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Planning to take the IELTS?

Gurpreet Wadhera | March 27, 2006

The International English Language Testing System is used to check the proficiency of a candidate in the English language.

It is a must for candidates from non-English speaking countries seeking admission to foreign universities.

All universities in Australia and New Zealand ask for the IELTS, as do some universities in Canada, UK, USA and Ireland. Apart from students, even those who want to work or immigrate to these countries need to take the test.

4 sections of IELTS

IELTS comprises four sections ie reading, listening, writing and speaking. Tests for the first three sections are conducted in one day, with speaking generally tackled a day before or after.

Reading is considered the most difficult section in an IELTS exam. Most candidates have problems either understanding the subject matter or completing all the sections. If a few critical points are taken care of, however, this section isn't a problem.

The listening module follows reading. This is different for candidates appearing for General and Academic papers. There are generally three passages in academic and three to five passages in the general module. These passages are normally taken from magazines, books, journals and newspapers. Topics are always of general interest.

In the Academic module, passages are lengthy and a bit more difficult as compared to the General module. In the General module, passages are short and in the form of advertisements, notices and tables, etc, on which the questions are based. The number of questions and time allowed for both modules is the same ie 40 questions in 60 minutes.

The format of the questions

  • Multiple choice
  • Gap-fills
  • Short answer questions
  • Matching
  • True / False / Not given

It is generally believed the first passage is easier than the second and third. Sometimes, however, this doesn't hold true. So, before attempting the passages, do an overview to get an idea about the subject matter. Different strategies can be adopted to attempt different passages. These may be skim and scan, read intensively and a hit-and-trial method.

Skimming the text means reading very quickly. Just look at the headings, subheadings and first lines of each section or paragraph. Also notice the key words repeated throughout the text. The main purpose is to understand the gist -- the general idea of the text.

Scanning a text means looking for a specific piece of information or specific words. Ignore the information that is not relevant to your purpose. Scanning is a useful strategy to apply when the questions ask for specific factual information.

Understanding the relationship in passages

While reading the passage, you should understand the main points and try and find out the relationship between words and phrases in a sentence, between the sentences and in the whole paragraph. Sometimes, some diagrams, tables and graphs are also given in the passage. Try and infer from these when you can't get a direct link through words.

Evaluating the information

Simply understanding the information is not enough, you should be able to evaluate as well, by distinguishing between facts and opinions.

Understanding unfamiliar words

It is quite possible that you may not understand all the words in a passage. Don't worry. It is not required that you know the exact meaning of each and every word as long as the sense of the sentence is clear to you.

Important points to remember

Go through the following tips to overcome reading problems:

  • First of all, glance through all sections, get an idea of the subject matter and spend around 2-3 minutes scanning the paper.
  • Now prioritise all sections according to the subject matter you find easier. The section you find the easiest should be attempted first and so on.
  • Before attempting the questions, read the instructions carefully and follow them religiously. Carelessness may cost you marks.
  • Don't panic if the subject matter is not of your choice. All the answers are in the passage, so try and attempt the questions by reading the passage. In difficult passages, go for a ' skim and scan' approach -- read the questions and try finding out the answers by locating similar words.
  • The most important step is to set a time limit for every passage and attempt that in the specified time only.
  • If you are not able to answer any question, don't waste your time. Move to the next. Later, if you have some extra time, make a guess as there is no negative marking. You are always advised not to leave any question unanswered.
  • Write your answers directly on the transfer sheet to save you time. No extra time is given to transfer answers. Also transfer answers very carefully, as any carelessness may cost you marks.
  • Be very careful with spellings. Wrong spellings mean wrong answers.

Part II: Crack the listening module
Part III: Do you write well?
Part IV: Do you speak English well?

The author is Centre Manager, BetterThink division of Top Careers & You, Ludhiana, which specialises in IELTS preparation. She can be reached at

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Number of User Comments: 3


I've done 10+2 in arts subjects.Kindly let me know when and where i can give/appear in this test? I stay in Mayur Vihar-1,East Delhi. Thanks. ...

Posted by Sugandha Katiyar

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Sub: information reg. IELTS

Hi, I am Ruhi. I am a graduate in commerce from Pune University. I am quite good in English communication as well as writing. I ...

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