Teaching IELTS Preparation

Clare Hayward
Advice and tips on preparing students for IELTS exam strategies, the listening, speaking, reading and writing papers, and IELTS scoring

Before teaching the IELTS exam, you need to find out more about the exam format so that you know how to deliver the lessons for this specific exam. One idea is to actually try the exam yourself but as the cost is about £140 or £160 per sitting, it might be quite an expense. There are TEFL/TESOL course providers that run exam preparation classes, which cover the IELTS amongst other proficiency exams and will give you a good grounding in how to effectively prepare students for such exams.

You can find out more about the exam and it’s actual format at ielts.org, where there is information about the two types of test, the test format and sample test questions. It’s also very helpful as it has a section on how the IELTS papers are scored. Finally on this website there is a section for teaching, research and examiner recruitment.

It may be an idea to check where your nearest exam centre is. Usually, they are in capital cities and the larger cities across the world. Find out more about the exam centre on the day of the exam, aspects such as room setup, timing, schedule and what you are allowed in the exam room (water bottle etc). Knowing this type of information will help your students to feel confident and relaxed on the exam day.

Exam Strategies

Most importantly for your students, they need to know exam strategies and techniques. Once you are more familiar with the exam format you can develop your classroom activities to be engaging and helpful.

Firstly, you could use past papers – and there are plenty available. I would suggest bite-sized samples of papers, for example, and choose one out of the three reading texts to look at closely or take one part out of the three speaking interviews. Within a one-hour lesson you could cover a couple of aspects (or skills) to provide variety and pace.  

Using the exact timings of past papers enables the students to get a feel of the exam. So, if you look at only one text from the reading you could limit the time to 20 minutes as there are 3 texts with questions in a one hour paper for reading. Alternatively, if you concentrate only on part 2 of the speaking interview, the students have 2 minutes to prepare an answer from a prompt and need to talk for 2 minutes so give about 4 minutes for the whole part. I often have 2 minute topics all in a jar that students pick out and tell their partner as they need to get used to how 2 minutes of talking feels. My 2 minute jar of topics has a huge variety from ballet to the military, marketing to fishing, so that students become used to talking about an unknown subject.

During practice tests, read out the instructions to the class and perhaps get them to sit at separate tables. One example of the exam instructions for part 2 of the speaking is: 

‘Ok, next I’m going to give you a card with a topic on it. I’d like you to talk about it for one to two minutes. Before you start talking, you have one minute to think about what you’re going to say. You can make notes if you wish. Do you understand?’ 

If students are not familiar with these instructions, they might be a little confused by them on the day of the test.

IELTS reading and listening papers come with a separate answer sheet so start the habit of using these. They are available on the internet and following the exam process, you can give the students 10 minutes to transfer their answers. They transfer their draft answers from the question paper to the answer sheet. Getting used to the layout of the answer sheets and its boxes really helps.

Spend a lesson on mistakes that candidates often make that can be easily avoided. Examples of these include writing the correct number of words in gap fills or misunderstanding the question. Others such as not transferring answers (at all) in time or not understanding the marking criteria are a hindrance. Furthermore, poor structure in the writing or poor time management are unhelpful. Finally, over-interpretation of visual data in Task 1 of the writing or short simplistic answers in the speaking can decrease scores dramatically.

At the start of the course I often give my students a treasure hunt quiz of the exam components. Questions can be: how long does the reading exam last? Or how many words can you write for Task 2 of the writing. Working in pairs, it increases competition while broadening their knowledge of the exam and is very engaging. A follow up could be a text about the exam with 10 mistakes that they have to find – good practice for many reasons!

The Writing Paper

Task 1 of IELTS writing uses a visual form of data such as graph or pie chart. You could use infographics from the internet or create your own. Choosing pop culture topics would make these more engaging such as James Bond line graphs for movie revenue, bar charts for actors who pay Bond and pictographs for the number of martinis.  

During the course I implement the lesson tasks for the exam as collaboratively as possible. For example, working in pairs to generate ideas when answering an essay (Task 2) question. Or group work discussion, with a different essay question each they present their ideas for 2 minutes (also practicing the timing for Part 2).

Planning their answers is important for writing.  First, they could analyse the task and break it down into the topic, the issue and the instruction. For example:

1. People are increasingly using the internet to socialise.
2. Some people think this has made people closer, while others think people are more isolated. 
3. Discuss both sides and give your opinion.

Pairs could discuss each aspect. Furthermore to this approach of breaking down the parts, pairs could discuss each part to provide more structure to their essay and think of examples they can develop.

The Listening Paper

The audio is only listened to once in IELTS and practice of this is vital. Underlining key words in the questions is also a very helpful habit to get students to do. Giving the class 6 to 8 key words before the listening and they predict the content or type of listening text is good practice for anticipating ideas.  

You can use jigsaw readings so elements of collaboration are used which is helpful.  A and B listen to the same text but have different questions to listen for then they compare.  

Dictation (dictogloss) is extremely beneficial to practice all skills but especially listening as a bottom-up processing method. There are various formats, but you could read out a sample of IELTS reading or listening transcript – about 60 words.  

The Reading Paper

A well-known method is to read the questions first then find the answers in the text – this saves time! Introduce this process and use it in every lesson you give. When the class have ‘found’ the answer to the question, always ask them where they found it – to eliminate wrong answers and help others who didn’t find it!

There are several engaging activities you can try. Firstly, cutting up the academic text in 5 or 6 parts that students then need to put in order. Matching headings to each paragraph is a common question format – again you could cut the text up or display all the headings around the room.  

Increase the habit of underlining key words in texts to find answers more quickly then ask pairs to find synonyms of these – paraphrasing is consistently used in the IELTS exam. Time these activities so they become used to the limits they have for reading.

The Speaking Paper

During classes cover as many general questions as possible that are asked in Part 1 of the exam – there are a bank the examiners use. For example, what do you like about living in ….. ? or Do you work or study? Have these in a jar as a filler and provide plenty of regular practice.  

Provide practice of language used to give your opinion such as I think that ….. Or In my opinion… and think of ways the students need to give a reason (important in the exam).  Furthermore, practice of air time fillers such as ‘oh let me think …or good question! Or I’m not sure……or can you repeat that please?  These give students thinking time and show they possess some colloquial language too.

IELTS scoring

Information about scoring is on the exam website. Reading and listening are either right or wrong and are marked on the computer. The band scores derive from the raw data.  These are easily learnt so you can advise your students. However, speaking and writing are less objective and are marked by an examiner. The IELTS website has some ideas for marking these and with experience you become more accurate but exact scores are trade secrets. There are public writing band descriptors for tasks 1 and 2 online, and easy to find that are essential when marking – give these to your students too.

Written by Clare Hayward for EnglishClub


  • Wadeeha khan says:

    Thank u so much

  • The King Of Love From IRAN says:

    Thank you so much,

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