October 12, 2020

How to improve your IELTS

Knowing what to expect on the IELTS is the first step to preparing to take the test.

In the previous article we briefly discussed the IELTS test. And in the next article we will give you the best ways to study for the IELTS. But in this article we want to talk about each section in more detail.

Sections on the IELTS

The IELTS is divided into four sections, each corresponding to one of the four parts of language, reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

Listening comprehension

The exam begins with the listening compression section. In this section you will hear four different conversations from native speakers with different accents and must answer a series of questions about them. This section lasts 30 minutes.

You will only have one opportunity to listen to each conversation, so it is important to pay close attention.

Tips for Listening

  • Read each question carefully before the conversation begins.
  • Write down the answers while listening to the conversation.
  • You will have ten minutes once the conversations are over, so take advantage of this time to check for grammatical or scoring errors.

Reading comprehension

The next section is reading compression section. Most people consider this to be the most difficult part of the exam. It consists of a variety of texts taken from newspapers, books, magazines or other media. After reading them the student must answer about 40 questions. This section lasts 60 minutes.

Tips for Reading

  • Analyze each question before answering it.
  • If you can't find the answer to one question, move on to the next one. Don't waste valuable time. Remember you only have 60 minutes.
  • You should focus on finding the answers, not understanding the whole text.
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The written section is divided into two parts. The first part varies depending on whether the student takes the Academic test or the General Training test.

In the latter you should write a letter about something specific, while in the Academic test you will describe something that they will show you at the time of evaluation. This is usually something like a graph or chart. Your description should be at least 150 words.

The second part is the same for both versions of the exam and is a 250-word essay. You can find more information for how to write a 5 paragraph essay for standardized test here. You will have 60 minutes to complete both parts.

Tips for Writing

  • Take time to plan and outline before you begin writing.
  • Budget your time. Ideally, you'll take less than 20 minutes in the first part and less than 40 minutes in the second part.
  • Be precise and concise. Don't write just for writing.


The last section is the conversation section. You have the choice of completing this on the same day as the other sections or completing it a week before or a week after the other sections.

This section consists of three parts and lasts between 11 and 15 minutes. It’s done with an examiner and a single candidate. The sections are:

Presentation and interview: Topics will be questions, often about likes, family, or travel.

Monologue: Candidates should speak alone about a topic that will be given to them on a card.

Discussion: The interviewer will ask you questions prompting you to expand on your previous answers.

Tips for Speaking

  • Practice having conversations before the exam. Try to express your opinion on various topics clearly.
  • Express yourself using different verbal tenses (past, present, past perfect, etc), idioms and common expressions in English.
  • Be sure to answer the questions you are asked or give your opinion completely. Don't answer with one word or really short answers.

Now that you know what to expect for each section of the IELTS make sure you read our next article.  In that one you will learn the best ways to study for the IELTS exam.

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About the author 

Jaimi Saunders

J’aimi has worked in the education industry for over 20 years, gaining experience in teaching, mentoring, and coaching. As a seasoned educator he is passionate about advancing teaching excellence and student motivation. In addition to working in the education industry, he is also involved in continuing his personal education and improvement. Outside of the office, J’aimi enjoys, antique vehicles, motorcycles, and travelling to new destinations.

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