So, where do you start?
ONE – Know what Score you need
If you want to study at an English university then you will need to write the Academic IELTS (and not the General IELTS). The speaking and listening sections are the same but the writing and reading sections are different.
Know the score you are aiming for. Each university requires different scores. For example, the University of Cape Town usually requires a recent overall band score of 7.0 with no individual element of the test scoring below 6.0 (in reading, writing, listening and speaking), while other institutions may only require an overall band score of 6.0 or 6.5.
TWO – Know your Level
If you are aiming for a band score of 7.0 then you should ideally have reached upper-intermediate (B2) in General English before you invest your time preparing for IELTS.
Preparing for IELTS involves a lot of exam training and less focus on grammar and language development. The focus is on academic use of English.
THREE – Prepare using Trustworthy Sources
Anyone can post their IELTS course online so there is misinformation and bad advice all over the web. It is advisable to use reliable sites such as the British Council IELTS training materials or Cambridge materials and you can download their learning apps. You can also find more advice on the ELC Blog such as this post on writing an opinion essay.
If you have the opportunity, you may want to sign up for a course at a language school such as the ELC, where teachers can coach you directly and provide personal feedback on how to improve your weak points.
FOUR – Book your Exam in Advance
Exam centres fill up, so you should book ahead to make sure you get the date you require. Also be sure to book the correct type of exam. There is a paper exam and a computer based exam, there is the General and the Academic exam, there is also a UK Exam. So be sure to register for the correct one.
FIVE – Be Prepared for the Day
The experience is daunting. Some exam centres have 100s of students writing. Security at the exam venue is extreme so no one can cheat. It is difficult to get a bathroom break and depending on the exam centre, you may sit for 3 – 4 hours writing the paper. Get the details on how your exam centre administers the exam so that you are mentally prepared for the day.
Extra TIP – Increase your General Knowledge
IELTS exams tend to cover similar topics such as climate change, population growth and new developments in science such as nanotechnology and neuroscience. So read articles and listen to podcasts on a variety of topics to expand not only your vocabulary but your general knowledge too. It is much easier to understand when you already know something about the topic and it is much easier to write or talk about a topic that you are familiar with.