Grown up speaking English? IELTS preparation tips, just for you.

As fluent, native English speakers it is important to understand that the English exams, which offer extra visa application points are just that, exams! To achieve the best score in your test, it’s vital to prepare well – even if you have a good track record with exams. However, if it’s years since you were last in an exam room it’s time to get back to basics, with the following tips.

  • Familiarise yourself with the format of the test. 
  • Use the free IELTS practice material available online
  • Remember, each part of the test will be timed so make sure you practise in timed conditions.
  • Understand what happens on test day so you’re completely prepared and can focus on getting the result you want. 

Specific to each of the four exam papers:

  • You’ll need to listen very carefully for specific information in the Listening test as you only hear the recording once.
  • 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.


Which exam should you choose to sit?

Overall, both IELTS and Pearson PTE test the same basic, core language skills but with IELTS, you have the option to sit General or Academic whereas in Pearson PTE only academic is available in the UK.  The difference between academic and general vocabulary is as the name suggests, academic for use in the context of a further education scenario, compared to general vocabulary which is everyday language, although not colloquial.  The one similarity between the two exams is essay writing which is marked the same way in both.  On the other hand, the design, delivery method and the scoring systems of IELTS and Pearson PTE are completely different.

Design of exam papers vary widely.  IELTS papers are skills-based which means that grammar and vocabulary are not tested, as such.  In contrast, Pearson PTE is designed as a listening and note-taking exam which tests the candidate’s ability to understand a lecture well enough to make notes which can then be explained, both verbally and in writing. What this means in practice is that in IELTS listening, you are listening for the answers to the questions on the question paper, compared to Pearson PTE listening which tests grammar, vocabulary, spelling in the context of listening.  In the same way, IELTS speaking is based on general discussion topics whereas, Pearson PTE involves re-telling a lecture as well summarising graphs, or other types of visuals.

Delivery of these two exams is either by computers or paper-based with IELTS being the paper-based exam and Pearson PTE computer delivered.  Consequently, in an IELTS exam room, question papers are handed out, which you then make notes on, as you work through the paper.  Pearson PTE exams are sat in the equivalent of language labs with everyone sitting at computers, wearing headphones, speaking into microphones while typing on keyboards.  Therefore, as you can imagine, Pearson PTE exam rooms are very noisy which can make concentrating on your own exam difficult.  IELTS exam room are the total opposite, silence reigns!

Scoring is also the total different in both exams. As you might expect, the Pearson PTE exams are marked by computers using algorithms for every section of the exam, including speaking. However, IELTS is marked by trained Clerical Markers for the listening and reading papers after you transfer your answers to a marking sheet. In IELTS writing, specialised writing examiners mark your A4 lined, writing booklet.  These same examiners also conduct and score the speaking exams.



Getting Going on English exam preparation.


First, when you’re considering booking an exam date, please ensure that you allow yourself enough time, to prepare adequately.  Stepping into an exam room without any preparation for the tasks ahead is never a good idea as resits are expensive and demoralising! Therefore, starting your study schedule at least a month in advance of the exam is advisable.  More importantly making time for this in busy, daily routines is crucial. Next, get your head into ‘exam mode’ by avoiding spellcheck and trying to use proper punctuation in texts, and e mails. A simple way to review overall grammar and spelling is by writing on A4 lined paper for 10 minutes, every day about something in the news.  For Pearson PTE and Academic IELTS, this should be a science, technology or environment reports.

Second, when you have an exam date booked, it’s time to focus on specific exam practice material, relevant to the exam you’ve decided to sit. There is a wide range of material available but some sites may be confusing and even misleading so if in doubt, ask an expert for guidance.  When you book an IELTS exam, included in the exam fee is 20 hours free material which is helpful and can be accessed though the same site as you book the exam on, using your booking reference number.  In contrast, for Pearson PTE, there is less free material available so it is generally helpful to purchase a couple of mock exams in advance of the actually taking the exam. From these mock exam results, you will gain valuable insight into how you might score on the day and also, which aspects of the exam you need to improve on.

Finally, understand the exam assessment criteria so that you know how to gain, not lose marks.  Remember, you are marked on how you use English language in a functional way.  For example, what’s the ‘job’ of a letter in General IELTS Task 1? How do you build and link paragraphs in exam essay writing?  How wide is your range of vocabulary?  What grammar do you use in academic exams?

Tuition BEFORE Exam or Tuition AFTER Exam?

Frequently, the biggest hurdle to overcome when preparing for English exams is the lack of time available to study. Therefore, which is the best option, study FROM actual test scores or study FOR target scores?

First Plan of Action : study as and when you can, in terms of preparing yourself for entering the exam room. This involves understanding the format of the exam, what to expect on the day, the scoring system and completing a few exercises, included in the exam.  After that, sit the exam, wait for the result! 

When these arrive, you will know, if you’ve been successful, in achieving your target scores, or not.  If the latter, then tuition can be targeted to the aspects of the exam which let you down, first time around, before you resit.


Second Plan of Action : if time allows, hold back from booking an exam date until you have done some tuition-based preparation. Despite what you may think, this is not for the benefit of tutors’ bank balances but to reduce the stress and anxiety for exam candidates!  A common misconception is that these exams test English, which they don’t!

IELTS and PTE are English Language exams and therefore should be considered from a purely, functional view such as, ‘which box do you have to tick’, of ‘how do you gain/lose marks’? Sitting either of these exams without an awareness of the ‘job’ makes success more difficult to achieve which is how pre-exam tuition helps everyone, irrespective of job or education.

Punctuation matters!

Nowadays, using punctuation when you write texts and messages is often rejected because it slows down the length of the process. However, the extra seconds gained before you ‘hit send’ erodes your ability to remember what the function of punctuation is and how it should be used. As result, when you find yourself having to take an English exam for visa points, it’s a problem!

The links below, will help revise punctuation rules and how it should be used:

Autumn/ Winter Tuition Packages

1 hour tuition: IELTS / PTE Exam Overview                                Fee: £60

Often specific to the section concerning you most, this tuition covers strategies, and techniques, to improve your time management and raise your awareness of the most common problems. After your tuition session, continuous feedback is provided, up to your exam date.


2 hours tuition: IELTS /PTE Exam Preparation                           Fee £110

Tailored to improve overall English exam skills, this option also covers individual papers, strategies and techniques, required in exam conditions.  Self-study material and practise material are included with this option, as well as continuous support and feedback, up to your exam date.


3 hours tuition: IELTS/ PTE Exam Preparation                           Fee £160

This option covers all aspects of English exam preparation needed to achieve your target scores, in IELTS or PTE exams. Working from your pre-tuition feedback, tuition will focus on the areas highlighted in it. Self-study material and practise material are also included, as well as continuous support and feedback, up to your exam date.


Post Tuition: IELTS /PTE Exam Feedback                                    Fee £50

For past students, feedback on self-study exam material available, prior to your resit.


To Help Yourself, tuition should start at least one month before your exam date. This enables you to achieve the best results by processing and practising what you will be taught during your sessions.


Understanding General IELTS Reading

Both General and Academic IELTS Reading papers last for 1 hour and contain 40 questions, split over 3 sections. 

Section 1: contains two or three short factual texts, one of which may be made up of 6 – 8 short texts related by topic, e.g. hotel advertisements. The topics are relevant to everyday life in an English-speaking country.

Section 2: contains two short factual texts focusing on work-related issues, e.g. applying for a job, company policies, pay and conditions, workplace facilities, staff development and training.

Section 3: contains one longer, more complex text on a topic of general interest.

A variety of question types such as,  multiple choice, short-answer questions, sentence completion, classification, matching headings/information, identification of writer’s view/claims – yes, no, not given, identification of information in the text – true, false, not given.

Answers and notes should be written on the question paper and then transferred to the IELTS Answer sheet, throughout the exam as there is not extra time allowed at end to transfer your answers, unlike IELTS Listening.

IELTS Listening and Reading sheet



Exam scores needed to achieve +20 visa points

To avoid confusion, extra points for a visa application are achieved solely from your exam scores, irrespective of which exam you choose to sit.

In IELTS: the most common method is to achieve Band 8 scores in all 4 sections of the General IELTS exam, Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking.

As IELTS scoring is not a %, out of 100%,  Band 8 in General IELTS is achieved by the converting your score. For example, in Listening 35/40, Reading 37/40. The lower score in the listening section is because this paper is combination of both academic and general content. Writing and speaking are marked in a more complicated way and so while your IELTS Speaking score should always be Band 8, and above, for native-English speakers, IELTS Writing Band 8 is tricky!

In PTE: this is is an academic exam, designed as listening and note-taking exam and therefore completely different from General IELTS in respect of the tasks you are asked to complete. Although, essay writing is similar in both exams, and marked on the same criteria. Therefore, the aim in PTE is to score 79+ in all of the top 4 scores, Listening, Reading, Speaking, Writing.

So, the best advice I can give is to research both exams, before you choose, rather than only looking at computer delivered, PTE, versus paper-based, IELTS.

How to select the best English exam option.

Scoring extra visa application points through English exam scores is undoubtedly a challenge for many people! Therefore, it is critical that the choice of English exam is taken after doing some research into both exams generally taken, IELTS of PTE. However, this is aspect of the challenge is often overlooked with your choice of exam based on online forums rather than going to source sites, see following suggestions.

On this website:


Online: have a look at the difference between the exam preparation material


English exam choice

Affect of Spelling in IELTS or PTE

I’m often asked how spelling impacts marks achieved in English exams, usually by people who spell badly!  So, if that’s you, it’s important to understand how spelling is filtered into scores for both Academic and General IELTS compared to PTE.


Spelling has the biggest impact in IELTS Listening because if your answer is misspelt, it will be marked as an error!  Therefore, even if you ‘hear’ the correct answer not spelling the word properly, loses a point. To overcome this problem, absolutely necessary to go back to basics and improve your spelling on links, like the following

However, first step, is to stop using predictive text in messages!  In IELTS Writing, spelling is marked as part of the vocabulary (Lexical Resource) component and therefore if you know your spelling isn’t great you can improve one of the other components marked, in writing, to compensate.  The should be no spelling mistakes in IELTS reading as answers are simple copied from the text.




In PTE, spelling is marked as a separate component in Enabling Skills section.  These marks are then filtered into the Communicative Scores, which are the ones that matter!  As a result, in this exam spelling has a wider impact on scores. 


Spelling mistakes


 Founder & owner Marian Anderson

Who We Are

English for Emigration, founded by Marian Andersen, helps you identify the problems which prevent you achieving your target scores in IELTS or Pearson PTE exams, to speed up your visa application process.

0131 661 6236 (tel)

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