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When was the last time you were tested on your English language skills? High School perhaps? If so, doing an exam that tests your native language can make you nervous. Even if you speak English fluently, it’s important to spend a bit of time preparing for your IELTS test so you’re ready to get the best score on the day of your test. The key things to understand is how the test is constructed and what examiners are looking for when they mark your test.

How should you prepare for IELTS as a native English speaker?

  • Prepare for your IELTS test 

  • Get to know the test format and what the scores mean. 

  • Attend a Masterclass so you know what examiners are looking for

  • Take some of our free practice tests. 

  • Practise your test technique. 

  • Understand what happens on test day – from registration to result release. This way you can focus on your test and not get distracted by procedures. 

  • Official IELTS Progress Check 

  • Book IELTS on computer

The do’s and don’ts of IELTS for native English speakers

Native English speakers who are planning to take the IELTS test have unique preparation needs, quite different from those with English as a second language. If you’re a native speaker, find out how you need to prepare. 

(View the video below or read the video transcript)

The dos and don'ts of IELTS for native speakers

If you’re a native English speaker who’s planning to take the IELTS test, you could be forgiven for thinking that sitting your test will be a walk in the park. 

Now, I don’t want to alarm you, but it is a test and just like all tests, the more prepared you are, the better you will do. Sure, English might be your native language but when was the last time you sat a three hour exam? When was the last time you really thought about your range of vocabulary while you’re speaking? Or your grammatical structures while you were writing? Let’s be honest: possibly never! Preparation for IELTS is the key to success. In some cases, native speaker test takers have actually scored lower because they underestimated the preparation required. 

So, what should you be doing right now to prepare? Make sure you understand the test format. You should know the basics. It’s split into four sections and takes three hours to complete. You should also know the nitty-gritty details, like how long you have for each section of the Writing test and how you are going to be scored. Try as many practice questions and answers as you can find. This will hone you exam technique into a well-oiled machine. They’ll bring you up to speed as to what to expect on test day and you’ll find tips from examiners and a checklist for preparation. 

It’s a sure way to make sure there are no surprises to throw you off on the day of your test. And finally, don’t forget that the examiner can only score you on the actual language you use in the test. So, as you’re practising, make sure you are paying attention to the full range of your language ability. Don’t just use simple sentences with the same vocabulary: Mix it up! This is your native language, so show it off. 

IELTS Speaking test for native speakers

  • Talk. Your friendly IELTS examiner will ask you questions. These questions facilitate conversation on a range of topics. We don’t test your knowledge on the topics themselves. For example, if the examiner asks about the topic of sports, but you don’t play any sport, you could explain this to the examiner and instead tell him or her about sports you watch on TV, a sporting event in your community, or the sports your children play. There is no right or wrong answer. 

  • Talk at length. If you give short answers like “yes, that’s true” or “no, I don’t think so,” you won’t give an examiner much speech to accurately rate your language skills. Try to keep talking until your examiner tells you to stop. On this note, don’t feel like you’ve made a mistake if an examiner tells you to stop (or suddenly interrupts you mid-sentence with a “thank-you”). It just means that you’ve completed that part of the Speaking test. 

  • Stay on topic. Try not to wander too far off topic. If you find yourself doing that, think of something to connect what you just said back to what you should be talking about and then bring yourself back to the topic at hand. 

  • Your accent. English is spoken in with many regional accents. IELTS doesn’t penalise you for speaking British English, American English, or with an accent. In fact, IELTS examiners come from a wide variety of different backgrounds themselves. However, IELTS tests whether the ‘average native speaker’ would be able to understand you. An accent in itself will not affect the Speaking score. What is important is that you can be easily understood – clarity of pronunciation is what matters. 

  • Remember to look at the marking criteria. Pronunciation is one of the criteria, but examiners will also listen for your fluency and coherence, lexical resource, and grammatical range and accuracy. Not sure what this means? Attend a Masterclass: face-to-face, through an online webinar or on-demand.

IELTS Writing test for native speakers

  • Read the question. Highlight (or underline) the important components of the writing question. If the task asks you to write a letter to your landlord to complain about the heating and broken lock, but you forget to mention the lock in your letter, you won’t be able to get full marks. 

  • Understand the marking criteria. You’re assessed on task achievement, coherence and cohesion, lexical resource, and grammatical range and accuracy. Not sure what this means or how you can improve? Attend a free face-to-face Masterclass and get some tips from an official IELTS Expert. 

  • Take note of the word count. For Task 1 you should write at least 150 words, while for Task 2 you should write at least 250 words. You’ll lose marks for writing too few words. Remember, more is not always better: a 700-word answer for Task 2 does not get more points. In fact, if your first 250 words for Task 2 are excellent, but you make several mistakes in the 450 additional words, you’ll unnecessarily lose marks. 

  • Stay on topic. You only have a minimum of 150 words for Task 1 and 250 words for Task 2, so it’s essential that you plan your writing. You can access some free IELTS Writing practice tests to try at home. 

  • Make sure you know the recommended structure and how to use paragraphs for the types of essay you have to write. Use linking words and avoid using bullet-points or sub-headings. 

  • Worried about your handwriting? IELTS on computer solves this problem instantly. You type your answer on a computer and we give you an on-screen word count so you know exactly when you have reached the required word requirement. 

  • Know your target audience. Whether you should use formal language or informal language depends on the question. If the task asks you to write to a friend, you probably shouldn’t address him/her as “Dear Sir/Madam.” Similarly, in the Academic Writing test, avoid overly informal language. For example: don’t use contractions (write cannot instead of can’t). Also check English date formats

  • There’s no auto-correct, so watch your spelling. Mistakes between there/their/there are easily made but are definitely preventable. Plan your time so you leave yourself with a few minutes towards the end of the Writing test to proofread.

IELTS Reading test for native speakers

  • One of the challenges is timing. Get tips on increasing your speed at doing IELTS Reading tests. Learn how to skim and scan, and how to know what you should scan for. 

  • Read every question carefully first before reading the passages. This will make it easier for you to find the answers. Underline possible answers as you go. In IELTS on computer, you can highlight or make notes on a section of text.

  • Understand the different types of questions. This way, you don’t waste time figuring out what has to be done. 

  • You should answer all questions. You get marks for every correct answer, but you don’t lose marks for wrong answers. See how the scoring works here. Also watch your spelling. You’ll lose marks for incorrect spelling.

IELTS Listening test for native speakers

  • Concentrate. Remember that you hear every recording once only. If you registered for IELTS on computer, you’ll do the Listening test first. Take advantage of being fresh at the start if you struggle to concentrate when you are tired. 

  • Accents. Remember what we said earlier about accents? In the Listening test, a range of accents is used: British, American, New Zealand and Australian English. If you get confused by different accents, head over to the BBC, CNNABC News, or TVNZ’s One News to get familiar with these accents. 

  • Timing. Before the start of each part of the Listening test, you will have some time to read the questions. After the end of each part of the Listening test, you will have some time to review your answers. At the end of the Listening test, you will have 2 minutes to check your answers. 

  • You should answer all questions. You get marks for every correct answer, but you don’t lose marks for wrong answers. See how the scoring works here

  • Watch your spelling. You’ll lose marks for incorrect spelling. We’ve published an interesting blog on how to write the date correctly that can help you in your Listening test.