When Should I Take My IELTS?

When should I take IELTS?

This question of when to take your IELTS gives myself and my students so many headaches. As a sixth form student counselor and former IELTS examiner, here is my honest answer.

Firstly, you should not take your test until your English level is ready, otherwise you may waste time and money retaking. Secondly, if you need IELTS for a UK university then you will need your band score certificate by February to May. For immigration purposes you normally need it when you apply.

There are also numerous other issues that you need to consider such as the timing of new IELTS question releases, the expiration date of your IELTS certificate, preparation time required, resitting time allowance, and how fully booked your test centre is likely to be and what other arrangements you might need to make.

WARNING: Read this article to find out if you are ready for IELTS yet.

Do not book your test until you are confident you are at the right level to get the band score you need, otherwise it can cause significant problems with timing because you will then have to wait for another available slot and re-book a test, possibly wasting months.

Let’s now take a look at the factors affecting when to take your IELTS test in turn:

#1 – Timing of new IELTS question release.

It is a badly kept secret that IELTS speaking examiners use the same questions for 4 months. After 4 months the questions change. During those 4 months though you can find out from various sources online what questions are being asked and it is possible that you will be asked those same questions.

So, the nearer towards the end of each 4 months block you are on test day the more of the questions previous test takers will have remembered and put online for you to practice with.

When do the 4 month blocks end? Well, research suggests that the block end at the end of January, May and September, Therefore these would be good times to take the test.

I would not make this my main reason for deciding when to take IELTS but some students feel more confident about the test when they do this.

#2 – Expiration of the IELTS certificate.

The IELTS certificate can only be used for a 2 year period so you need to consider whether it will still be valid when you need it to be.

This may sound obvious but I have had students do the test too soon at the beginning of 6th form (Y12/13, age 16-18), meaning that by the end of 6th form there certificate has nearly expired and if they then plan to go to a university in Australia or New Zealand they need to do the test again because universities in those countries do not start until the following January. Clearly, this is a costly and annoying mistake!

When to take IELTS

#3 – Preparation time required.

It is possible that your university or the immigration department you are dealing with state that you need a band score that is higher than you feel you are currently capable of.

They may even tell you that you need a specific score in one of the specific bands. For example, it is not uncommon for UK universities to specify that you must have at least a band 7 in IELTS Academic writing. Although your overall score may only need to be a 6.5 you may still need to spend time working on your writing band score.

The best way to do this is to figure out what your current band score is and what areas you are not strong at. You can then focus on these areas to improve your score. To do this, generally you will need the help of an IELTS professional, to grade your speaking and writing in particular. One such online service I recommend can be read about here. 

Once you have found out how far below the band score you need you are you can then start thinking about how much preparation time you will need.

One study revealed that it took 10-12 weeks of intensive study to improve a student’s IELTS Academic band score by just half a band overall.

Personally speaking though, I have seen students make much faster gains than that. Probably the fastest I have known is a student going from 5.5 to a 7 in just 2 months.

On average though I would say that two months of intensive study should gain you one band level, but a lot depends on a student’s attitude, learning material and teacher. you can use my reading, writing, speaking and listening guides to help of course.

#4 – Resitting time allowance.

Even though you are not going to take the IELTS test before you are ready it still  makes sense to give yourself a ‘buffer zone’. Basically, allow yourself extra time so that if you do need to retake the test then you have time to do so.

This is particularly important if you are the sort of person who gets very nervous and anxious for tests. A serious case of nerves may negatively affect your band score, throwing your concentration off in the listening and reading sections, making you speak to fast, or even causing you to write ‘off topic’.

You are only human and you will feel better if you know that you do have a ‘buffer zone.’

#5 – Test availability at your local centre

This can be a big factor as to when you need to take the test. You may be forced to choose a particular date before the spaces are taken up.

At my previous IELTS test centre where I worked as an examiner, spaces were severely limited as students would fly in from China and come and spend the weekend in my city just to do the IELTS test.

Whilst this was a nice little holiday for them it made it very difficult for local people to get the test dates they wanted.

So, the message is, plan early and secure your dates before someone else does!

Key Questions

In summary then, you need to ask yourself and answer these 4 key questions in order to ascertain when you need to take the IELTS test:

  1. What date in the future do I need my IELTS test certificate to be valid for?
  2. How long will it be before my level of English is actually ready to take the IELTS test?
  3. How much time will I need to allow in case I have to take the test again?
  4. What dates are actually currently available for me to take the test?

If you can clearly answer those questions you will be in a great position to decide when to take the IELTS test. 

I must warn you though that if you are basing your decision of when to take the IELTS test on emotional factors, such as, I want to get this test out of the way, or due to pressure from friends and family, or pressure from deadlines, then this is a sure sign that you are booking your test too soon! Theyr are the wrong reasons to be booking the test. The right reason is, ‘because you are ready’.

Remember, you are fair better preparing properly for the test and passing first time than not preparing properly and having to retake the test. Don’t be like one of my students that has to comeback for summer school whilst everyone else is away having fun! You can do it! If you have read this far then I know you can!

Good luck, I hope you are now clearer on when you should take the IELTS test.

Recommended IELTS Study Tools

Thank you for reading this article. I always get lots of questions about how else to get a better band score quickly. So, this is what I recommend:

Complete IELTS Course: Of course, my full course ‘INCREASE YOUR IELTS‘ covers everything you need to need to know to pass IELTS, including practice questions, model answers, grammar work, strategies for every possible reading, writing and listening question type, as well as a complete speaking course too, check it out here.

IELTS Essay and Speaking Feedback: To complete full mock tests and get feedback from IELTS examiners on your IELTS essays or speaking tasks then visit: IELTS Feedback and Mock Tests, here.

Improve your grammar fast by using the Grammarly suggestions to improve your writing. Every IELTS students should have this free grammar improving tool.

Improve all-round English skill with EnglishClass101.com. If you have failed IELTS more than once then you probably need to improve your general level of English. Use the free online lessons and vocabulary building tools here and start improving today! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

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