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The IELTS test has been around since 1989, and over this time, there has been a lot of advice given about what candidates should and should not do in their test. Thanks to the Internet, there is so much information out there now, but how do we know which piece of advice is useful or not?  Here is our guide to some Dos and Don’ts to help make your test day experience a more positive one.



  • Answer all questions – you don’t lose marks for any blank spaces

  • Use the preparation time to highlight key words in the question page, including headings

  • Stick to your word limit (e.g. no more than 2 words and/or a number)

  • Practice listening to monologues (one person speaking) and dialogues (more than one person speaking)

  • Check your spelling to make sure that you don’t lose marks unnecessarily

  • Count a hyphenated word as one word (e.g. good-looking / 3-year-old)


  • Use the wrong punctuation for numbers (e.g. $1.50 instead of $1,50, etc.)

  • Just use practice tests – try listening to a variety of materials

  • Focus on just one type of speaker (e.g. British English) and instead listen to a variety of accents

  • Concentrate on only one question at a time – keep an eye on the next question in case you miss the answer to the previous one



  • Answer all questions – you don’t lose marks for any blank spaces

  • Look at the heading and sub-heading of the article to give you a good general idea what it is about

  • Highlight the key words in the question to help you find the location of the answer in the question quickly

  • Make sure that the evidence you use to decide your answer covers the whole statement or question, not just one or two key words

  • Look out for the distractors (the incorrect choices) in the questions as they will be mentioned at least somewhere in the article

  • Read a variety of articles in your free time to help build your vocabulary and ideas

  • Remember that the answers to some question types appear in order in the article (e.g. Yes/No/Not Given, True/False/Not Given, Multiple Choice), so you don’t have to answer them in order


  • Waste your time on one question if you don’t know the answer.  Try your best answer and then move on to the next question.

  • Just do practice tests – make sure you read a variety of articles and topics

  • Decide your answer by simply matching one key word in the question to one key word in the article.  Make sure the whole question and the whole evidence match

  • Choose ‘False’ or ‘No’ if there is no evidence in the article to prove the statement. Use Not Given in this case.



  • Use fillers (e.g. hmm, let me see, good question, etc.) to show that you are able to keep the conversation going and to give you a brief moment to collect your thoughts

  • Use the one minute preparation time, even if you know straight away what you are going to talk about. It is helpful to use this time to organise your ideas

  • Use linking devices in your answers (e.g. however, so, personally speaking, because of that, etc.) to connect your ideas. This will help with your Fluency and Coherence score

  • Speak for the full 2 minutes in Part 2.

  • Write your notes in large print in your Part 2 preparation so that you can see them more easily during the middle of your short talk

  • Refer to your notes during your short talk – you don’t lose marks if you do

  • Keep the question card in front of you during your short talk and refer to it if you have to – you don’t lose marks if you do

  • Ask for clarification if you don’t understand or hear the question properly. You don’t lose marks

  • Use unfamiliar or less common words, even in Part 1.  This will show the examiner you have a wide range of vocabulary.

  • Offer both sides of an argument in Part 3 as a way of developing your answer further


  • Give short answers to Part 1. You still need to prove your fluency by being able to extend your answers naturally

  • Worry if the examiner stops you in the middle of your sentence – this doesn’t impact your score. They are only trying to stick to the time limits for each stage of the test

  • Wait for the examiner to ask ‘Why?’.  Instead, try to offer reasons for your ideas automatically

  • Speak quickly as this will affect your pronunciation, such as your rhythm and intonation.  Remember that good fluency does not mean speaking fast – it means you are able to speak without hesitations and are able to extend your answers

  • Go back and correct a grammar mistake. Leave it and keep going with your answer.  Otherwise, it can impact on your fluency.

  • Give basic answers in Part 1. Remember that this part of the test is for 5 minutes and that you are still being assessed on what you say.  Make sure you use a variety of vocabulary and give extended answers

  • Give memorised answers – try to speak more authentically.  It is hard to speak with good pronunciation and accuracy if you are trying to answer something by heart  

  • Worry if the examiner doesn’t make small talk with you before the test. They are to just welcome you into the room.

  • Translate when you speak - this will affect your fluency.


Writing (General - Task 1)


  • Answer all bullet points in the question

  • Include the purpose of the letter at the beginning

  • Write in paragraphs

  • Look out for bullet points that have more than one aspect.  E.g. ‘Say how this will impact your family and the community.’ In this case, make sure you mention both your family and the community.


  • Forget to add a rounding off sentence at the end of the letter

  • Use the wrong tone in your letter.  E.g. sounding too formal to your friend, sounding too casual in a formal letter, being too aggressive in a letter of complaint, coming across as impolite when requesting something

Writing (Academic - Task 1)


  • Have clearly separated paragraphs

  • Divide your body paragraphs clearly

  • Include a sufficient amount of data

  • Make comparisons and contrasts of the data

  • Use linking devices (e.g. However, Overall, etc.) to connect your paragraphs and ideas within the paragraphs

  • Include an overview and mark it clearly (e.g. Overall, In general, etc.).

  • Include an overview for process and map questions as well.

  • Check any time references and use the correct verb tense

  • Include all key features from the diagrams, otherwise you will lose marks


  • Copy too many words from the input language in the question

  • Describe each line / segment / bar one by one – try to compare and contrast them

  • Include data or figures in your overview – otherwise it may look like another body paragraph

  • Spend too much time on less significant data.  Try combining these together and spend more time on the data that is more relevant

Writing (Task 2)


  • Answer all parts of the question

  • Make sure your opinion is clearly marked

  • Use paragraphs – otherwise you will lose marks

  • Have a clear topic sentence at the beginning of your body paragraph

  • Make a clear separation between your paragraph so the examiner can more easily see how you have organised your answer

  • Use punctuation sufficiently and correctly in your sentences, including full stops (periods), apostrophes and commas.

  • Use examples to support your argument


  • Make a list of ideas in your body paragraph.  Try to develop one idea fully – this will show how much you can develop your discussion

  • Use headings or bullet points – otherwise, you will lose marks.

  • Repeat the same vocabulary – try to use referencing words (e.g. it, that, these, they, etc.)

  • Write in short sentences.  It is important to use complex sentences if you want to achieve a higher band

  • Use invented statistics in your examples

  • Have paragraphs with a single sentence. Paragraphs should have at least 2 sentences.

  • Begin every sentence with a linking device (e.g. Furthermore, In addition, For example, etc.).  If you over-use them, you may lose marks


Now that you know the Do's and Don'ts of IELTS, it's time to book your test and kick off your preparation journey.

Enjoying reading our A to Z of IELTS series? Stay tuned for our next story (E is for Essays).

About this Article

Published on July 30, 2021

About this Author

Person - Rocco Nigro - Global