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When is the Right Time to Begin Preparing for the IELTS?

IELTS opens up opportunities, and opportunity is best served by careful preparation

In every enabling skill, the test-taker is awarded some marks in every skill. Pixabay

If you’re anticipating sitting for the IELTS exam, you’re more than likely asking yourself: When is the best time to take this test? While it may seem the “right” time to take the IELTS is far out of reach as it involves months and hours of preparation, choosing when to do so factors into your performance and overall success. If the old adage is true and “timing is everything,” this most certainly applies to the IELTS.  

Broadly speaking, the IELTS is an English proficiency exam administered by the British Council, IDP, as well as Cambridge Assessment English. The purposes for taking it are threefold: for work, study, or migration. Furthermore, the IELTS is more common in the U.K. and its territories of influence. It’s important to note that there are actually two different versions of the exam, and which one you select might impact your course of study, whether it’s through Manhattan Review or another academic services company.

The two forms of the IELTS are: academic and general. According to IELTS.org, the academic version “is for people applying to higher education or professional registration in an English-speaking environment.” The general IELTS, on the other hand, “is for those who are going to English-speaking countries for secondary education, work experience or training programs.” The general training exam is the one required for migration to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the U.K. Both versions of the test focus on speaking, reading, listening, and writing.

IELTS Listening

There are 40 questions on the IELTS listening section, broken down into four sections. Section one contains two speakers, usually a telephone conversation that asks to make note of specific information such as dates, times, etc. Section two involves one speaker, typically a talk from a guide of some sort lecturing about a company, charity, building or some other related subject. Section three involves three to four speakers and is an academic discussion. Finally, section four entails one speaker and is an academic lecture.

It should come as no surprise that section four is the most challenging, as the lecture is academic and involves wading through dense, heady material. Clearly, note-taking skills are paramount for the IELTS listening section; for many, these skills must be cultivated over time. It’s recommended to allow yourself several months of listening and note-taking practice to perform your best on this section. Getting a hold of IELTS sample listening exercises, but also practicing on your own with English-speaking podcasts, academic lectures, and YouTube videos will add variety to your skill-building process. Remember, the listening portion is 40 minutes and for most people, that is a long time to sit and listen to take notes while attempting to answer pertinent questions correctly. By allowing yourself several months of listening practice, you’re not only enhancing your listening skills, but also your endurance to sit and concentrate for 40 minutes at a time on that particular skill.

IELTS Reading

The reading portion of the IELTS comes directly after the listening section and it’s important to note there isn’t a break in time between the two. IELTS reading lasts an hour, entailing three reading passages total—and that’s for either the general or academic exam. These passages are taken from magazines, newspapers, or books and involve academic vocabulary and even diagrams and maps. There are 40 questions total in the IELTS reading portion of the exam.

The skills needed for a superior score on the reading section are primarily skimming and scanning, which enable you to move through dense reading material quickly while still retaining the most relevant and essential information. Some people call this “speed reading,” as it differs greatly from reading for leisure, which allows you to take much more time with each sentence, paragraph and word. Good grammar, an understanding of key words, as well as cultivating a more advanced vocabulary all play vital roles in this process. Garnering and implementing these skills may take a considerable amount of time, particularly when it comes to vocabulary-building.

For example, if you want to increase your English vocabulary by 2,000 words and you learn 40 new words a week by making flashcards, it will take you 50 weeks to reach that goal. Utilizing academic reading material outside of IELTS practice exams are also useful, as it offers some variety while still remaining relevant to what you’ll find on the exam.

The two forms of the IELTS are: academic and general. Pixabay

IELTS Speaking

The content for the speaking portion of the IELTS exam is the same for both the academic and general versions of the test. Made up of three sections, this is the shortest portion of the IELTS, as it only takes 11-14 minutes. It focuses primarily on communicating opinions about everyday topics, organizing ideas coherently, discussing issues, and speaking at length about a particular topic. Unlike the TOEFL or other English exams, the speaking section is face-to-face with an examiner in a room, not recorded and judged on another day. A score of 9 is the highest you can get on the speaking section.

Let’s face it, IELTS speaking is not the same as “normal speaking.” Although it’s testing your ability to speak “normally,” it’s judged under the scrutiny of an examiner and a stopwatch. Careful attention is placed on grammar and overall fluency, making this the most nerve-wracking and dreaded section of all. Integrating weekly speaking activities based on IELTS-related topics is the only way to become more accustomed to this portion of the test. Time heals everything—even your anxiety about IELTS speaking—so building enough time to finesse these prompts will go a long way.  

IELTS Writing

IELTS Writing consists of two different essays: one that runs about 150 words and a second around 250 words. It’s recommended to spend 20 minutes on the former and 40 minutes on the latter. Both topics are academic in nature and are judged on coherency, correct grammar, effective vocabulary and overall ease with language.

Similar to the previous IELTS sections, this is timed writing on topics you may or may not be interested in. Naturally, writing under pressure can create brain freezes, so building up your “writing muscles” slowly over the course of time is a valuable way to perform your best. Giving yourself an essay or two to write each week for several months will certainly grow your endurance and impact you positively on test day. It also trains your mind to “go with the writing flow” and not get stuck just because you’re composing an essay under pressure.

The Benefit of Time

As you can see, a common thread in the breakdown of all four IELTS exam sections is the benefit of practice over time. Cramming is not an effective way to meaningfully improve your score, especially as it relates to enhancing your vocabulary and seeing tangible positive results. Cramming may work for tests that quiz you on statistics or data alone, but when it comes to displaying proficient English skills, you’ll inevitably fall short.

Frankly, in a perfect world, you should begin your IELTS study four months out from your scheduled test date. This would allow for a full diagnostic practice exam every month to track overall progress, as well as a heightened awareness of problem spots and areas of improvement. If four months isn’t a realistic time frame for you, the minimum amount of preparation is 2-3 months. It is not advised to prepare for the IELTS under a time frame of two months.

It takes 13 days to retrieve your final IELTS score from your test date and there isn’t a limit on how many times you can retake it, according to IELTS.org. However, retaking might be inhibited at specific test centers if there aren’t any available desks due to high demand. Therefore, banking on being able to retake the exam in the following weeks after your initial test date isn’t always guaranteed, so remembering this ahead of time is vital.

You should begin your IELTS study four months out from your scheduled test date. Pixabay

Studying Around Deadlines

Deadlines relating to migration status, higher education, or workplace entry can greatly affect your IELTS preparation trajectory. If your deadline for a graduate program in the U.K, for example, is early December, waiting until mid-November to sit for the IELTS is probably cutting it way too close. While in theory that would be the bare minimum to get all your paperwork in on time, when it comes to exams and their sometimes unexpected results—allowing another month might be a smart safeguard.

For example, if you have a frenzied morning getting to the examiner’s office for your speaking evaluation, your score could be greatly impacted due to being distracted or thrown off. (This example is pertinent because you can take the speaking evaluation a week before or after you sit for the other sections.) Giving yourself some leeway for a possible retake can relieve anxiety as well as increase your chances of admission to a school, a visa or migration opportunity, and even a job.

When choosing your test date, you want to keep in mind these important deadlines so you can best determine when to take the IELTS. Allowing for some wiggle room only takes a little careful planning and some foresight.

The Takeaway

All in all, the good news is if you give yourself enough time, you can see optimal results on your IELTS exam. All of the skills required for this test are best cultivated over several months with weekly practice, not to be crammed haphazardly days before. Four months is, of course, the ideal time frame to prepare for this test with the minimum being two months. Wherever you turn for your preparation, be it Manhattan Prep or elsewhere, remember to incorporate several diagnostic practice exams along the way so you can track your improvement.

IELTS opens up opportunities, and opportunity is best served by careful preparation. As Robert H. Schuller once said, “Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.” Keep this in mind when finding an IELTS study plan that is right for you.

Next Story

Idioms and Its Proper Use in IELTS Speaking Task

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What is an Idiom?

Why use an Idiom?

Does the use of Idioms increase score in the IELTS exam?


In simple words, Idioms are sentences, words or expressions that do not covey the literal meaning but act as an analogy or a metaphor to resemble something else.

Got confused?

What I mean by this is, to understand an Idiom, don’t go by its literal meaning. When one says “it is raining cats and dogs”, they do not actually mean that cats and dogs are falling from the sky but what they mean is, it is raining heavily.


Now, it is said that the correct use of Idioms in the IELTS Speaking Test can result in a band score of 7 or higher. If you use an Idiom with the proper inflection, then the examiner will spot it out and boost your IELTS Score, and to whom or what the idiom is directed.

Do not use an idiom while speaking or writing in IELTS Exam unless you have a full understanding of it. While speaking, you need to assert emphasis on certain words, fluctuate the voice tones, show your body language and emotions the way you want the message to be conveyed. Using the idiom in a flat manner or without any fluency will make it seem very unnaturally placed in the sentence.

Confused much

In writing, unlike the verbal emphasis, here the examiner will themselves implicitly understand the tone, and the emphasised structure used in the sentence. So, in the IELTS Speaking, use an idiom while describing an event to the listener. In IELTS Writing, try to restrict the use of Idioms only to informal writing.

Now, it is good to use idioms in the IELTS Exam, but don’t use it if you don’t understand it. NEVER try to mug up idioms or try to fit it in a sentence purposely. Scoring a band score of 7 or more doesn’t solely depend on the use of idioms, there are also other factors playing a part. The examiner doesn’t want a person who can use an idiom but the way they use them- that’s the scoring part. If you don’t understand them, do not bother to use them in the exam otherwise you would just end up losing marks over them.

To raise your score in the IELTS Speaking Test, here are a few common Idioms you can employ.

and then some. – in addition to. He paid hundreds of dollars and then some.

over the moon– to be extremely happy or pleased. She was over the moon when she heard the news.

a piece of cake– very easy. Climbing this hill will be a piece of cake for me.

burn the midnight oil– to stay up late. I’ll have to burn the midnight oil to finish this report.


found my feet– to be comfortable in a situation. I asked Alex whether I could stay with him until I found my feet.

go the extra mile– to make more efforts. Are you willing to go the extra mile for her?

call it a day– to end the work for the day. I’m very exhausted, I’m going to call it a day.

dicey– the situation is not certain, a gamble. The future of this company looks a bit dicey.

set in their ways– stubborn, not ready to change. My grandparents are quite set in their ways.

cost an arm and a leg– quite expensive. Those bags can cost you an arm and a leg.

So, these were some of the commonly used idioms you can take advantage of in the IELTS Exam but again would like to remind you that it’s not necessary to use any idiom unless it perfectly fits in the sentence, and is fluently spoken. Remember you don’t have to try to become a master when you’re not even naïve. Just focus on laying down one brick at a time and correctly. You don’t have to worry about the wall, just focus on the brick. So, you need to practise speaking every day and inculcate idioms in your daily life. For IELTS Speaking tips, make sure to read this blog Boost your IELTS Speaking Score to Band 7 or Higher.

If you want to ace the Speaking Section, sign up on IELTS Tutorials and get FREE Practice tests and in your own sweet time and place, you can do the IELTS Speaking Practice Online. If you need any assistance for any query or clarification, feel free to contact us.

About the Author:

With almost a decade of experience in the Education and Immigration Department, Mr Milan Patel have raised Aussizz Group on to a high peak of success. With his expert guidance and knowledge, IELTS Tutorials have been able to impart education to hundreds of IELTS aspirants and have made their dream of going abroad true.