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IELTS Success: Candidate Tips for Score 8.5

An IELTS candidate shares her IELTS tips for band score 8.5 overall. I hope this success story and her advice will help you all in your preparation for IELTS. At the bottom of the page, you will also find useful links to more free IELTS lessons and tips.

For the purpose of anonymity, I have called her Sarah. Below are her results and her tips for you all. She took Academic IELTS.

Sarah’s IELTS Results: Overall 8.5

  • Listening 8.5
  • Reading 8.5
  • Writing 7.5
  • Speaking 8.5

Sarah’s IELTS Tips for 8.5: in her own words

Shocked by the $365 exam fee, I was adamant to only sit through the IELTS test once and get a C2 in my first try. Which, thankfully, I did – and here are my two cents!

IELTS Success Tip 1:

Use the English Language every day.

Being born and raised in a country, where English is our first language, with a tough education regimen, English exams in school having pretty much the same format as the IELTS test; I must admit that all those factors combined gave me an upper hand. However, that also means that to ace or score well in the IELTS test is simply about familiarizing yourself with the English language.
With that said, read, speak, write, and listen to English every single day be it if it’s from books, online news articles, shows from Netflix, YouTube videos, or ordering a cup of coffee. The IELTS test is all about how fluent and comfortable you are in the English language – so really acclimatize yourself to the language.

IELTS Success Tip 2:

It’s more important to study smart rather than to study hard. I cannot stress this enough.

Don’t waste your time and effort in memorizing all the words in the Cambridge dictionary, instead, study and fully understand the marking scheme and criteria of each component of the IELTS test. (Yes, having a rich and diverse vocab is part of what makes a fluent speaker, but so is using and pronouncing those fancy words accurately. I met a British Council teacher who told us that many students attempted in using idioms and fancy words in their Speaking or Writing test but, unfortunately, they used them incorrectly, which caused deductions in their marks. So you really don’t want to risk that!)

For example, in Writing Task 1, you can’t just use primary school language like ‘goes up/down’ if you want to score a high band score. Instead, familiarise yourself with alternatives such as ‘peaked at’, ‘remained relatively quiescent’, ‘the figure soared/spiked/plummeted/plunged’. Notice how these words aren’t super fancy? Yet, they could either make or break a high band.

Another example of working smart instead of working hard is in Writing Task 2 – don’t trouble yourself by writing/typing a lengthy essay. There is no such thing as right or wrong ideas in Writing Task 2. To illustrate, if the question asks for the best method in weight loss and you write/type that eating strawberries is the most efficient way, you won’t be penalized even though that is realistically-speaking not entirely correct. You will still stand a chance in earning a fairly high band score as long as you are able to support your argument by further describing the ‘why’ factor and give relevant examples. Structurally speaking, your essay in Task 2 should have at most 5 paragraphs – 1 Introduction, 1 Conclusion, and 2-3 body paragraphs. These body paragraphs should have about 4-5 sentences consisting of a Topic Sentence, elaborations, and examples.

IELTS Success Tip 3:

Prepare for all possible question types in Writing Task 1.

No student will be able to know what sort of question they will get on the exam day. Therefore, the best way to prepare yourself is to practice all kinds of question types in Writing Task namely graphs (line, bar, pie), maps, processes (the production of _____). 

IELTS Success Tip 4:

Learn to move on at the right time.

One of the many things I struggled with when preparing for the IELTS test is the concept of moving on from a question during the listening test. Initially, whenever I miss an answer from the audio, I tend to re-read the question and think of possible answers that would fit. That, of course, ended up in me missing even more answers afterwards.You will have some time at the end of the audio to look through your answers again, so use that time to go back to the questions where you missed. While the audio is still running, remain calm and answer the subsequent questions while you still have the chance.

IELTS Success Tip 5:

Study from credible sources (especially if you’re paying them!)

There is an overwhelming number of materials online for students to prepare for the IELTS test. Always verify that the teacher/company is credible and reliable and is truly familiar with IELTS. Also, read model answers from Band 7 onwards. (IELTS Liz is, of course, a legitimate source and one that I primarily depended on during my preparation.)

IELTS Success Tip 6:

Prepare ideas and vocabs for the Speaking test.

IELTS invigilators are rigorously trained in spotting memorized answers, so don’t memorize and risk getting penalized. There is a fine line between drafting ideas and memorizing them. For instance, Keith from IELTS Speaking Success on Youtube does a great job in touching possible Speaking topics for January through April. He prepares you by giving you ideas and interesting vocab for each question. By having these ideas and vocabs in your head, it allows you to become more flexible and versatile in answering questions asked by the examiners, whereas memorized modeled answers are usually always for a specific type of question. 

IELTS Success Tip 7:

Listen attentively to how the examiners ask the questions during the Speaking test.

Be wary of the tenses used and reply the invigilators in the correct tenses. For example, if asked ‘Where are you staying/living?’. That is present tense, so answer them where you are currently staying at – not where you used to stay or where you would want to stay in the future. These questions are deliberately structured in this manner to test how truly fluent you are. 

IELTS Success Tip 8:

Read the questions before the passages in the Reading section.

To better manage your time, read through the questions in the Reading section first so that you more or less know what you need to be looking out for when you’re reading the passage. Then, at any point when you reach the part of the passage containing the answer, quickly go back to the question and jot the answer down. From my experience, this benefited and helped me tremendously where I previously wasn’t able to complete the Reading section in an hour during my practices at home. 

IELTS Success Tip 9:

Wisely choose between the Computer-based or Paper-based test.

This is another deciding factor that could either make your IELTS paper smooth-sailing to extremely exhausting. Each has its pros and cons but whichever you choose, it has to be something that you perform the best and are the most comfortable in. If you are dexterous and IT-savvy, it’s better to opt for the computer-based test whereas if you write more frequently than you type, it’s wiser to go for the paper-based test.

IELTS Success Tip 10:

Prepare yourself mentally.

The IELTS test is an almost 3 hours paper in ONE sitting. That is excruciatingly draining even for hardcore Asians. Unlucky for me, I even had my Speaking test on the same day with my 3 other papers. Hence, challenge yourself at home in the same way by doing all 3-4 sections at one go. It may be tiring at first, but once you get the hang of it, the actual day won’t be as tiring anymore and your efforts will prove to be worth it.
Different strokes for different folks – these are some suggestions I have which personally helped me, but may not necessarily benefit you in the same manner. Nonetheless, I hope that at least some of these tips helped shine some light on your preparation for the IELTS test. 

Best of luck to every single one of you! I’m sure we can all achieve our goals. (: From Sarah.



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