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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  1. Perpetual says

    Wow congratulations on your good results and thanks for sharing. Very helpful.

  2. Hi Liz thanks for sharing this. Please I do have a worry about my last ielts test that’s the speaking part precisely, where i was asked to describe an aspect of clothing that i like best and I talked about the “TIE”.Was i correct ?

    • It is 100% fine. You are not marked on your choice of what you talk about. Task response or task completion are not marked in IELTS speaking.

  3. Astronomer says

    Thank you for such a detailed road map.

    Nowadays, I prepare for the exam, focusing mostly on listening and reading for now. I get around 6 – 6.5 points, hoping to boost them.

  4. Ndi Rose says

    Thanks for this information

  5. Okoduwa Ejiviese says

    Congratulations! I really admire your success.

  6. Thanks a bunch ! Congratulations!!!! I really admire you!!!! My exam is on 18th of July….I am.using Cambridge books , Internet.sources.. And which I found very helpful…but Barron’s edition is new for me. I did reading…several times..but my score is good sometimes , when I try next time it was really disappointing…. I couldn’t make it constant.

  7. Congratulations ,beautiful results.

  8. Thank you for sharing and congratulations!
    Please, what’s the fee for the IELTS exam?

  9. Thanks all so much for your useful sharings

  10. Eze Jonas says

    My problem here in Nigeria is that I can’t find a Cambridge for ILETS. I have a Barron’s 5th edition, but I need another text book to read before I take the test. I would be happy if you can recommend another good text for me.
    Thanks a lot for your site is helpful.

    • Did you complete the 300 free pages of lessons and tips on this site? You should always make the most of free resources. Read the HOME page to learn how to access them.

  11. Congratulations for achieving a wonderful score! Thank you for sharing your tips!

  12. Much obliged for sharing such helpful items and congratulations.

  13. KVN Raju says

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  14. Congratulations!

  15. Hello Dear Liz, i did speaking exame on 11th june 2019 cue card topic was describe an old person you met. My exame was academic

    • Thanks for sharing 🙂 There is no academic speaking test. Everyone takes the same speaking test – this means your topic can be given to anyone regardless of whether they take GT or Academic IELTS. Good luck with your results 🙂

  16. If you are like me from Bangalore, it is usually from 1pm to 4pm. And the check-in starts at 11 am. Which means you start atleast around 9.30 am from home. And another 20-30 mins post exam for them to collate their stuff. That leaves around 7-8 hrs without a proper meal. I was caught off guard with my tummy making rumbling sounds inside. This affected my writing section very badly. Get some snacks and keep in your vehicle. Be the last one to be checked in if you are anything like me. Your seat is reserved and no one takes it. Have a nice heavy snack and get in. I made a similar thing on my second attempt and that had a very positive affect on my scores.
    On side thought, I raised this concern with them about their terrible timings. But so far nothing seems to have happened.

  17. Ravinder pal Singh says


  18. Inspiring…

  19. Thanks for sharing, and congratulations 👌

  20. Hello Liz, thanks for all the help and the tips are tremendously helpful. I am not clear on something. How do we create passage maps for identifying passage ideas in reading?
    Thanks in anticipation of your response.
    I appreciate all the good works you do here. May God bless you.

  21. Hi L
    Thanks a lot for the superb explanation.
    I had scored 7.5 band in IELTS GT in feb2019.
    Now I am targetting at 8 bands on 29th june.
    The idea of using restroom in the last 10 minutes time of reading is very good..
    As one will not get time in writing section.
    I would like to suggest that one should avoid personal vehicle to reach at examination centre. If possible, use taxi uber/ola.
    Morover, do not take with you anything irrelevant stuff. Only have 3 pencils, raser and sharpener without cover and your ID
    The idea of visiting the test centre and explore parking is good.
    Initially itself have 2 colored photocopies of passport – one is required on speaking test day and another on main exam day.
    In reading always start from backward.
    You will find that section 1 is just a cake walk.
    Manage time in reading sections and I would recommend to transfer the answer just after a
    Section got completed.
    7. Last but not the least which I personally think is most important factor is that while practicing use different type of analog and digital watches.. dont rely only on your own wrist watch. Because this chemistry of time and brain setting will break when you have to remove your watch.
    Their was digital clock in my room and really in writing it was the biggest reason that i couldn’t cope with such timings like 13:03 hrs and no time was left for proof reading of writing task 1.

    Thanks for reading and I hope It will help the future IELTS aspirants.

    Priti singla

  22. This is really inspiring and thanks for sharing this as some of us will make the good out of it.

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