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You're seated in the test hall, the clock is ticking, and you have just a few minutes left to finish your International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test. You glance at the clock again – barely five minutes remain, and after this, there are still more sections to tackle. What do you do?

This scenario is about your ability to manage your time under pressure. For many around the globe, IELTS is a gateway to achieving dreams – whether it's pursuing education abroad, landing a dream job, or starting a new life in another country. But, the challenge of being tested on every aspect of the English language can be overwhelming, especially under tight time constraints.

This blog explores effective time management strategies tailored for each IELTS test section, aiming to equip you with the tools to maximise your performance within the strict time limits.

Overview of the IELTS test format

The IELTS test is segregated into four distinct sections: Listening (30 minutes), Reading (60 minutes), Writing (60 minutes), and Speaking (11-14 minutes). Each section poses unique challenges in time management, from understanding diverse accents in Listening to articulating coherent ideas under pressure in Writing. The Speaking section, albeit the shortest, demands quick thought organisation to convey ideas fluently. Recognising the common hurdles in these sections is the first step toward mastering them.

Time management strategies

Listening test

The IELTS Listening test challenges candidates to understand audio recordings accurately and respond to questions under time pressure. Success in this section depends on effective listening, quick comprehension, and efficient note-taking skills. Here are some strategies to improve your performance:

  • Familiarise yourself with the structure: Know that the Listening section consists of four recordings, and understand the type of questions that follow each.

  • Practise quick comprehension: Enhance your ability to grasp the main points and details quickly, which is crucial for answering questions accurately.

  • Efficient note-taking: Develop a system of shorthand or symbols to take notes swiftly. This helps in capturing essential information without wasting time.

  • Answer swiftly but accurately while listening: Train yourself to quickly transition from listening to answering questions, which is especially important if you’re taking IELTS on Computer. You will have to listen attentively for key details and simultaneously type down your answers.

Reading test

For the IELTS Reading test, you will be tested on your ability to understand written texts and answer questions to them within a limited timeframe. Skimming, scanning, and strategic allocation of time are key to navigating this section effectively.

  • Master skimming and scanning: Acquire the ability to quickly read through passages for a general understanding (skimming) and locate specific information (scanning).

  • Allocate time wisely: Focus first on questions that you find easier, then tackle the more challenging ones, ensuring a strategic approach to time use.

  • Use helpful tools: Utilise educational apps, like the IELTS by IDP app that you can download for free, to practise balancing comprehension with answering questions effectively.

Writing test

The IELTS Writing test demands candidates to express ideas clearly and coherently in writing, within a strict time limit, making time management especially crucial. Planning, efficient writing, and revision within the allocated time are essential for scoring well in this section.

  • Task time allocation: To ensure you can thoroughly address each task within the Writing section, it is advisable to allocate your time wisely. It is recommended you spend 20 minutes on Task 1, writing at least 150 words in response. For Task 2, which requires at least 250 words, allocate 40 minutes in total. Task 2 is particularly critical as it contributes twice as much to the Writing score compared to Task 1.

  • Strategic planning: Dedicate the initial minutes to planning your essay, including outlining its structure and main points.

  • Time-saving vocabulary and sentence structures: Build a collection of versatile phrases and vocabulary to articulate your ideas efficiently.

  • Balance writing and reviewing: Allocate sufficient time for both writing your essay and reviewing at the end, ensuring it's coherent, clear and free from grammatical mistakes.

Speaking test

The IELTS Speaking test evaluates candidates' ability to express themselves orally in English. Quick thought organisation, direct engagement with questions, and maintaining a balance between fluency and coherence are crucial for success.

  • Organise thoughts quickly: Practise structuring your responses clearly with a beginning, middle, and end to ensure logical flow.

  • Engage directly with questions: Aim to answer the examiner's questions directly and concisely, focusing on relevance and clarity.

  • Balance fluency and coherence: Work on speaking at a pace for clear speech and expressing a logical sequence of ideas without hurrying through your responses.

General time management tips


Mastering time management for the IELTS test is more than mere familiarity with the test format or proficiency in English; it's about conditioning yourself to perform under time constraints that mimic the actual test environment.

  • Practise under timed conditions: Create a testing environment that mirrors the IELTS test as closely as possible. This means setting a timer for each section, minimising interruptions, and adhering strictly to the time limits. This approach entails simulating the pressure-cooker environment that’s the nature of any test, from the ticking clock to allocating exact time segments required of each test section.

  • Understand and improve your pacing: In the Reading and Writing tests, identify how adept you are in completing the tasks within, such as skimming the Reading passages for pinpointing keywords, or coming up with a thesis statement in Writing Task 2. Adjust your preparation strategy to know where your strengths lie, and how you can effectively address the weaknesses. This approach boosts both your English proficiency and confidence.

  • Set internal time checks: Setting internal time checks during your practice can serve as milestones to ensure you're on track. For instance, preparing for the Reading test, you might set a goal to complete each passage within a certain timeframe. These internal checkpoints help you maintain a steady pace and avoid spending too much time on any one section.

Psychological aspects of time management

While mastering the mechanical aspects of time management is essential, addressing the psychological dimensions is equally crucial. The pressure of the IELTS test can induce anxiety, which in turn can impair your ability to think clearly and manage your time efficiently. Therefore, incorporating stress-management techniques into your preparation is vital.

  • Deep breathing exercises: Deep breathing exercises can be a powerful tool for managing anxiety. Before starting your practice session or the actual test, take a few moments to breathe deeply and centre yourself. This simple act can reduce stress levels, increase oxygen flow to your brain, and help you maintain a level of calmness.

  • Positive visualisation: Visualise yourself successfully managing your time and performing well on the test. This mental rehearsal can build confidence and reduce anxiety by training your mind with the idea of composure and accomplishment under pressure.

  • Maintain a healthy perspective: Remember that the IELTS test is an important step, but it's part of a larger journey. Keeping the test in perspective can help reduce stress and allow you to focus more effectively on time management.

Whether you choose to engage in personalised coaching or prefer the independence of self-study, it's essential to incorporate both the mechanical and psychological facets of time management into your IELTS preparation.

Master time management and boost your English for IELTS success with IDP

Improving time management skills goes hand-in-hand with enhancing your English proficiency. Continual practice, coupled with strategic approaches to each section, will build your confidence and capability to excel in the IELTS test.

As a co-owner of the IELTS test, IDP offers official IELTS test preparation material online, including IELTS masterclasses, free online IELTS mock tests and more to further aid your preparation. Remember, booking your IELTS test with IDP not only sets your test date but also marks the beginning of a journey filled with opportunities. Embrace these strategies, and step into your IELTS test with the confidence that comes from being well-prepared and time-savvy.

When you’re ready, simply click to book your IELTS test.