You probably haven’t been tested on your English language skills since high school, 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 don’t face any unpleasant surprises on the day of your test. In fact, some native English speakers score less well on their test than non-native speakers. Why? Because they didn’t know what examiners were looking for when scoring their language skills. We’ll share some of the marking criteria with you here.
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 be distracted by procedures.
- Read "The dos and don'ts of IELTS for native speakers" video transcript
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 what was the last time you sat a three hour exam? What 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 speaking test takers have actually scored lower because they underestimate 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. Download our study resources. 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.
- Talk. Your friendly IELTS examiner will ask you questions. These questions are designed to facilitate conversation on a range of topics. We don’t test your knowledge on the topic itself. For example, if you are asked 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 wonder 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.
- Read the question. Highlight (or underline) the important components of the writing question. If you are asked 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’ll be 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 or watch a Masterclass On Demand and get some tips from an official IELTS expert.
- Take note of the word count. For Task 1 you are asked to write 150 words, 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 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? Computer-delivered IELTS solves this problem instantly. You type your answer on a computer and you are given a word count so you know exactly when you have reached the required word limit.
- Know your target audience. Whether you should use formal language or informal language depends on the question. If you are asked to write to a friend, you probably wouldn’t want to address him/her as “Dear Sir/Madam.” Similarly, in the Academic Writing test, you should avoid overly informal language. For example: contractions are better avoided (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 definitely preventable. Plan your time so you leave yourself a few minutes towards the end of the Writing test to proofread.
- 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 computer-delivered IELTS, you can highlight or make notes on a section of text. In our computer-delivered IELTS webinar, we’ll tell you a bit more about this.
- 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.
- Concentrate. Remember that you hear every recording once only. If you registered for computer-delivered IELTS, 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 are used: British, American, New Zealand and Australian English. If you get confused by different accents, head over to the BBC, CNN, ABC 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 for your Listening test.
Just like you wouldn’t walk into a job interview unprepared, you shouldn’t walk into an exam unprepared. To achieve the best score in your test, it’s vital to prepare well – even if you have a good track record with exams, because every exam is different.
Here are some of the points you’ll need to consider when taking IELTS as a native speaker:
- You’ll need to listen very carefully for specific information in the Listening test
- You’ll be asked to carry out tasks that you may never have done before in the Reading and Writing tests.
- In the Speaking test, you will have to speak fluently and coherently on a topic, regardless of whether you find it interesting.
- Remember, each part of the test will be timed, so practise in timed conditions.