Published 8th March 2017

The thing about exams that can make learners really nervous is the fear of the unknown. Especially for those who haven’t taken an English exam before, not knowing what to expect can add extra stress to the situation. Because of this, there are a load of questions our students may ask us about the exams and knowing the answers to these common queries will go a long way towards making them feel more prepared.

So here are a few of the most frequently asked questions about the IELTS exam.

Should I prepare for the speaking interview?

Definitely not. It is quite easy to predict the type of questions they will ask you in Part 1 but this does not mean that you should prepare answers. Learning answers will make you sound unnatural and tense in the speaking exam, because you will be more focused on remembering your answer than actually answering the question. While it’s definitely a good idea to practise answering questions (especially the ones you can predict in Part 1), you should do this with a friend and the questions should change each time you practice. You never know exactly what the examiner is going to ask you so you need to practise answering off the top of your head.

How long do I need to study for the test?

There is no set time for exam preparation. The IELTS is an assessment of your English ability so you cannot study specifically for the exam, besides making yourself familiar with the format and learning exam techniques. You should be focusing on improving your English level in general.

What if I don’t know anything about the topic?

You may find that the topics of the reading or listening exam are not something you are particularly familiar with. This is how it is supposed to be. The topics chosen are often quite alternative or obscure (sheep farming in the UK in the 19th century, for example) because they don’t want candidates to have previous knowledge on the topic because this might give them an advantage. For the reading and listening, all the information that you need will be given to you.

What if I don’t know what to say or write?

Many students worry about not knowing what to say in the writing and speaking exam. Because we are used to taking exams based on content, it can be difficult to get your head around this, but this exam is testing your language ability and not your general knowledge. If you can’t think of anything to answer a question, say anything – as long as you say something, in order to showcase your linguistic abilities.

What is the pass mark?

There is no pass mark for the IELTS exam. Each part of the exam is graded on a 9-band scale and you are given an overall band score (also on a 9-band scale). Because the exam tests your English level your band score will illustrate your level of English. However, if you are doing the exam to be admitted to a school or university, the institution may have a specific score that you need to achieve.

As an TEFL teacher, it is important to know about the different exams in case you are expected to teach one at some stage in your career. Making yourself familiar with questions like these will help you help your students to prepare.