advice – I got all the points I needed, so you may, too – just do what you can, and pray for the rest.

Having read words before taking the test which made me worried myself, I would like to point out that there also were people who told me the test was not as bad as I had heard, and that – on the basis of my education and knowledge – I would be able to do it when preparing adequately.

Also, you may need a lesser (or higher…) result than I did – it really depends on the institution for which or the reason because of which you are taking the test.) Nevertheless, if your English is really insufficient (or if you would like to do everything you can): there seem to be special preparation courses.

II. Have a look at what the test will bring. Here is a good overview (also see e.g. here), so I will just give additional information and opinions here (do not overlook the link in commentary No. 8 of Thomas’ blog, you may have to check the vocabulary, but I found it quite helpful on a whole).


1. Following those who had advised similarly and following recommendations on a mailing list of which I am a member,  I concentrated on the free 30 or so hours of access to “Road to IELTS (you can download pdf-files; if it should not work in your browser, try another one) and on other sample tests. Someone told me that the online sample tests should be enough, if time would be an issue. This may or may not be true for you, I still would recommend also working through the books, for the test itself will be on paper, and you get a good feeling for how it will be by using the books. Also, it is good to work through the sample tests because more training will certainly help.

a. For these, I bought the following books:

Official IELTS Practice Materials 1 and 2 with Audio CD, Cambridge University Press.

These, I recommend, too. The sample tests are like the test, so they have been quite worth the money. Maybe you can find them on Ebay or get them from friends, too.


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b. I also bought

Rawdon Wyatt: Check Your English Vocabulary for IELTS: All You Need to Pass Your Exams: Essential Words and Phrases to Help You Maximise Your IELTS Score. A & C Black 3rd edition, 2012.


Julie Moore: Common mistakes at IELTS… and how to avoid them: Instant IELTS. Common Mistakes. Advanced. Klett: 2007.

These books contained helpful words for me here and there, nevertheless, I did not have the time for much more than a rather short glance a day – it will depend on your level of English whether you will make using them a priority. Have a look inside at amazon or a bookstore or a library, if you feel you might need them.


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Someone told me he had taken part in a preparation course, which used this book.

c. There are other books I might have bought if I would have had more time. I suggest looking through amazon or your local book store. I found it valuable to look into some of the books where it was possible at amazon (this, this, this, this and this – just also look for yourself and follow your intuition as to what you may need), and even save a few information taken from there to remember them.

2. You do need to get to know the type of tasks you will have to fulfill, and a feeling of and practice in how to do it. The books above (1.a.) and the sample online tests will help. I really would like to emphasise this: do your exercises!

a. Here are a few points I found important:

• You have always to be very alert during the listening exercises. You should practice to find the right attitude and level of consciousness for that. You should not start loosing yourself in thoughts about one question while listening, because then you may miss the answer for the next one.

• Do learn manifold words to describe diagrams! (The online exercises from Road to IELTS can be helpful here, too.)

• Do learn or recall and then remember “connectors” (and use them, even if you are so fascinated by the subject you are talking about or your own words, still: USE THEM!).

b. Here, besides the ones already linked above, int. al. the following websites may be a help for you:

http://writefix.com/ (Quite helpful, I memorised the list of words for graphs, for example, e. g. here and here.)


c. Here are details on a few points with which I noted I had to be careful:

aa) Sometimes, when accessing Roads to IELTS online, the videos with advice on how to tackle the test confused me sometimes a little bit: While one teacher recommends to make it easy to understand, the other points out it is [also (– well, that was how I tried to solve the dilemma, but… I do think there is something to improve with the advice there…)] important to show that one commands complex sentence structures, relative clauses etc. – Oh, how I would have loved to be able to just write in a natural way… (Well, fortunately, in the test, the subject was favourable to me.)

bb) With listening, I had to make sure to be alert and awake – and not to rethink something that had been said, because, then, I might have missed the next answer.

cc) As for reading, especially when I was unable to find a satisfying answer, it was important for me to look for synonyms or something related, to broaden my awareness.

Also, sometimes, a word is not being given as a whole, but only the second part. So if you “scan” for a certain word, be careful not to set your “limits” too narrow!

dd) As to writing, as someone who rather feels creatively and for whom contents is important, I was also quite unhappy with the strict “system” in which one has to write texts. Introduction, such and such a number of middle paragraphs, conclusion…

Art arises from the depth, the form is just a tool.

I wish the test would take that into account. They ought not look for robots, they ought to look for Masters of life and language!

I really went back to making lists of words which would impress the corrector, as I had done at school with much success (e.g. of connectors like thus, so; for, as, since, because; therefore, because of that, etc.). This might also be helpful for the speaking part. Here, someone else provided an example.

One thing you should do: Find out how many pages / lines, in your handwriting, 250 and 500 words are, and also, maybe, a recommendation I received, to guess how much time you need to write how many words.

Do keep an eye on time, make sure to have a text with adequate parts, including a conclusion, in the end.

ee) The speaking part was more relaxing. It may be a few hours after the written part, depending on how they decide when your turn will be. We had the impression that those with an address farther away from the test center were those being called in early.

You are being asked certain questions. Initially, you will be asked about your home town and / or your family (I was not asked, but be prepared for describing e.g. your hobbies) etc (just look into the preparation materials what could be asked – experiences from your childhood, favourite colours then, travelling, the films or music you like… The questions I got made sense, if you should find them stupid, just do not let yourself be thrown out of track because you as someone accustomed to solving deep philosophical problems with important implications think they are silly – as the conversation makes progress, you will probably or hopefully get more meaningful questions to answer.). Be prepared, but do not make it appear as if it was memorized – that might be detrimental, I think.

I was also asked, I think, for the most difficult challenge I have had (or something into this direction) and for something related to education or the growing-up of young people.

I probably could have used more connectors or complicated words (would have not been a problem, but in my dedication to the subject, I may have spoken normally – and it seems my teaching languages as foreign languages may have made me express myself in a less complex way then I used to, when speaking) – so do remember to do that.

Also, but this may not be your problem, I have a tendency to lead everything back to the ONE cause – I believe it may be valuable to at least show that you are able to see many facets before doing that in order not to appear to give a reply that might appear “one-sided” to some. Also, I wonder whether a stricter structure of my replies (one sentence as introduction, conclusion, i.e. similar to the written part) would have been expected (an idea I take from an email written by someone who took the test some time ago, but did not necessarily remember everything).

When the lady who executed the test announced that time was over, her energy suddenly changed, and become sort of “stricter”, so to speak, whereas before I had the impression of a lighter kindness. I was wondering and a bit worried, what that may mean, but maybe it was unrelated to me, as I still managed to get 8.5 points.

So, if, normally, you have no problem communicating in English, the oral test is nothing to be feared. Just take into account my hints.

3. By the way, as you will be allowed to bring a (clear) bottle of drinking water, what about “preparing” it with some Bach Flower Remedies? I took both the Rescue Essences and a special bland I take, both in the morning and then in my water and found it quite helpful and balancing.

4. If you would like to make sure and have enough money and time, consider taking the test as early as possible (but please make sure it will be still valid when you will actually need it), so that you could repeat it, if you would like to or the need should arise.

C. What I would recommend to change about the test and the official preparation materials

I. Possibilities for improvement start with the advice given in Roads to IELTS online, appeared slightly contradictive to me, sometimes (see already above, B. III. 2. c. aa), also as to the question whether to write more than the minimum number of words would be detrimental; I finally demanded to be told by email and on the phone and got a response [to write less will definitely be detrimental, so make sure to write at least one word more than the minimum number of words; writing a bit more should be no problem, writing much more, well… just ask them – I deem it quite dubious, if an organisation like the British Council cannot or will not give clear / accurate information about things like these from the start.]).

II. Also, I was not amused about certain type of questions and tasks.

While it may be an individual preference whether one likes describing diagrams or not, I have made the following observations.

1. The answer, whether something in the text is true, false, or not given is quite often a gamble (I tried finding out how the people creating the tasks think – when I thought I got it, it was just the other way round in the next sample test)

2. It is not necessarily easy to match the right headline with the right paragraph, although you may understand perfectly both the meaning of the headline and the paragraph

In short, while I have passed, rather with higher marks, I do not believe that the test can measure one’s English abilities accurately. It may be correct that whoever passes the test with a good result will speak English well enough, but I do not believe that anybody who speaks and writes English well will necessarily get the marks he needs.

And this is a scandal, for this test decides about the course of lives: Will one be able to study at the university one has selected? Will one be able to do the work one is called to do? Can one emigrate to the country one loves, or one belongs into?

The criterion for all these should be whether one is able to cope there. It should not be whether one is able to cope with a test.

A test that does not guarantee to accurately reflect the abilities of a person should neither be obligatory nor cost 200 Euro and many Euros more for preparation materials.

The IELTS test is not alone with the problems I described. I know from my preparing high school students in Japan for their university entrance examinations in English and for other tests in German that other tests provide similar problems. The tasks are not always thought through well, the answers expected sometimes are simply illogical, or the person who created them did not think about alternatives or alternative interpretations and therefore may put those with a deeper insight into a disadvantage.

This has to change.

D. Call

[It seems I had my poetic-polemic day when writing this.]

I would like to call all those who know about the test and agree with me to send letters of protest with suggestions what to change to the British Council. We may have passed, but there are others behind us whom we can help.

Let us use our good marks as a sign that we are not frustrated losers, but that we are those who prevailed despite the injustice such a system may offer. From this point of strength, we can help making the world of education a better place.

Let us start now.

For those of my readers who will still have to take the test: Good Luck!

This is version 1.1 of this article. There is a slight chance I may revise it, which might be reflected in the version number. If there should be any comments below appearing to be inconsistent with the text, the reasons might lie here.

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