IELTS Preparation – Everything You Need to Know

Jumping into IELTS preparation is one of the vital parts of your prep-work to study abroad. English proficiency test scores are a requirement across the board for global universities. And strong scores not only give you an advantage for university admissions, but also for visa applications, scholarships, and even future job opportunities.

Your IELTS scores can make a difference in your study abroad applications. Our Gradstar Global experts bring together all our tips and resources right here to help you ace your IELTS.

What is the IELTS and Why Do I Need It to Study Abroad?

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is arguably the world’s biggest English proficiency test. It tests your ability in the English language across four intersecting skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

Your IELTS scores give university admissions boards an idea of how well you will do in an academic setting where the teaching and learning happens in English. A good proficiency score is an indicator that you will succeed in English-speaking classrooms at the best universities abroad.

There are a couple of English proficiency tests you may have heard of: TOEFL iBT, PTE Academic, and of course the IELTS. In fact, the IELTS is so widespread that there are over 3 million test bookings across 1,600 global centres every year.


Types of IELTS Tests

IELTS General Training

This is the test you would take to measure your English proficiency for practical and everyday settings, such as in daily conversations at work or around town. Professionals planning to live and work abroad usually take the General Training test.

IELTS Academic

As a prospective international student, the IELTS Academic is the right option for you. This specifically tests you on the reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills you will engage in a learning setting. Virtually all higher education institutions in major study abroad destinations – like the UK, USA, Australia, and Canada – accept IELTS scores as valid proof of your English ability!

IDP, which co-owns the IELTS in conjunction with the British Council and Cambridge English Language Assessment, estimates the following minimum scores for prospective international students:




Minimum overall score of 5.5


Minimum overall score of 6.5, with 6 in each band


Minimum overall score of 6.0 to 7.0


Minimum overall score of 6.0 to 6.5

Note, though, that these are just estimates. Universities set their own English proficiency requirements. And in fact, the requirements for different programs and study levels at the same university can vary. So, it’s very, very important you’re well aware of the IELTS score requirements for your chosen programs.

IELTS for UKVI (and Other Student Visa Routes)

English language proficiency is an important condition to fulfill for your student visa too. Australia, Canada, the UK, and the USA are all majority English-speaking countries. As a result, like universities, immigration authorities also want to know that you can get by and thrive in the official language. The UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration) is no exception.

Typically, proving that you meet your university’s English language proficiency requirements is enough to clear the requirement for your student visa.

IELTS Academic: Paper-Based or Computer-Based?

There are two main ways you can sit for the IELTS Academic – on a computer or on paper. The structure and questions in both mediums are the same. Here’s how the two compare:


IELTS Academic on Paper

IELTS Academic on Computer


·        Writing

·        Reading

·        Listening


*The Speaking session may be on the same day or on a different day

·        Listening

·        Reading

·        Writing


*The Speaking session may be on the same day or on a different day


·        Test centre

·        Test Centre

·        Online


Total: 2 hours, 45 minutes

·        Speaking: 11 -14 minutes

·        Reading: 60 minutes

·        Writing: 60 minutes

·        Listening: 30-34 minutes

Total: 2 hours, 45 minutes

·        Speaking: 11 -14 minutes

·        Reading: 60 minutes

·        Writing: 60 minutes

·        Listening: 30-34 minutes


·        Paper

·        Pencil

·        Headphones (for the Listening section)

·        Computer set-up (including monitor, keyboard, mouse)

·        Headphones

·        Paper and pencil (for notes)

Results available in

13 days

3-5 days


Understand the IELTS Test Format

Before you can get into IELTS preparation, you need to understand the nature of the test. As you know by this point, the test has 4 skill sections: Reading, Listening, Writing, and Speaking. A key thing to remember is that the IELTS will test these skills concurrently.

What this means is that in any one of the sections, you will be showcasing more than one skill at a time. For example, in the Listening section, you will be using your listening skills along with your reading and writing skills.

Let’s take a closer look at the various sections of the IELTS Academic test.



No. of Questions

Assessed Skills


Listen to 4 recordings and answer questions based on these


·        Recording #1 – dialogue between two people in an everyday situation or social context

·        Recording #2 – a monologue in an everyday social setting (e.g., a speech or announcement about a tour or hike)

·        Recording #3 – a conversation among multiple people (up to 4) in an academic or training context (e.g., students discussing a project with a professor)

·        Recording #4 – a monologue in an academic setting (e.g. a lecture)


·        Comprehension of main ideas

·        Comprehension of the facts

·        Recognising the speaker’s opinions, purpose, and attitude

·        Following an argument’s development or progression



You will read three passages of text and answer the following types of questions:

·        Fill in the gaps (in a text passage, table, etc.)

·        Match headings to text paragraphs or to charts/tables

·        Complete sentences based on the passage

·        Select the right answer(s) from multiple-choice questions


The text passages can vary in nature. They can be excerpts from journals, books, news articles, magazines, etc.


·        Reading for:

o   Gist

o   Main ideas

o   Detail

·        Comprehension of implications and inferences in the text

·        Recognising the speaker’s opinions, purpose, and attitude

·        Following an argument’s development or progression



IELTS Writing Task 1 gives you a chart, graph, diagram, or table. You will need to describe, summarise, or explain the information this communicates in at least 150 words.


IELTS Writing Task 2 gives you a prompt in the form of a problem, argument, or perspective. You will have to write an essay of at least 250 words in response to the prompt.


·        Range and accuracy of your grammar and vocabulary

·        Content

·        Organisation of ideas


The IELTS Speaking test is a separate session compared to the other three sections.


You will speak with a certified IELTS examiner and respond to their questions.


Part 1: Introductions

You will introduce yourself to the examiner. You will answer general questions about everyday topics such as your family, place of work, hobbies, etc.


Part 2: Speak About a Topic

You will receive a task card with a specific topic, including the talking points to focus on. You will have a minute to make notes, and you can then speak uninterrupted about the topic for 1-2 minutes.


Part 3: Follow-Up

The examiner will ask you some follow-up questions tied to Part 2.

3 parts

Ability to:

·        Communicate information, ideas, and topics about familiar matters, everyday situations, and common experiences


IELTS Score Breakdown

This might be the part you are most keen to learn about – IELTS scores and how they work. As we discussed earlier, the score requirements of different universities, programs, and study levels can all vary. It’s important you look into what these minimum requirements are when researching your top programs.

For each section of the IELTS, you’ll get a band score between 0 and 9, at 0.5 increments. The average of these is your overall IELTS score (also between 0 and 9, at 0.5-point increments).

IELTS Section



1 mark per correct answer – 40 points in total


1 mark per correct answer – 40 points in total


Examiners grade the IELTS Writing tasks on:

·        Task Achievement (for IELTS Writing Task 1) and Task Response (for IELTS Writing Task 2)

·        Coherence and cohesion

·        Lexical resource

·        Grammatical range and accuracy

The weightage of the two tasks vary. The IELTS Writing Task 2 weighs more than Task 1.


Examiners grade the IELTS Speaking test on:

·        Pronunciation

·        Lexical resource

·        Fluency and coherence

·        Grammatical range and accuracy


Each of the above criteria weigh equally and the average is your total score for the band


IELTS Band Score Breakdown

With 0 as the lowest score and 9 as the highest possible score, here’s what each of the score bands say about your English language proficiency.

Band Score

English Language Proficiency


Expert – Complete command of the English language. Able to apply the language appropriately, accurately, and fluently, with full understanding


Very Good – Solid command of the English language with just a few cases of inappropriate or inaccurate use. Able to handle complex discussions and arguments well, though some confusion may occur in an unfamiliar situation


Good – Good command of the English language, with some cases of inappropriate or inaccurate use in unfamiliar situations. Capable of navigating complex language well and able to follow detailed reasoning


Competent – Effective command of the English language despite some cases of misunderstandings and inappropriate or inaccurate use. Capable of understanding and applying complex language in familiar situations


Modest – Partial command of the English language, capable of navigating most situations, though likely to make mistakes. Able to manage basic communication in one’s own field


Limited – Basic command of the English language in everyday and familiar situations. Frequent issues with expression and comprehension. Unable to handle complex language


Extremely Limited – Able to communicate and understand only basic meaning in very familiar settings and situations. Communication breakdowns are frequent


Intermittent – Effective communication not possible aside from very basic exchange of information with a few words or common expressions in very familiar situations. An intermittent user experiences a lot of difficulty with spoken and written English


Non-User – Highly limited ability to communicate in the language aside from very few words and expressions


Examinee did not sit for the test


Preparing for Your IELTS

Now that you understand the ins and outs of the IELTS, the next step is getting ready to ace it. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources out there for IELTS preparation. From completely free to paid resources, here’s a quick breakdown of some of your options.


Road to IELTS

This fantastic resource is available to you as soon as you sign up for the IELTS. You have access to 6 practice tests to understand hands-on the look and feel of the real thing. Additionally, you will find 2 practice Speaking tests, and a bunch of other exercises, including 92 interactive activities.

The Road to IELTS also features 9 tutorial videos from IELTS instructors breaking down tips and tricks to help you succeed on test-day.

The best part is that if you want to go heavy with the practice, you can upgrade the Road to IELTS package to several more practice tests, activities, and tutorials!


Free IELTS Practice Tests

The official IELTS administrators offer quite a number of free practice tests for you to warm up for your IELTS preparation. While the Road to IELTS resource emulates the computer-based tests, these practice resources give you a taste of the paper-based exam.


IELTS Prep App

Get your English prep on the go with this free mobile app, available for both iOS and Android devices. The app gives you access to free tests, exercises, quizzes, tips on grammar, and more. Alongside vocabulary practice, you can work on your IELTS preparation with sample questions from the four sections.


IELTS Preparation Webinars

These weekly IELTS webinars are free and cover topics spanning all the four skills you will test for during your IELTS exam. IELTS instructors conduct these webinars, and yes, they are interactive – so you can clear your doubts and questions with these experts!

Signing up also gives you access to the IELTS Study Pack. This great resource contains multiple webinar recordings and thorough study plans covering each of the four IELTS skills.


British Council English Online IELTS Course

If you’re looking for a thorough, A-Z crash course to prep for the IELTS, the English Online IELTS course may be the right pick for you. Flexible pricing means there are multiple price tiers you can choose from. Before committing, you can also explore the course platform for free and access free IELTS prep study tips with a sign up!

One of the biggest perks of this course is the personalized attention. An instructor will do a needs analysis for you to pinpoint which skills you must work on. You can choose one-to-one or group sessions of real-time coaching from these experts, for a 3-month program.

Another great feature is your access to IELTS mock tests. Practice is ultimately the best way to prepare for the IELTS. Hands-on experience with the IELTS mock tests helps you grow familiar with the format. This means that you already know what to expect on test day.

Practice is also the best way to develop your intuition and understanding for which questions are testing which skills, and how to answer them for maximum scores.


Rounding Up

Sitting for the IELTS is a sign of your commitment to access truly fantastic opportunities to study abroad. A good IELTS score doesn’t only add weight to your application. Some universities use your English proficiency score to determine your scholarship eligibility too!

Acing the test communicates to admissions officers that you are a great candidate for their university. With this complete breakdown of the IELTS and IELTS preparation, we hope you feel ready to take the first steps to study abroad. If you’d like to learn more about the IELTS and studying abroad, contact Gradstar Global for a free consultation!