I pondered a couple of days on the title of this post. I was pondering between How to Get Band 8 IELTS Academic or How I got Band 8 at IELTS Academic (sounded a bit like I was bragging). In the end, I’ve decided on the shorter version of Band 8 IELTS Academic because I wanted to both talk about my experience and give recommendations on what you can do to prepare for this exam.
I hope my English native speakers will find this post interesting as well, even though you’ll never have to take this test. Obviously I’m going to start by talking a bit about the exam. IELTS means International English Language Testing System and it is one of the most popular tests, with over 2 million people taking the test each year, around the world. There are two types of IELTS: Academic and General. For anybody wanting to study in English, they need to take the Academic version. There are a few differences between the two tests, with easier tasks for Reading and Writing. The score is between 0 and 9. For the Academic version, a score of 7 is very good (good enough for US ivy league Universities such as Harvard, Yale), with only top Universities in UK (as in Oxford, Cambridge, UCL) asking for a higher score, of 7.5.
If you are aiming for Band 8 IELTS Academic, then your main focus should be in learning a lot about the test. Despite being an English language test, its idiosyncrasies make it hard to answer if you are on native-speaker level. So, preparation is key. I will continue to talk about my test. I got band 8 and it was the first time I took this test. While I studied for the exam I’ve made some mistakes. For example I’ve read a lot of details online about what you can do during the test, with recommendations such as learning to skim read the test because you don’t have the time to read all the passages during the test. That is untrue, someone aiming at a high score is able to read all the passages without any time pressure. In fact, I finished the Reading test in 40 minutes!
My first recommendation is to take a practice test, just to see your level, before starting to learn for the test. Also, check my post about the books I’ve borrowed from the library, to help me study for the exam. The IELTS test consists of four parts: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. The first three are one after another. Listening takes 30 minutes with 10 minutes for transferring the answers onto the answer sheet (only 2 minutes are available in the computer-delivered test). There are 40 questions in the first two parts of the test. Listening is followed by Reading, for an hour, with three passages each with 12-14 questions. Next one is Writing, for an hour, with two tasks, a short and a long essay. After that the candidates are scheduled for Speaking, that is about 11 to 15 minutes, face to face with an examiner.
Band 8 IELTS Academic: Listening
To get band 8 you need to answer 35 to 36 correctly. For 8.5 you need 37 to 38 correct answers. There are 7 types of questions, used randomly: form or notes completion, multiple-choice questions, short answer questions, sentence completion, labelling a diagram or map, classification, and matching. Practice all of them by making practice tests.
There are 40 questions with 10 question for each section:
Section 1 – a conversation on an everyday topic;
Section 2 – one speaker talks about a general topic;
Section 3 – a discussion involving up to four people in an academic situation;
Section 4 – an academic lecture.
In section 1 I listened to a credit card application. It was followed by a presentation of a town with ferry stops and I had to identify the different places on a map. In section 3 it was a discussion about two books, between a professor and two students, comparing them. Last section of the Listening test was a lecture on Scotts pines.
It is easy to make mistakes, but if you realize you’ve made one, just leave the question you missed or answered incorrectly and move to the next one. The CD can’t be heard again and you don’t want to loose points because you try to remember if the phone number had an 1 or 2 after the 9.
Band 8 IELTS Academic: Reading
To get band 8 you need to answer 35 to 36 correctly. Like before, for 8.5 you need 37 to 38 correct answers. The texts in the Reading part are taken from real publications like books, newspapers, and magazines. They can be about 900 words long.
There are 10 types of questions, used randomly: multiple choice, short-answer questions, sentence completion, notes completion (can be a table or something similar), labelling a diagram, choosing headings for paragraphs, locating information, identification of writer’s views or of information in a text, classification, and matching.
The first passage was on Italian opera. It was followed by fires and land management that affects the small animal population in Kakadu National Park, North Australia. The last passage was a piece on Alzheimer, including a discussion on bilingual children and supplements.
As I mentioned before, I finished Reading in 40 minutes. I took a comfort break and I would suggest doing that as well, as the next part is Writing and that is more difficult. When I was back in the room, I checked my answers again.
One of the most annoying things in the Reading part of the IELTS Academic is that it can be interpreted. For example, in the passage on the Italian opera, one of the questions was (I’m paraphrasing): Did the servants watch the opera? With the three versions of answers being: True, False, or Not Given. In the passage it was mentioned that a small kitchen area was beside the stalls, so servants could prepare food and drinks for their employers. You can either interpret that the information about what the servants were doing during the opera is either not given or that they were working and, thus, not able to see the opera. It’s true that there were only three questions like this in the whole test, but, annoyingly, they can mean an 8.5 instead of 9.
If you don’t read fast enough and you see, after a practice test, that you are not able to finish reading all three passages, then the only thing you can do is to read a few non-fiction books. Try books on different subjects, so you can get accustomed with different topics. It will also help when you start your studies.
Band 8 IELTS Academic: Writing
Writing consists of two tasks. Task 1 is a 150 word descriptive essay. You need to convey what is shown in a map or chart. Task 2 is a 250 word essay on a topic that is not exactly academic. Unlike the first two parts of the IELTS test, in this one is harder to asses your level.
From what I’ve seen online, they are looking for four aspects, each weighting 25% of the score:
1. Task Achievement – answer the question fully, with enough words, covering the main points, and have a clear position;
2. Coherence and Cohesion – presenting the ideas into paragraphs, connect them with linking words;
3. Vocabulary – if it is relevant to the topic and appropriate to academic writing;
4. Grammatical Range and Accuracy – good use of grammar and punctuation, also if there are complex sentences.
Task 1: A college campus map, one from from 1975 and the second one from 2010, with further plans for 2020. It was a bit hard to find words in describing these two maps. I would have rather written about something else, like employment figures.
Task 2: It was a question about teenagers and family life. If they should spend more time with friends or at home, with family. It was again a rather strange and not exactly an academic topic.
If, like me, you prefer writing on a laptop, then I would suggest going for the computer-delivered test. It counts the number of words, so you don’t have to keep doing the maths (counting the number of words in a few lines and multiplying them with the number of lines already written). Also, it might be easier for you to spot any mistakes and for the teachers to understand all the words even if your handwriting is not exactly amazing.
I was quite disappointed with my score, it was the lowest of all four, 2 points lower that the best score. I think I would have done better on a computer-delivered test.
Another thing I would like to point out is that you need a proper structure and you should make it before you start writing the essays. I didn’t include the examples in the structure and, after the test, I’ve realized that one of the examples given was a bit off. Remember that you are under pressure and, something that might be easy in another circumstance, it’s much harder when so much can depend on your result.
Band 8 IELTS Academic: Speaking
Lastly, the Speaking part of the test. It is recorded, so make sure you are speaking clearly. There is a structure for Speaking, exactly like in the other three parts of the IELTS test. Like with the Listening, Speaking is the same for Academic and General. Thus the topics of discussion are general. Your accent doesn’t matter, so don’t worry about it.
Speaking has three sections:
Section 1. You and the examiner introduce yourselves. The examiner will check your identity document before asking some questions about something familiar. For example about your work, family, the city you live in, or your hobbies. This lasts for 4 to 5 minutes.
Section 2. You get a task card with a topic and a few points to follow. You also get a pencil and paper and you are allowed a minute to make notes. After this minute, you need to speak about the topic for one to two minutes, by yourself.
Section 3. The examiner will ask a few more abstract questions related to the topic that was introduced in Section 2. This discussion will last for 4 to 5 minutes.
Section 1 was about my home and my favourite room in the house. Why I like the room.
Section 2 was about the internet and how it helped me to solve a problem I had. I talked about aquafaba (chickpea water for meringue).
Section 3 continued the talk about the internet and there were a few questions about social media and how it affects our lives.
I got a good score, but I know what I could have done to get an even better score. In the second task I talked fast and finished before those two minutes. I didn’t take advantage of my minute of preparation and it would have been better to write down some synonyms for words. It’s hard when you are speaking in front of an examiner to have the same fluency and ability to concentrate as in a more relaxed situation. Speaking is usually taken after the other three parts and you might be tired as well.
I didn’t have anything to eat between these parts of the test, no coffee either, just some water. Take this into consideration as well.
Do as many practice tests as you can. Write your answers for those tests in a notebook, not on loose papers. Correct your tests with a different coloured pen or a pen if you are writing, like me, in pencil. Before you are going to take the test, have a look again in the practice notebook and see where you’ve made the most mistakes. It will give you an important information, as you’ll know where to pay more attention on the day of the exam.
If you are planning on taking the IELTS Academic, I hope you are doing great and achieve your goals. Good luck!