How to plan your IELTS study…a guide to what you need to do from day one to test day

IELTS study plan…how to prepare yourself for the IELTS step by step, from day one to test day.

For my post today I am going to write about how to prepare for the IELTS specifically, and go through the stages you will need to get the score you want. I decided to write this after several students asked me if I could create an IELTS study plan for them, to take them through the various stages of preparation in the weeks and months before the test. I wanted to put as many resources and links into this document as possible, so this is more or less everything I recommend.

First, a disclaimer, although I have written this before I shall reiterate this again. I want to make this clear from the start, although it should be obvious, we need to be realistic here, if you only have a week or so before your test then you will be very lucky (miraculous more like) to get the score you need. For most people the optimal time is three months (more is better obviously) as you not only need to have a good level of English (upper-intermediate for most people looking for 6.5-7.5) but you also need to understand everything about the IELTS, how it works, how it is assessed, the difference between the question types, the common topics, and the techniques and strategies you need to answer them. What I will outline here is a general strategy for the four sections and also more specific strategies and links to various resources which will help you in your preparation.

General strategy

Step 1

So, if you haven’t taken the test before I suggest that the first thing is to have someone who knows what they are doing to give you a thorough assessment and see what your current level/score is, and what specific areas need to be improved. Even if you have taken the test before, I still recommend you have a consultation with a professional IELTS teacher, they can look at your writing and speak to you and get some idea of why you didn’t get the score you want, and offer advice as to what needs to improve.

If you want to test your listening and reading yourself, then try these links below…

As for writing and speaking, you can contact me ( and I will send you some writing tasks (if needed) and you can mail them back and I will assess them, and we can arrange a Skype session where I will ask you a complete speaking test and assess you accordingly.

Step 2

Then, you need to have a thorough understanding of what the IELTS is, how it works, how it is assessed, etc. Two overviews are available from and the British Council that will explain more about this and the different question types.

You will also need to get a sense of what the current and past topics and questions are, I recommend these sites below

You will also need to know how exactly your scores are calculated

Now you need to understand what the criteria are for writing and speaking, you can find the public rubrics for download below along with a couple of videos which explain what they mean in practice.

Step 3

Next step, set yourself a time frame for your study. One reason for this is that you need to be (again, the key word) realistic, if your current level after assessment is 5.5 and you want 7.0, and you are taking the test in a week, it’s not happening, sorry. One thing I get every week is students with unrealistic expectations, they are taking the test in a matter of days (seriously!) or weeks and they have no study plan, no idea what to do, and they expect me to wave my magic IELTS wand and make them get band 7.0 or whatever. If only I could, I would be a rich man, however….

So, you need to consider this, as a general rule, for most people to increase their overall band score by 0.5 it can take around 200 hours of guided study and practice. Obviously, if you are just wanting to improve one skill then it may well take less time, depending on the individual and circumstances. However, in general as I said, you are looking at around 200 hours per half a band score. This is why if they have not taken IELTS before I always give my students a thorough assessment, I calculate their current level, then I ask them when is their test, what score do they need, what time they have available for study, and what preparations they currently do, etc. The reason for all these questions is so I can make a calculation and see if what they want is realistic. If it is, then great, I make them a study plan and off they go, if not, I do the best I can but I know that they in all probability will not succeed.

The best thing to do is to discuss this with me and we will see what your weak points are and set an achievable and practical time frame for you to improve them. As I wrote above, the general guidelines are just that, “guidelines”, and if you are only wanting to improve one or two skills then the time frame may be less.

Step four

Create a study plan, or ask me for advice and we will create one together.

As with the IELTS, and with all things, the “secret” is to have regular and consistent practice, this is true in all activities, whether learning a language, learning to play an instrument, or whatever, the people who are successful are those who put in the hours, it really is that simple! What that means for your purpose is to spend some time everyday, doing something in English. You can try to make the most of your day, maybe do some listening on your morning commute to work, some reading at lunchtime, and in the evenings, talk to a language partner on Skype, or do some writing practice to send to me. See the sample table below for some ideas, remember you need to tailor this to meet your needs and your time.

Sample weeks study plan

This is just an idea as to how it might look in general, as you see, you need to cover as much ground as possible, the general strategy of reading and listening, and the more focused strategy of getting to know the difference between the question types and the techniques you need to answer them. Also, you need some time for lessons and having your writing corrected, and general speaking practice with a study/language exchange partner, and the more skill specific sessions with your teacher.

This plan can be tailored according to your particular needs and time availability.


So, this is just a general guide to the steps you need to take, in my next posts I will outline a more detailed skill specific plan for listening, reading, writing, and speaking.

If you have any questions then feel free to write at