How to Prepare for the IELTS, TOEFL or PTE Test, the Right Way!

The IELTS, TOEFL OR PTE tests are designed to measure the English skills of non-English speaking people by testing their writing, reading, listening and speaking abilities. It is always important to remember these tests are English tests and the exam format is really what is different. Some exams suit some people better than others. We have a comparison here on this site, to explain the different exam formats.

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EMR Word Cloud

It’s natural to feel a bit nervous or overwhelmed (feel like you have too much to do) when we face a big exam like these. We do see that this is actually a great reason to get your English up to standard, and the opportunity can be seen that way. It’s a really useful test, for this reason, as well as to get your migration, education or Job requirements. A positive attitude really helps.

As a language center, we love that the IELTS, TOEFL OR PTE test is all about using real English in a real-life setting. The Test does not test your knowledge of complex grammar and difficult vocabulary, but the English you would use in real life.

So when you study for the IELTS, TOEFL OR PTE test, you’re also preparing yourself for using English in real life—like at a university or job. You still need to pass the test with a good score to reach your dreams though. That’s why preparation and a good study plan are important.

With the following proven strategies, you’ll be able to successfully prepare for your IELTS, TOEFL OR PTE test, take it with confidence and pass it like a professional.

How to Prepare for an IELTS, TOEFL or PTE Test:

  • 12 Proven Tips for Success

1. Get to Know the Format of the IELTS, TOEFL or PTE Exam

If you want to take the IELTS, TOEFL or PTE Test it is very important to first get familiar with the test format. Learn about the different exams here on EMR Blog.

Check out the official Toefl/ETS website to find information on the TOEFL test format, we have a summary of each format here, find answers to your questions and to locate your testing centres. We have individual sections for each exam on this site for you. If you are doing IELTS then you need their official website here. Or Pearson, PTE Academic is here!.

There are many excellent resource to familiarize yourself with the each IELTS, TOEFL or PTE exam online and we have a resources page to provide you with links here.

EMR has Online courses when you are not able to come to our classes, or to supplement our class room teaching. This offers a complete IELTS, TOEFL or PTE course, including video lessons, hundreds of practice questions (with explanations on how to answer them, and self-assess your answers), study schedules and support from teachers. It’s an amazing resource for learning how the IELTS, TOEFL OR PTE exam works—and how to get a high score on it. Regardless of how much time you have EMR can provide you with what you need to prepare for the test, some short courses and even intensive training!

IELTS Specifically:

Understand the IELTS Exam content.No matter where you take, the IELTS it always has four parts: reading, listening, speaking and writing.

IELTS has an Academic and a General English test, with the Listening and the Speaking as same test components.

IELTS Test Format
IELTS Test Format

Listening 4 sections, around 40 questions 30 minutes + transfer time
Academic Reading 3 sections, around 40 questions 60 minutes OR
General Reading 3 sections, around 40 questions 60 minutes
Academic Writing 2 tasks 60 minutes OR
General Writing 2 tasks 60 minutes
Speaking 10 to 15 minutes
Total test time 2 hours 45 minutes

When you goto either www.IELTS.org or www.IELTS.com.au and search for an official guide, there is none! So the Cambridge (who is also a partner in the IELTS Exam) is the book which is most frequently used. There is a webpage to teach you how to prepare for the IELTS Exam here!

TOEFL Specifically:

Understand the TOEFL Exam content. No matter which format you take, the basic TOEFL test always has three parts: reading, listening and writing. The Internet-based TOEFL has in addition a speaking section.

Internet-based test

The Internet-based test (iBT) looks like this:

  • Reading section: 60 to 80 minutes | 36-56 questions
  • Listening section: 60 to 90 minutes | 34-51 questions
  • Short break: 10 minutes
  • Speaking section: 20 minutes | 6 tasks
  • Writing section: 50 minutes | 2 essays
TOEFL iBT Exam Structure
TOEFL iBT Exam Structure

Paper-based test

The paper-based test looks like this:

  • Listening section: 30-40 minutes| 50 questions
  • Writing section: 25 minutes | 40 questions
  • Reading section: 55 minutes | 50 questions
  • Test of Written English (TWE) test: 30 minutes | write one essay

Decide which format you want to take. It is more common nowadays that the test is usually taken via the Internet. The paper-based test is becoming less popular. However, if you need a prediction score then you need to come to EMR Centre for a Paper Test.

Take a look at some examples of some TOEFL test questions, from old papers. This will help you gain further understanding of the format and types of questions to expect. Read the questions carefully. Try to answer them and check the answers, to see how you went.

PTE Academic Specifically:

Understand the PTE Academic Exam content. No matter where you take, the PTE Academic it always has three parts, as Speaking and writing are together: Speaking & writing, reading, and listening .

PTE Academic Question & Format
PTE Academic Question & Format

2. Know Why You Are Taking the IELTS, TOEFL OR PTE Test

More than 10,000 colleges, universities, agencies and institutions accept and require either IELTS, TOEFL OR PTE TEST in over 130 countries. To be well prepared, it’s important to know your reasons and motivations for taking the test. This also can change what Tests are suitable for you.

Reasons you might be taking the test include:-

  • To know your level of English from an official exam
  • To apply to a university (then only Academic tests are accepted?)
  • For a course or job (Is a full test required or just a predication test?)
  • For your immigration requirement (IELTS General is accepted for this in Australia)

Make sure you know why you’re taking the IELTS, TOEFL OR PTE. This, you can use to motivate yourself and help you to better focus your study time. For example, if you’re taking the test for a job, in a telephone call centre, you’ll be talking on the phone a lot, so it will be important to do well on the speaking and listening parts.

3. Have a Minimum Score in Mind

Different goals require different minimum scores. Firstly, you need to know the minimum score you’ll need to reach your goal. Then, what score you’d like to get. This is your ideal or preferred score. For example, if I want to get into California State University, the minimum score is 500. Your ideal score might be higher, though: 530.

Write down your minimum and your ideal target scores in a noticeable location, on piece of paper or in your diary or your planner, and put it somewhere you see it every day. Every time you look at the target score, you’ll be reminded to study to reach your goal.

Make sure your ideal target score is realistic. This means to choose a score that’s too high, otherwise you have a large amount to learn. This way your target or ideal score is achievable and the easiest way is to take a practice test and check where you are now. FluentIQ is able to help you with this assessment, as well. How many points do you need to reach your minimum and ideal or target scores? How much practice and how long do you have to prepare before the exam? How much time can you spend studying? Answers to these questions will help you choose a more realistic score.

4. Setup Ideal Study Spaces

A good study location or environment is important to achieve the score you want. Use these tips to find or decide upon your own study space:

  • Find your top ideal study locations. It may be in your room, at the library, a cafe, or in your office. It’s important that you feel comfortable and can concentrate in the study space. You need a couple of places because if you feel unmotivated in your room one day, then you can always more to the library for example.
  • Create a quiet zone. When choosing your study locations, choose a space without distractions. Let the people around you know that you are studying and they won’t disturb you. Turn off your phone and social media. Stop listening to music and fully engage and concentrate.
  • Keep your study space clean and organized. Clear your desk, or work space and organize your files. Develop a system that works for you. Get a new, clean notebook just for the IELTS, TOEFL OR PTE test. Working in a notebook is always great for review also.
  • Schedule your breaks, snack and mealtimes. By scheduling your breaks, you will be able to work better during study time. Scheduling when to take a break and eat will ensure you don’t forget! Eating healthy food will help you concentrate better. Keep plenty of water near you when you study so that you drink enough water.
  • Clear your mind. Exercise and do some meditation or relaxation exercises for a positive attitude. Take time for meditation. Taking slow, deep breaths can also be very beneficial, if you are feeling stressed.

5. Get a Study Guide

There’s an official study guide for each exam, that can be helpful. They are displayed above and we recommend you get hold of these. Read what you are asked in the instructions of the test and study tips carefully. Study each section before starting with any exercise or practice test. It’s good practice to read an example as well to know what how they want you to answer. Its good to get an assessment before you start studying just to give you an idea of your current abilities.

  • Learn about FluentIQ on EMR Blog. Get a FluentIQ Assessment. To get feedback on your performance—from a professional IELTS, TOEFL OR PTE grader—you can use a resource like FluentIQ. With FluentIQ, you can take a full or short assessment test and receive a grade, feedback and advice for improving your score. This is a great way for you to see where your strengths and weaknesses are, and what you need to concentrate upon.

When doing the exercises in a IELTS, TOEFL OR PTE study guide like this, here are some tips for the various sections:

  • Reading. Underline the key points and main ideas, take notes on the side of the book or in your notebook. Check your answers afterwards and review your errors. Of course, you can use your dictionary during practice exercises, then you learn a lot more at the same time.
  • Listening. Write down notes, especially the key words, while you’re listening so you can remember the details. Don’t write down full sentences, just write down the most important ideas, the key points. They are normally testing if you understand what is said!
  • Writing. Think about the subject first and then write down your understanding. Create an outline, including an introduction, the main points and a conclusion. Only start writing when you have an outline. When finished, read it again, make sure it flows well and correct your mistakes.
  • Speaking. Answer the question that is asked; don’t talk about something else. Keep it simple. Practice speaking in a relaxed tone, and smooth or fluently.

6. Get Support from a Teacher or Peer

You don’t have to do this alone. You can get support from teachers and peers (other students). Chooses people that have good knowledge in the subject.

Hire a teacher or a tutor

There are many benefits of having a tutor or a teacher, who is qualified and professional, they can give you advice and support. Sometimes just using different words helps. These people are experienced in explaining grammar rules, and can give you personalized exercises and help.

Find other native speakers and English learners near you.

Through internet surfing you can find events, travellers and English speakers in your area. Send them a message and meet for a coffee and chat. Face-to-face communication is the best training.

Native English speakers are often happy to practice English with you, especially if you teach them your native language in exchange. Language exchanges can be fun and benefit both of you. You may even develop longer friendship, as an added bonus.

Other language learners are also happy to exchange strategies, to study together and to motivate each other. When studying together, pick the same listening or reading material. Ask each other questions and discuss what you’ve understood, listened to or read. Summarize the information and do the exercises together.

Find support within online communities

On Facebook, type in “IELTS”, “TOEFL” or “PTE” into the search bar, to find groups or pages related to each exam. Make sure you search for groups as well, as often there are many support groups on Facebook.

You can search for terms like “language exchange”, “English learning”, “EFL”, and many other keywords. There are many other online communities, which you can connect to, especially if you live in a small or remote area. Or maybe you have difficulty travelling due to traffic or time limitations. This is often a solution there when you look.

Communicating online will help also with your writing abilities. Exchanging ideas within a forum or a chat box gives, is slower and so all parties have time to think about their answers and give proper advice. You can even Google the answers if you are stuck. You can set up Skype calls with your contacts to practice speaking as well. There are even people who make themselves available for this for a fee if you are feeling shy.

7. Practice Reading Non-technical English

The IELTS, TOEFL OR PTE test’s reading section, you will read some passages and answer questions related to them. The topics are in non-technical English so that everyone should understand. Here are some ways to prepare:

Read for 30 minutes every day

Start reading for 30 minutes each day, at least when you are able to focus and concentrate. There are some excellent websites so you can catch the news or learn something else at the same time. Some suggestions include:

As you read, ask yourself questions

Stop after every few paragraphs and ask yourself some questions about the material. For example; What did you read about? What was the main idea? What was the conflict? Who are the main characters? etc. Read the story again to check your answers and understanding. When you have read the article, summarise what you’ve read about. You can also do your summary in writing or by speaking, to practice for the writing or speaking sections at the same time.

Improve your vocabulary

While doing this reading practice, it’s good to underline new words. If it is online its easy to look up their meanings, in an online dictionary and write them down in a notebook or on flashcards. Anki is a great flashcard system and you can read about it on EMR web site. Use these new words in sentences during the day, and in your speaking and writing practice. The best is to try to remember the new words and then to use them again soon after.

8. Practice Listening to English with Your Goals in Mind

In the listening section, you’ll hear different people speaking, both on their own, or in monologues and in conversations or dialogues (possibly two or more people talking). You’ll then answer questions based on what you’ve heard and understood.

When practising listening, set a learning goal

Before you begin listening, decide what your focus or goal is for that session. Here are some topics you can listen for:

  • The main ideas. What is the main topic or subject?
  • The purpose. Why is the speaker talking? What is the purpose of the communication? To give an opinion? To complain? Etc.
  • Transitions. How does the speaker/s change from one point or idea to the next?
  • Stress and intonation. Does the speaker place stresses within sentences? When does the pitch of their voice change and get higher and lower? Remember English is spoken with clear key words.

The IELTS test planner is quite brief, and they ask you to register online before supplying detailed material to help you.

The TOEFL test prep planner has many more ideas for specific learning goals, as well as many guiding points to help you prepare.

PTE Academic Test Taker Handbook has recently been updated in September 2018, and is also a great resource to help you get prepared for the exam.

Listen to native English speakers as much as possible

To practice listening, you’ll want to listen media containing audio from native speakers. Here are some sources of listening materials:

  • Real people. If you don’t understand something, ask can ask them to repeat it. It best to join in the conversation and ask follow-up questions, for anything you don’t understand. You can set up a Skype call, or WhatsApp Group, if you don’t have an English-speaking community in your area.
  • Audio for English learners. Today there are many internet resources available so the choice is yours to listen to academic lectures, a variety of audio clips on Many Things or an ESL-friendly podcasts. Select the level that’s appropriate for you, get yourself going, then push yourself a little more, by choosing a higher level.
  • There are some great resources to start with, such as the EnglishClass101 podcast series by Innovative Language. Their podcasts come with transcripts and tools to practice your English. Since these podcasts are made for English students, they are clear and it will be much easier to take notes. Plus, there are podcasts for all skill levels, from beginner to advanced, for you to progress with.
  • Audio from native speakers. There is so much available, so here are just some ideas to get you started. Watch YouTube clips, TED Talks (these have subtitles or you can download the transcripts to print and follow along with), TV shows and movies in English. Listen to the radio, music and the news. Take an online course, or a course where you need to study in English. EMR Edukasi has education courses available for this purpose.

Stop or pause the playback or audio every 2-5 minutes and ask yourself some questions. What’s the topic? What was the main idea? Is there any emotion or emphasis? Who are the characters? What’s your opinion about the topic? etc.

Listen again and check your answers. Replay if you didn’t understand something, and listen to how it is used or the context. Write down any new vocabulary, and look up its meaning. Listen to the same audio 2 or 3 times to improve your understanding, or shadow the speech to practice your speaking.

At the end of your listening, do a summary of what you’ve heard. You can summarize it by writing or speaking it out loud, according to your needed learning. Use your new words, or vocabulary, in your summaries.

9. Practice Timed Writing Like the Test Timing

To prepare for the writing section, practice timed writing, under the test conditions of your test.

IELTS

The essay writing task is the same in both the general and academic IELTS. You will have 40 minutes to write a 250-word essay response to an essay question. This is the same as PTE Academic except in IELTS you need to hand write your essay. You get longer time in IELTS, as its hand written, so you cannot edit it as easily, so the key here is to be organised for your structure in the beginning!

In both exams, your essays you should include four paragraphs (an introduction, two body paragraphs and a conclusion).

TOEFL

During the TOEFL exam you will have 50 minutes for two essays. So you have 25 minutes for each topic, including review. When practicing writing about a topic, time yourself.

First, choose a topic (there are many options), and then set a timer for 20 or 25 minutes. Leave 5 minutes for review and corrections and just write for 15-20 minutes.

PTE Academic

In PTE Academic you will get 1 or 2 essays, each 20 each topic, and 2 or 3 Summarise written texts, each taking 10 mins. Only 4 items in total for these 2 sections though.
Your essay response should include four paragraphs (an introduction, two body paragraphs and a conclusion). Practice this writing to this format.

Here are a some more tips that will help you improve your timed writing:

  • Review your grammar. Review and practice using a variety of verb tenses and your irregular verbs. Make sure you understand modal verbs and conditionals. Review the difference between gerunds and infinitives. Have a good understanding of prepositions and articles. Finally, practice phrasal verbs in sentences. Ask the help of a teacher or a native speaker if you have doubts.
  • Practise writing in English every day. Write a diary or journal, emails, shopping lists, to-do lists, letters and Social media posts in English. To get used to working in English for a period of time set your timer for 15-25 minutes, and just use English for that time, when doing your writing tasks like writing letters or social media posts. Pay attention to your grammar, all the time, even if you aren’t working on any specific exam topic.
  • Check for spelling and grammar mistakes. Don’t forget your punctuation. Use Grammarly to check your spelling and grammar. (It’s much better than a regular spellcheck). If possible, ask a friend, teacher or a tutor to correct your writing.

10. Practice Speaking English Alone and with Others

The speaking section of the IELTS, TOEFL OR PTE is broken down into small tasks. Although it may feel strange to speak to a computer, don’t worry about it, a great practice is to talk to your hand phone! You can either use is as a recorder or you can get it to recognise your words and type them for you. I have even seen essays done this way! To prepare, you’ll want to speak both alone and with others, and using your hand phone is a great way to get really use to this.

Practice speaking even if you are alone

When taking a practice test or doing specific IELTS, TOEFL OR PTE exercises, say your answers out loud, instead of mumbling under your nose or saying it ‘in your head’ without words. Be loud and clear. Here are some more ideas when you’re alone:

  • Talk in English to your pets and house plants.
  • Just talk out loud about what you are doing.
  • Speak in front of a mirror.
  • Read a book out loud.
  • If you have trouble with a particular word, or phrase, write it down and practice it until you get it right. Record and repeat the same word or phrase in English over and over again until you get comfortable. If possible shadow a native English speaker.
  • For word pronunciation check the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) for guidance. Don’t forget that most online English dictionaries will have a button that pronounces the word aloud, too. It’s important to get your pronunciation correct as soon as possible so when you talk to people you have the best chance of being understood.
  • Record yourself speaking. Then, not only listen to the recording for errors, but use record yourself shadowing the recording. What you think you sound like is totally different than what you actually sound like.

Practice speaking with teachers, other students or friends

With your friend, teacher or tutor, listen to recordings of yourself speaking. Ask for feedback on your pronunciation, fluency and grammar. Take notes on your common mistakes, any sounds that you may have problems with, so you can keep practicing when you’re alone.

Set up internet calls, buy yourself a headset and to get used to speaking via a headphone. Have some specific topics ready to discuss, such as news or media reports. I recommend using recent news, reading or listening materials as a possible topic.

11. Use Active and Passive Learning Strategies

Active and passive learning, are the two different types of learning. The best is to make sure you’re using both passive and active strategies in your study plan.

Active learning

Active learning is when you are making an effort and participating in the study.

For example, when you are taking a practice test, you work with the teacher, memorizing your vocabulary, listening closely to a podcast—pausing often or questioning then you are actively learning.

Passive learning

Passive learning happens almost naturally without effort. Most learning is done this way, without any feedback to the teacher. Examples:

  • Watch movies or TV shows without the using your dictionary. Try to understand from the context the meaning.
  • Choose a book that captures your interest, don’t read with a dictionary, try to understand from the context.
  • Speak or correspond online in English. There are so many Social media and Facebook groups out there. Choose a group that’s about your hobby or interest—something that you are excited about. For example, photography or sports.

12. Take Practice or Mock Tests

If you are preparing for a test, it is not only natural to practice taking the test, but highly recommended.

Measure your progress. Take the practice tests from your study guides to measure your progress. If you go over your mistakes and set practice the areas you’re struggling with. Use the test results to target what you need to improve. After a few weeks, take the same test again, or a similar test as normally you can remember the last test!. Compare your scores and check see if you have improved.

Create an exam environment. When you take practice tests, practise like you’re in a real exam. You’ll want a quiet space and time your practice test like an exam.

At the exam centre, you can’t take your personal belongings and aids, with you. So turn off your phone, put away your notebooks and other distracting items. No dictionaries, calculators and so on can be used in the exam so put everything away when you practice an exam.

At the exam centre you are not allowed to eat or drink during the test, so make sure that you drink water and eat something before your practice test, like the exam. Schedule your bathroom breaks before taking the practice or mock test, as well.

There is no maximum number of practice tests you should take. Although PTE Academic is quite new and there are limited practice tests available. Keep practising, until you get your minimum score (or even your ideal score) consistently. Don’t give up, treat each experience as another learning.

Once you’ve prepared, assessed yourself, go and take that test! Remember your hard work. Relax. Be confident.

With consistent and hard work, there is no doubt that you will pass your IELTS, TOEFL OR PTE. You should believe in yourself. Good luck and remember to breath!

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