IELTS Candidate Tips for Band Score 8.5

Below a successful IELTS candidate shares her tips for how she scored an overall band score 8.5. She took the General Training IELTS test, but the listening and speaking is 100% the same as the Academic Test. Writing task 2 is also the same. So, everyone can benefit from her useful tips. Her name has been removed for privacy reasons, so she is known as “L”.

I have also listed some useful links for IELTS preparation based on the tips that L has shared below. See the end of the article for the links.

L’s Successful IELTS Results

I gave my General Training exam on the 11th of May and received the following scores in IELTS:

IELTS Band Score 8.5 Overall

  • Listening 9
  • Reading 9
  • Writing 8.5
  • Speaking 8

L’s IELTS Tips for Band 8.5

I would like to share some tips and hope you find these useful. 

General Tips for IELTS

  1. I was only able to register for an exam date that was about 3 months ahead even though my preference would have been selecting a date that was only a month away.  Register for a date that is available and soon enough based on your comfort zone. You should realistically know how your English is overall, even before you register for your exam and based on that you can plan effectively. I was targeting a 9 in all sections.
  2. Create a study plan! Plan to study efficiently without over-studying or under-studying. I work full-time and have other commitments as well so having a study plan really helped me. Most of my study plan was focused on giving listening tests and a I also gave a few full tests to get familiar with writing, reading and speaking. 
  3. Try to go and find out where the exam center is as well as any parking spots close-by at least 2-3 weeks prior to the actual exam. I had planned to do this one week before my exam, and I had fallen sick so I was unable to go. 

    The traffic and parking was a hassle on the day of my exam in spite of me planning for a huge buffer and I almost arrived late for my speaking test (which was one day prior to my listening, reading and writing sections). Thankfully, I arrived just in time but I was flustered and it shows in my speaking results as an 8 when I was targeting a nine (9).

    Similarly, double-check you are carrying your passport/identification documentation.  
  4. Building your stamina for being attentive and focused for the entire duration of the exam is important. For example, if you are not used to writing anymore (as many of us predominantly communicate through emails etc), having a few practice tests really helps. In general, try to do at least a few full practice tests to ensure you feel energetic for the entire listening, reading, writing duration. 
  5. Focus on the listening section (as well as any areas where you feel you are struggling) and develop strategies for handling the questions/formats you struggle the most with.
  6. Download and print the free answer sheets from the IELTS website for listening, reading and writing and use those when doing your practice tests. The ultimate idea is to be prepared for exam conditions as much as is possible. This will help for the writing test so that you actually know based on your handwriting how much paper is covered for 150 words and 250 words. During your practice, learn to count by lines for the equivalent of 150 and 250 words and you’ll start understanding how much paper is covered for the equivalent of 150+ and 250+ words.  Click here: Answer Sheets Link & Lesson
  7. Do read the instructions for candidates on how to fill the answer sheets from the IELTS website and useful instructions. This is simply to be mentally prepared on how to fill your candidate number and other details (some of which will be provided to you during the test day). Also, I highly recommend Liz’s website as an excellent resource for strategies, practice and learning.

Resources I Used

  1. I referred to extensively for strategies and clarifications.
  2. I checked out a few books from the local library, but I think for strategies, the MGH IELTS and Barron’s IELTS books were most useful. For tests, the Cambridge English IELTS series books were close to what was in the exam. 

Listening Tips

  1. For listening, you need to do many 30 minute tests not just to prepare for different types of questions, but also to acclimatize yourself for exam conditions. For example, 30 minutes is not a long time, but if you’re not used to it, you’ll get exhausted and will start losing concentration. As I mentioned earlier, building your stamina for the entire duration of the tests (all the way from listening to speaking) is important.
  2. Learning and developing strategies from your mistakes. Take the time to go through the answers/solutions after your practice tests and understanding why you had answers incorrect can help tremendously.
  3. Learn to write in short-hand on your question paper when listening. It’s crucial to come up with a personal system that helps you to capture the info you need in the shortest amount of time. Obviously, when you are transferring your answers to the answer sheet, you need to pay attention to grammar, spellings and how the answer will fit in the overall structure of the sentence. Do not ignore aspects like articles (or the lack of those), prepositions, and of course spelling.
  4. I gave my reading and listening answers in capital letters; I encourage you to do the same. If you have practised sufficiently, you can easily write in capital letters without scrambling to complete the answers. This will help ensure your writing is legible. However, the writing section should be written in normal case so you can write quickly.
  5. I would recommend to use the 30 seconds between sections (when you are prompted to check your answers from the previous sections) to read the questions in the next section instead. 
  6. Underlying/circling negations, names, keywords can help to anticipate the answer and what will be said during the audio clip, to a great extent.
  7. When the speakers finish speaking the previous section, your attention should switch from the previous section to what is going to be said in the current section. Too often, we are still mentally in the previous section’s Q&A and this can be costly. Your attention must be absolutely on what is being said, and on the questions that will be asked.
  8. If you have not heard the answer to a question correctly, just make a symbol (like an arrow/another symbol) next to the question to come back to it later (when you transfer answers). During the last 10 minutes when you transfer answers to the answer sheet, after all other answers are transferred come back to this question and make the most suitable guess/prediction as is possible. This is also helpful when you hear multiple options and you note them both down but don’t have sufficient time to “fit” in the answer as the audio continues to be played. You can come back to it and choose the most appropriate answer.
  9. I feel the last section of listening is the simplest – you can actually paraphrase mentally line by line as the speakers are talking about a topic.
  10. Last but actually the most important obvious tip – pay attention! When you are attentive you will definitely get all the answers right.

Reading Tips

  1. Attack section 3 the first which usually takes the longest to answer. There is no rule that says you must answer the Reading sections chronologically; you can do section 3 first, section 2 next etc. However you must be honest with yourself. If you typically need some kind of warming up, then starting from the first section would be useful. 
  2. Creating passage maps for identifying passage ideas helps especially for the matching heading sections. 
    1. Always ask yourself what is the key theme being conveyed in this paragraph? Are these sentences the main theme / supporting details or just plain data or something else that is totally irrelevant?
    2. Don’t overthink it!
  3. Underlying for names, dates can help a lot when scanning for questions related to those. 
  4. Read carefully for details on true/false/not given questions. If you skim/scan correctly you’ll easily get everything right. The problem tends to happen if you miss on some details when skimming/scanning.
  5. If you finish earlier than the allotted 60 minutes, you can use that time to go to the restroom. In my test center, candidates were not allowed to leave your seat in the last 10 minutes of the listening/reading/writing section. Being aware of these simple things that are not related to the exam can keep your mind calm, and if you have to use the restroom, you won’t be worrying about time management.

Speaking Tips

  1. The key is to be able to think on your feet! The topics could vary and may sound random/silly, but you need to be able to answer coherently, and for extended periods of time, so it really boils down to being able to think quickly, systematically and using vocabulary that reflects this.
  2. As I mentioned earlier, I was very flustered due to the issues of traffic and parking and was almost late, but just made it on time. Because of this I feel I rambled a little bit and accidentally used a slang word pertaining to the cue card topic. 
  3. Ultimately, it should really feel like a nice conversation rather than a rehearsed monologue. Hopefully, you don’t get flustered for any reason so try to take care of any driving/parking logistics as much as is possible to minimize that. 

Writing Tips

The one recommendation I will give is to plan for a few minutes to check your writing at the end. This ensures any spelling mistakes, grammar and structural issues are fixed.  In my case I got an 8.5 and even though I was able to check my task 2 writing, I didn’t have enough time to validate my task 1 writing. It’s possible I missed something which reflects in my 8.5. 

L’s Final Comment

I would highly recommend you to prepare to the extent you start enjoying yourself when going through the tests (e.g. listening) which you may not feel very comfortable in the beginning. I encourage you to look at this as a wonderful challenge to solve rather than an exam in which you are bracing yourself for the worst. 

Message from Liz: I would like to thank you for sharing your tips with everyone. I know many people will benefit from reading what you have to say and your results will certainly be an inspiration. Well done 🙂


Free Listening Lessons and Tips. Click here: IELTS Listening Tips

Free Reading Lessons and Tips. Click here: IELTS Reading

Free Speaking Lessons and Tips. Click here: IELTS Speaking

Free Writing Task 2 Lessons & Tips. Click here: IELTS Writing

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Answers to Obese Vocab Lesson

Below you will find the answers to the lesson about using vocabulary: fat, overweight & obese. If you have not completed this lesson, please do so before looking at the answers – click here: Obese Vocab Lesson.

Remember that that your aim in IELTS writing is to produce accurate English without mistakes. Your vocabulary score goes up when you are more precise on your meaning and have less mistakes.


  1. Many people who have a sedentary lifestyle are overweight because they do not participate in regular exercise.
    1. It requires more than just a sedentary lifestyle to become obese. The word “fat” is informal and not suitable for this sentence.
  2. My next door neighbour got quite fat when she went to live in America for a year. I think she ate fast food most the time.
    1. This is an informal sentence and the word “fat” is most suitable. The sentence is gossipy in tone which is why the word “fat” fits – it is not a flattering word to use.
  3. 14 million children worldwide under the age of 5 were either overweight or obese in 2016.
    1. As you see, the word “overweight” has already been used which means the other word must be “obese”. We do not use the word “fat” when quoting official stats in a formal manner.
  4. Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975.
    1. In this answer you need the noun. “worldwide obesity” is a global issue.
  5. It is easy for people to become overweight if they do not eat a healthy diet.
    1. It is possible to use the word “fat” in this sentence, but the word “overweight” is more appropriate. It would depend on whether you were speaking informally or not, and whether you cared about being polite. Remember, the word “fat” is not polite to use when referring to people’s weight.

Useful Link: IELTS Writing Task 2 Lessons, Tips & Model Essays

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Answers to MC Listening Turtles

Below you will find the transcript and answers for the Multiple Choice listening lesson about turtles. If you have not completed this lesson, please do so before looking at the answers below. Click here to complete the lesson: MC Listening Turtles

Transcript for MC Listening Turtles

You can use the transcript in 3 ways when reviewing your answers:

  1. You can use it to improve your awareness of your listening ability.
  2. You can use it to improve your pronunciation.
  3. You can use it to review your answers and see which keywords you missed.
  4. I’ve added the audio below so you can read and listen at the same time:

The volunteer program is aimed at helping to conserve and protect the population of Olive Ridley turtles in Costa Rica, although other species of turtles are also involved. The program is run at Ostional beach which has been an active conservation area for the last 40 years. Volunteers can sign up for any length of time from 2 to 12 weeks. All volunteers will be housed with local families near the beach – do not expect luxury, this is basic at best . Have your dictionary ready because English is not usual in local families. It is possible to sign up as a group or just as an individual without prior experience but we do have an age requirement of over 18. A health check and police check will also be required. The main involvement in this program is with recording data, helping with tagging, removing debris from the beach to ensure clear passage for adult and baby turtles and also to assist in egg relocation. This is a unique experience for anyone interested in turtles and conservation.

Answers to Questions 1-5

  1. C
    1. “is aimed at helping to conserve and protect the population of Olive Ridley turtles in Costa Rica, although other species of turtles are also involved”
    2. The above part of the sentence shows that it was not exclusively Olive Ridley turtles because other types of turtles were in involved. This means if you continued to listen, you find that answer B is not possible.
    3. Also this part of the sentence does not state that ALL turtles (100% of all turtle species) were involved. This means the answer cannot be A.
  2. B
    1. “Volunteers can sign up for any length of time from 2 to 12 weeks.”
    2. This means that option A is not possible because there is definitely a time limit. And option C is not possible because the minimum time is 2 weeks, not 1 week.
  3. C
    1. “All volunteers will be housed with local families near the beach – do not expect luxury, this is basic at best”
    2. This means that it is not luxury (A). Also it is not B. Option is there to make sure you are not trying to match words ie the word “best”.
  4. C
    1. “It is possible to sign up as a group or just as an individual without prior experience but we do have an age requirement of over 18.”
    2. The keyword in the question is “MUST” . This means you are listening for a requirement of the programme.
    3. A is not the answer because it is not a requirement to be an individual – groups are also possible.
    4. B is not the answer because experience is not a requirement.
  5. A
    1. “The main involvement in this program is with recording data, helping with tagging, removing debris from the beach to ensure clear passage for adult and baby turtles and also to assist in egg relocation.”
    2. The answer A can only be recognised if you are good with paraphrasing. The word “rubbish” is a synonym of “debris”. Also “to clear the beach” is a paraphrase for “removing debris to ensure a clear passage”.
    3. B is not the answer because the recording shows that eggs are relocated (not baby turtles). This option is checking to make sure you are not trying to match words “relocation”.
    4. C is not possible because at no time are turtles assisted in being able to move.

I hope you found this lesson useful 🙂

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Read This Before Your IELTS Test

Hi guys,

I want to give you a link to “On the day” IELTS test tips. The page covers basic tips to prepare the day before and the morning of the test. It also covers last minute tips for listening, reading, writing and speaking. It is one of the most important pages to read before your test.

Click here: IELTS Test Tips On the Day

Good luck!


Answers: Choose a Title Coffee

Hi guys,

I’ve posted the answer below. If you have not completed this reading lesson, please do so before looking at the answers. Click here to complete the lesson: IELTS Reading Choose a Title


The correct answer is A

The opening paragraph and closing line both stress the same point which is about the popularity of coffee. While the first line alone or the last line alone might not themselves indicate aim, to have them both stressing the same point with so much detail in the first paragraph is something you can’t ignore.

There are no fixed rules about choosing a title. But you must remember that information for all options will be given in the passage. So, your aim is not to match information, but to decide what the whole aim of the passage is. You need to ask yourself – Why did this author write the passage? What was the aim of writing the passage? What was the key message that the author wanted to deliver?

So in this lesson, information about the producers and consumers was just extra information given in the passage for interest. But the main aim was to explain the popularity.

I hope you found this useful 🙂

For more reading lessons, go to the main reading section on this site – you access this through the RED BAR at the top of the website.

All the best


Answers for Synonyms Practice: Birds & Dinosaurs

Hi guys,

Below are the answers for the synonyms practice based on the reading passage about Birds and Dinosaurs. If you haven’t completed the lesson, please do that before looking at the answers – click here: Synonyms Practice Lesson

I hope you found the practice lesson useful. Being able to spot paraphrases and synonyms is really important in IELTS reading.


  1. meat-eating = carnivorous
  2. a group / set = a suite
  3. stance / position = pose / posture
  4. resemblance = similarity
  5. persuasive = compelling
  6. feathers = plumage
  7. ancestor = predecessor
    1. Another answer in terms of meaning could be “forebears” – but note that it does come after the answer to number 8. 
  8. characteristic / quality = attribute
    1. “features” is another possible answer in terms of meaning, but please note it comes before the answer to number 7.

If you would like more reading practice lessons, click here: IELTS Reading Tips & Lessons

Number 6 above was the most difficult. If you are aiming for band 7, you should have got the rest correct.

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Synonym Practice

Below is a reading exercise to practise synonyms. As you know, being able to spot paraphrases and synonyms is essential in IELTS reading.

Reading Passage: Did Birds Evolve from Dinosaurs?

Evidence that birds evolved from, dinosaurs, the carnivorous predators that ruled the Mesozoic ecosystems, is plentiful. Traditionally, the prime source of evidence in support of this scientific view was the similar shape of the bones of birds but spectacular new discoveries have added other lines of evidence to the table. One of these involves a suite of features from the eggs of these dinosaurs. A host of fossils have shown that not only did maniraptoran dinosaurs resemble birds in the way they laid their eggs but that these eggs also looked like the eggs of birds. Another line of evidence involves fossils of animals in a brooding pose or in a resting postures also show a startling similarity with the behaviours we see among living birds. Yet, perhaps the most compelling new line of evidence comes from the discovery of soft tissues associated with the skeletons of these predatory dinosaurs, many fossils of these creatures are now known to have been covered by plumage. All this evidence has highlighted the fact that many features that were previously thought to be exclusively avian – from feathers to a wishbone – have now been discovered in the immediate dinosaur predecessor of birds. Even flight is likely to have been an attribute inherited by birds from their dinosaurian forebears! If the new wealth of fossils has clarified the old controversy of the origin of birds, many other fossils have provided a vivid testimony of the early phases of avian evolution. Hidden in these fossils are the clues to how birds perfected their flying abilities and how they evolved warm bloodedness.

Source: Article adapted from Natural History Museum

Questions 1-8: Find the following synonyms in the passage above. Answers come in order.

  1. meat-eating
  2. a group / set
  3. stance / position
  4. resemblance
  5. persuasive
  6. feathers
  7. ancestor
  8. characteristic / quality


The answers are available on the following page: click here Answers to Synonyms Practice Lesson

All the best


Note: This type of question does NOT come in the IELTS reading test. This is a practice lesson to help you review your knowledge of synonyms.

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Can you let me know…

Hi guys,

I’m just checking if you are getting my new posts. Can you let me know if you receive this post in your email. I think something might be wrong with my subscription and emailing system.

Also check my latest lesson to practice synonyms. Click here: Synonym Practice

All the best, Liz

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