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Study Abroad: Tips on how to crack the IELTS
Atul Prashar,
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March 25, 2008

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is the name known to almost everyone in India who plans to study or immigrate to the highly-sought-after countries viz. Canada, the US, Australia, the UK, New Zealand and other Commonwealth countries.

With the present test-taker base of above 1.3 lakhs in India, the IELTS has become the hot favourite of many students, nurses, doctors and professionals. This has happened despite the equal applicability of Test of English as Foreign Language (TOEFL) in many countries.

All credit goes to the three organisations that jointly own IELTS world-wide -- the renowned Cambridge ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages), University of Cambridge; the UK-based British Council and their Australian partner, IDP (International Development Programme).

The test, being the only option for immigration to some countries, offers a lucrative educational business opportunity in the North-Western India.

This is because almost 40 per cent of all the Indian test-takers are from this region especially from Gujarat and Punjab. It is the only reason why many IELTS preparation and training centers are mushrooming in these parts of the country. However, test-takers face innumerable problems getting through all the four modules of the test.

Experts from, present self study tips and strategies for all the four modules of the test. This will not only help you know the minutest details of the test but also expose you to the optimum ways to improve your Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking skills.  

Test structure
The test is of two types: Academic IELTS and General Training IELTS.

The former is generally recommended to study-abroad aspirants, nurses and teachers and the latter is specifically for acquiring immigration and work visas.

The tests consist of four sections viz Listening Comprehension, Reading Comprehension, Writing Skills and Speaking Skills. Listening comprehension takes 35-40 minutes; reading comprehension is for an hour; writing skills require the test-taker to complete two writing tasks in one hour and speaking skills is a one-to-one interview that takes no more than 15 minutes.

The test happens mostly on Saturdays and Thursdays. It is mainly taken in two parts, the first one being the 'written test' comprising listening, reading and writing sections. The speaking section forms the second important part of IELTS called the 'Spoken test'. It happens either some days before or after the 'Written test'.

Listening comprehension
This is the first section of the test. The section is same for both Academic as well as General training students. Here a set of four recordings is played and students answer questions as they listen. The first and the third in the row are conversations.

On the other hand, the second and fourth are monologues. Test-takers are given time to read a set of questions before the recording is played for the set. In the end of the listening test, candidates are given 10 minutes to transfer their answer to the listening answer sheet.

Tips for scoring 9-Band in Listening

Reading comprehension
This is the second but the most troublesome section of the test. Almost every IELTS taker faces many problems in this section.

The Academic Reading is based on three lengthy passages with approx 150 words per question. The information is mostly taken from the academic sources, wild-life and other journals and is purely academic in context.

One must have a blend of good reading speed and comprehension skills to complete the paper in the stipulated time. On the other hand, the General Training reading test is less lengthy and technical as compared to the Academic one. However, the questions are trickier. 

Tips for countering obstacles in Reading

More Questions

Less Questions

More text

Here both the factors are at maximum. This is a situation typical of Academic reading test.  Hence, the right strategy for reading in this situation will be read less and stay as accurate as you can. experts call it R&C (read and consolidate). That is, read one stanza out of the whole passage carefully; go on to the questions and try to answer as many as you can. Then read the second stanza and answer questions further and so on. This method is based on the fact that in IELTS reading, questions follow the order of events in the given passage.

When the text in the passage is more but it requires a few questions to be answered. It is always wiser to find out the important keywords in the questions and searching and spotting the place in the text where the concerned keyword is discussed in detail. Read it carefully there and answer the question. This kind of situation is typical of Section 2 of General Training reading test.

Less text

As the passage is shorter and number of questions are more; there are chances that questions here will be trickier. So scan the passage well before moving on to the questions. You may find such situations in Section 1 or 2 of the General training reading test.

This is something everyone dreams of. Here the information in the passage or Advert is less and questions are also a few. Best way is to read the start and end line(s) of the given information and then try the above 'hit and Trial' method. You may find such situation in the section 1 of the General Training reading test.

  • 'Read and Consolidate' is one strategy workable for most of the questions viz MCQs, summary making and short answer questions.
  • Always keep your knowledge about graphs and charts updated. Sometimes you may have a lot of questions that can be answered from the line or bar graph and pie chart given along with the passage.
  • There are questions where you have to find the main idea of the small stanzas or the whole passage. Make sure you do not waste a lot of time reading the complete information. Rather read first and last sentence of the stanza (or each paragraph, in case you are required to find the title of the whole passage) and you will have a fair idea about its title. This strategy works in 90 per cent of the cases and is not at all time consuming.
  • In order to manage time effectively, give not more than 15 minutes to each of the three sections. This spares you with 15 extra minutes in the end. Moreover, after reading each section to some extent, one can easily make out which section was easier for him/her and can spend the maximum of the last quality 15 minutes on it.

In the end, we must understand that listening comprehension skills improve with more and more practice. But reading skills improve with more and more analysis. Always spend time in finding out why certain questions went wrong. Taking the help of your trainer is a very good idea.

Part II: Self-study tips and strategies for the Writing section

The Writer is an examination expert with Top Careers & You ( Visit for free online tests on grammar, reading and vocabulary in addition to information on IELTS.

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