Answer all questions. There is no negative marking for incorrect answers.
The reading test is considered by many to be the most difficult part of IELTS. And with some justification. You have to read 3 long sections, each with multiple paragraphs, and answer 40 questions (13 to 14 per section). Unlike the listening test, no extra time is given at the end to transfer your answers to the answer sheet. Time can be a major constraint since you only have an hour to finish the test.
Start by reading the How to prepare for IELTS - Reading test manual at the Hong Kong City University site to familiarize yourself with the test, the types of questions that are asked and strategies for answering them.
The key to doing well in this part is practice. Read newspapers, magazines and books. Try and improve your reading skills and speed. Do the practice tests in Cambridge IELTS 3.
The most important thing to understand is that the test does NOT assess your comprehension of the paragraphs. It does NOT test how well you have understood the passage. It tests specific skills called Scanning and Skimming.
Scanning is what one does, for example, when looking for a phone number in a directory. You know the specific information you are looking for and you go down the page quickly to find it. This technique is used when answering questions such as multiple-choice and matching. You scan the passage to quickly find the information mentioned in the question. Once you find it, you get the answer from the passage and write it against the question.
Skimming refers to reading a paragraph quickly to get an idea of what it is about, without trying to understand its details. This technique is part of the initial reading (see below). It can be modified (reading a little slower) to answer "Provide headings for the paragraphs" , "In which paragraph does this information appear in the text?" and "Author's views" type of questions.
The sections get progressively more difficult. Aim to spend about 15 to17 minutes on Section 1, 20 minutes on Section 2 and 23 to 25 minutes on Section 3. If possible, keep some spare time to check your answers.
I would suggest ( and this is how I did it ) that you first read all the questions quickly to get an idea of what type of information is required and whether scanning or skimming (or a combination of the two) is called for. As you read the questions, use a pencil to underline important information such as dates, places and names.
Once you are through with reading all the questions, skim over the text and underline / mark important parts. If you see any information relating to the questions, mark it straight away. You may even be able to answer some questions as you read.
Answer the questions one by one with the help of the underlined parts of the text. Having read the text once, you will find it easy to find specific information by scanning.
The answers usually appear in the text in the same order as the questions. That is, the answer to question 4 will be earlier in the text than the answer to question.
5. This need not always be true. It may apply to each question type rather than to all the questions taken together. The answer to MCQ 2 will appear before that to MCQ 3 and the answer to Matching question 2 will usually appear earlier than that to Matching question 3. However, the answer to MCQ 3 may appear before the answer to Matching question 2. This will not apply to questions like "In which paragraph does this information appear?" and "Yes / No / Not given". For these question types, the information may be scattered randomly anywhere in the paragraphs.
As soon as you find an answer, write it against the question on the question paper. It is not always a good idea to try answering questions in the order in which they are asked.
Read the instructions for each question very carefully. If the question specifies that you must not use more than three words in your answer, stick to three words.
The toughest questions are the True / False / Not given and Yes / No / Not given ones. Practice doing these questions till you are confident. Make sure you do not answer True / False for a Yes / No question and vice versa. Such an answer will be considered wrong and fetch no marks. 2. Listening
Answer all questions. There is no negative marking for incorrect answers.
Read the How to prepare for IELTS - Listening test manual at the Hong Kong City University site to familiarize yourself with the test, the types of questions that are asked and strategies for answering them.
To get an idea of how this kind of test is conducted, you can try doing the practice tests at Randall's ESL Cyber Listening Lab . The accent is American so it does not approximate the actual test very well. Still, it is useful practice for this type of test.
Practise doing the 4 listening tests in the book -- Cambridge IELTS 3. It helps a lot. It is the closest you can get to the actual test.
At the center where I did the test, each of us was given cordless headphones to listen to the recording. This feels very different from listening to the conversation over speakers. Check with the British Council at the time of registering for IELTS if these will be used for your test. If yes, it might be a good idea to do the practice tests at home using headphones.
Keep all your attention focused for the half hour or so that the test lasts. A lapse of concentration can make you lose the sequence of answers and panic sets in fast.
The test consists of four sections. Sections 1 and 3 are dialogues and sections 2 and 4 are monologues. There are 40 questions to be answered and the test lasts for 30 minutes. Ten minutes are provided at the end of the test to transfer your answers to the answer sheet.
Pay special attention to the dialogues sections (Sections 1 and 3). I found it more difficult to focus on these and the conversation tends to be faster than a monologue (Sections 2 and 4).
At the beginning of each section of the recording, time is provided to read the questions. Use this time to read the questions pertaining to that section (the voice on the tape tells you how many questions to read ) and underline key words in each question on the question booklet like "when", "where", "who" and "what" which tell you what to listen for. Time is also provided at the end of each section to check your answers. Use this time also to read the questions for the next section.
Read the questions carefully. If the question says mark the answer as A, B, C or D on the answer sheet, make sure you don't write the phrase that A, B, C or D correspond to. Just write A, B, C or D. If the question specifies that you must not use more than three words in your answer, writing 4 words will get you no marks for that question.
The answers usually appear in the conversation in the same order as the questions.
The speakers often correct themselves. They will say something initially and then change the statement. For example, "we will go in March" is said first and then "No, let's make it May". The correct answer is the final statement i,e. May and not March. Watch out for this and make sure you write the final correct answer.
If you miss an answer, don't panic. Keep listening for the next answer.
Write your answer immediately on the question sheet itself. Don't try to memorize the answers or to write on the answer sheet. The ten minutes provided at the end of the test are quite sufficient to transfer your answers to the answer sheet. 3. Writing
Actually sit and write out tasks 1 and 2 while practising. It is very tempting to think of what you would write and not do the actual writing. You will appreciate the importance of using a structured format and avoiding being repetitive only if you practise writing.
Start by reading the How to prepare for IELTS - Writing test manual at the Hong Kong City University site to familiarize yourself with the test and to get useful hints.
Task 2 carries more marks. Spend more time on it. Twenty minutes on task 1 and 40 minutes on task 2 would be a good balance.
Since task 2 is more important, it may be a good idea to do task 2 first and task 1 later. However, make sure you write for each task in the allotted area since the answer sheet has separate areas designated for each task.
For both writing tasks, it is a good idea to jot down your ideas on the question sheet so that you know the outline of what you will be writing. It may take 2 or 3 minutes but the time spent is worth it.
Writing task 1 requires you to describe a graph / table / diagram in AT LEAST 150 words. I had practised on a lot of graphs but the task we had was to describe the data in a table! So practise describing all kinds of graphs / tables. See how much of your writing is 150 words. If you write less that 150 words, you lose marks. If you write more, you are likely to make more mistakes. Try and stick to around 150 words.
For task 1, first spend some time looking at the graph / table and understanding the information given. Don't start writing immediately. Make sure you know what each axis of the graph represents and in what units. The following structure is suggested for writing:
A sentence describing what the graph / table shows.
Another sentence describing the broad / important trends shown.
Description of the data. It may not be possible to describe all the data as there may be too much data presented. Describe the relevant and most important parts. If there is more than one graph / chart, describe any comparisons or trends that can be made out.
A concluding sentence which sums up the data / trends.
Practise using a variety of phrases to avoid being repetitive.
The best practice for task 2, which asks you to present an argument, is to read newspaper editorials and magazine articles on current topics. This will help you develop your ideas. A suggested structure for writing is:
1. Introduce the topic and state your stand, whether you agree or disagree.
2. Give arguments in support of your viewpoint supported by relevant examples.
3. State the contrary viewpoint and give reasons why you don't agree with it.
4. Conclude with a short concluding paragraph.
5. If there is time left at the end, revise your answers and correct any spelling or grammatical mistakes.
The test consists of three parts. In the first part the examiner introduces himself and asks you your name, address, interests and occupation. This part, lasting 4 to 5 minutes, is fairly simple if you are not nervous and your conversational English is adequate.
In the second part you will be given a sheet of paper with a topic written on it. You have to speak for 2 minutes on this topic. You can't ask for another topic. You are given 1 minute to write down your ideas. A sheet of paper and a pen are provided.
1. Make sure you read all the questions relating to the topic, written on the paper. It usually has two or three parts which you will have to talk about. Don't miss out any question or you will lose marks.
2. Take the one minute provided to write down all the ideas you get about the topic. You lose no marks if you use up the one minute. Two minutes can be a long time to talk solo and the notes you make will help you keep talking for the full two minutes.
Once you finish your two minutes, the examiner will stop you and then ask you some questions on what you have talked about. The second part lasts a total of 3-4 minutes.
The third part involves a discussion between you and the examiner on a topic related to what you spoke about in part 2.
You will be marked on fluency, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and ideas.
The most important thing which will help you in the speaking test is to use English in your everyday conversations. Avoid using your native language for a few weeks before the test and converse only in English. This will make you confident and you will talk fluently in the test. Watch English movies or English programmes on television to improve your pronunciation and to expand your vocabulary.