In this lesson, you’ll see how to make an IELTS study plan to prepare for the IELTS exam.
You’ll see a six-step plan which anyone can follow. You’ll learn how to prepare for the different parts of the IELTS exam, and you’ll also see useful books and resources to make your IELTS preparation easier and more effective.
British Council sample IELTS practice tests (free): https://takeielts.britishcouncil.org/take-ielts/prepare/free-ielts-practice-tests
Public IELTS scoring schemes for speaking and writing: https://takeielts.britishcouncil.org/teach-ielts/test-information/assessment
Buy Cambridge IELTS practice test books (UK site): https://www.bookdepository.com/search?searchTerm=cambridge+ielts&search=Find+book Buy Cambridge
Vocabulary in Use books (UK site): https://www.bookdepository.com/search?searchTerm=vocabulary+in+use&search=Find+book
Buy Cambridge Grammar in Use books (UK site): https://www.bookdepository.com/search?searchTerm=grammar+in+use&search=Find+book
Step one: take a practice IELTS test.
You can find practice tests on the British Council website. Do the listening and reading, check your answers, and work out your score. Do the practice test under exam conditions, meaning that you work with a time limit, and without a dictionary or any help.
For the speaking and writing, it’s best to do the practice test with a teacher, so that you can get accurate feedback on your level. It’s difficult to assess your own speaking and writing. If you can’t do this, then do a practice writing exam by yourself. See how it feels. Could you finish everything in the time limit? Did you write enough words? Come back to your answer a few days later—is it clear? Does it cover all the necessary information?
To do the speaking by yourself, record yourself answering the questions in a practice speaking exam. Record your answers, then listen back. Could you answer the questions fluently? Did you hesitate or pause a lot? Could you give developed, detailed answers to all the questions? Again, it’s difficult to do this alone, but hopefully you’ll get some idea of your abilities and weaknesses.
You should also read the public IELTS score schemes. Read the score scheme for your target IELTS band, and read the bands above and below. Think about what it means; what do you need to do? Where are you stronger or weaker? Make a list of your weaknesses in order of importance. This will help you with the next step in the IELTS study plan.
Step two: set daily time goals.
First question: how much time can you spend studying each day? Be realistic.
Second question: how are you going to spend that time?
Think about the list you made in step one. Obviously, you want to spend more time on your biggest weaknesses. If your biggest problem is the writing exam, then you should spend more time there. If you’re already above your target band score for reading, then you probably shouldn’t spend time on reading practice.
You’ll see more details about how to work on different exam sections later. For now, just make a general plan. For example, maybe you have two hours a day for study. You might decide to spend one hour on the writing exam, thirty minutes on listening, and thirty minutes on speaking.
Finally, think about how you can stick to your target. How are you going to stay motivated? You could use a habit tracking app on your phone, or put a calendar on your wall and tick each day you hit your target. You could also give yourself a reward for hitting your target regularly. Think about what will work for you!
Step three: useful books and resources.
Use official resources if possible. That means resources published by Cambridge or the British Council. There’s a lot of free IELTS material available online; some of it is very good, and some of it isn’t. If you can’t tell the difference, you could create problems for yourself.
First, it’s useful to have some practice IELTS exams. Cambridge publish books of past exams. These include answer keys, as well as model answers for some writing questions.
Secondly, get some vocabulary-building resources. The Cambridge Vocabulary in Use books are effective and easy to use. Cambridge also publish a Collocations in Use series. Collocations are important for your IELTS score, so we recommend at least getting the intermediate book.
Thirdly, get a grammar reference book. The most popular is English Grammar in Use, also published by Cambridge. It comes in three levels: elementary, intermediate, and advanced. They could all be useful, depending on your level, but you should definitely have the intermediate book.
For writing and speaking, get a teacher if you possibly can. You might not want to spend money, but taking IELTS is expensive, especially if you have to take it several times. Probably, not getting the IELTS score you want will cost you something, too. Investing in lessons with a professional teacher can save you time and money later.
Online, IELTS Liz has lots of information and tips about the IELTS exam, as well as lists of recent IELTS questions and topics.
There are also lots of sites with low-quality materials which can give you the wrong idea about the IELTS exam. In particular, be careful with sites which provide model writing answers. In many cases, the website doesn’t tell you what band score the model answer would get. Some sites include model answers which might score from band six to band eight, but they don’t indicate which is which. This is dangerous; you might read an answer and think it’s a good example, but in a real IELTS exam it would get band six. Only look at model writing answers if you know the band score they would get.
Now, you have the resources you need. Let’s make a detailed IELTS study plan for different exam sections and key skills.
Step four: reading and listening.
Your reading and listening practice should be divided between three things.
One: do practice tests.
Two: do general reading/listening practice. For example, for reading, you could read newspapers, blogs, magazines, novels, and so on. For listening, use TV shows, podcasts, films, or whatever you can find.
Three: learn vocabulary. Don’t try to do too much. For each thing you read or listen to, try to learn between five and ten new words or phrases. These three things are in priority order, so if your time is limited, focus on practice tests. There are other ways to build vocabulary, so if you don’t have time for vocabulary building here, don’t worry.
When preparing for IELTS, you also need to think about how much time you have before your exam. Reading and listening are slow skills to build. To make a significant difference, you need months of regular work. If you don’t have much time, then make reading and listening lower priorities. Do some practice tests, but spend most of your time on other things. If you have an exam in a few weeks, then you can’t make big improvements in that time.
Step five: writing
Once again, we really recommend you find a teacher to help you with the writing exam. Otherwise, it’s difficult to get feedback, which is essential to improve. Either way, here’s how to practise effectively. There are four steps to good writing practice.
One: do vocabulary pre-work. For example, are you writing a task 2 essay about the environment? Use your vocabulary books to learn some words, phrases and collocations. Then, try to use these in your answer. Are you writing a task 1 academic answer describing a pie chart? Learn some phrases to talk about proportions and percentages, and try to use them in your answer. Don’t try *too* hard to fit all the vocabulary into your writing. For higher IELTS scores, you need to use vocabulary naturally. Accept that you won’t be able to use most of the vocabulary you learn in one writing task. That’s fine! If you can use even one or two new words or collocations, that’s useful. With all vocabulary learning, it’s better to learn chunks of language. That means: try to learn phrases and sentences, rather than single words.
Two: write your practice answer. Do it under exam conditions.
Three: get feedback and do supporting grammar work if needed. For example, did you make mistakes with conditional sentences, or perfect tenses, or prepositions? Use your grammar reference book and practise topics which you have problems with. Also, think about your use of vocabulary. Did you use the vocabulary you learned before you started writing? Did you make mistakes with it? Were there any places where you couldn’t find the word or phrase that you needed? Finally, rewrite your answer and try to improve it. Try to avoid the grammar mistakes you made first time. Try to use a wider range of vocabulary.
If you need more help, be sure to watch this free video lesson from Oxford Online English to help you improve your IELTS writing grammar score.
Step six: speaking
Like writing, speaking practice should be done with a teacher if possible. If not, then the best way is to record yourself answering speaking test questions, and then listen to your own answers, and try to find mistakes or problems.
Take a similar approach to writing practice: do vocabulary pre-work, practise, find mistakes, do supporting grammar work if you need, then repeat the task and try to improve.
When you’re speaking, it’s better to focus on one thing at a time. For example, on one day, you can focus on fluency. Try to speak without pausing or hesitating. Record yourself, listen to your speaking, and count the number of hesitations and pauses. Repeat the task, and try to get a lower number of hesitations.
Another day, you can focus on using different verb forms in your speaking. Record yourself, and count how many different verb tenses you use. For example, if you use the present simple, past simple, and past continuous in your answers, then that’s three. Repeat the same task, and try to use one or two more verb tenses in your answer. Of course, there are many other things you need to think about for speaking: intonation, stress, grammatical accuracy, using different sentence forms, using linking words, and so on. However, it’s better to focus on one thing at a time.
With speaking and writing, practising by yourself will only be effective if your English is already quite high-level. If your English is at a lower level, you won’t be able to find many of the mistakes and problems which you have. In this case, you need a teacher to help you.
And, that’s it! Follow this six-step IELTS study plan to prepare for IELTS efficiently and effectively. Be flexible and adjust your plan as you go. You might need to spend more time than you thought. You might realise that the writing exam needs more work, and so you need to spend more of your daily time working on that.
What about you? Do you have any useful IELTS study plan suggestions? Please share your ideas in the comments, and see what other students have to say! Good luck if you have an IELTS exam coming up soon. Thanks for watching, and don’t forget to watch our other free IELTS preparation lessons!