There is more to passing IELTS than going through text books and doing past exams. While this should obviously be part of the lead up to any IELTS exam, there are other things you can do that will help with confidence, fluency, grammar and vocabulary.
1. Read every day
For your IELTS preparation, it’s essential that you read for 15-20 minutes a day. This is so that you can learn new words and grow your vocabulary, what’s often called ‘lexical resource’. Reading will also dramatically improve your reading speed and how quickly you understand written English. You should choose reading material from a diverse range of resources so that you can develop varied vocabulary. Using google scholar is incredibly useful to search for academic articles by their subject, letting you fine-tune your vocabulary to your particular area of study. Here are some resources the IETLS reading exam has used:
BBC News - Latest news from different parts of the world.
Illustrated London News – a pictorial historic record of British and world events.
Interscience – an online resource of professional journals.
New Scientist – a weekly technology, science and environment magazine.
The Economist – a weekly magazine on subjects including business, international news and politics.
The Geographical Journal – a quarterly peer reviewed journal.
2. Learn how to write good paragraphs
This may seem like a straightforward task, however it’s actually quite difficult to write a well structured persuasive paragraph for an IELTS essay. A paragraph should always develop a specific point or argument, but it’s very easy to get sidelined by trying include too much (or even totally irrelevant) information. There is a basic formula to writing a good paragraph: it should begin with a topic sentence (what the paragraph is generally about), supporting sentences that give more detail on the topic or develop the argument further, and a conclusion, where all of the information or points are summed up. Following this simple formula will help you a great deal with the IELTS academic task 1 and 2 essays.
Students often lose many marks because their paragraphs are unstructured usually because they want to include too much information or too many points; this usually means the topic sentence has been forgotten by the conclusion. This ultimately creates a chaotic essay which is not only hard to follow but frustrating to read. So be nice to your examiners: take time to practise this formula; start with a simple paragraph about something like “my favourite film”, “a place I love”, or “my house”. If possible, get some feedback on your writing so that you can keep track of how you’re doing.
3. Using discourse markers
In writing, discourse markers or joiners give structure and improve the flow of a text. Take this simple example: I live in a flat. The flat is big. I grew up in a house. It’s a bit dry to read. To improve the flow and readability, we can use discourse markers, like this: I live in a flat which is big, however I grew up in a house. As you can see, these markers help you suggest subtle attitudes in you’re writing, giving more depth to the text.
Examiners look out for how well you use discourse markers, and if you use them correctly they will earn you higher IELTS scores. In spoken English, discourse markers will also greatly improve the flow and structure of what you want to say, especially for IELTS speaking task 2. There are plenty of online resources to test the use of these markers, such as this.
4. Learn some idioms
Using idioms confidently can improve IETLS scores, especially in the speaking exam. Examiners look out for idioms as a sign of fluency. Here is a page with a range of different idioms used in different scenarios. Choose 4-5 that you like and practise using them, but make sure you understand when they can be used. For example, certain idioms aren’t appropriate in academic writing but are used frequently in conversational English, for example, 'over the moon’ can be applied to a range of topics, but would be out of place in an essay on Climate Change. Be careful not to over use idioms. Use Google to see how they’re most commonly used.
5. PPF- past, present, future
Using a variety of tenses, (or having ‘grammatical range’) gives a high score in writing and speaking. Going into an IELTS exam with PPF; P - Past, P - Present, F - Future, in mind will keep you focussed on this important feature of IELTS marking, especially in speaking task 2 and the writing tasks. It’s important to vary the tenses you use to show the examiner that you have a range of available grammar. In the speaking tasks, talk about something that happened in the past, something you are doing now and something that you want to do in the future.
6. Write a schedule
It’s important to practise each skill every day in the lead up to the exam. It's easy to focus on only one or two skills, neglecting the others and creating an unbalanced skill set. Write yourself a timetable focusing on a range of tasks and try and combine different skills in one task.
Finally make sure you are speaking English as much as possible: find someone to practise with in the lead up to the exam. This will give you confidence which means you can be relaxed during the speaking task; this means the examiner will also relax. Make the exam as easy for the examiner as possible. If appropriate, try and make them laugh: they will have been examining many students in the same day and some humour will go a long way.
Good luck with your studies.