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Here is how Ali got Band 8.5 in IELTS (with a straight 9 in Reading!)

Band 9 in IELTSAli is our October winner of the IELTS Results Competition, a proud owner of Overall Band 8.5 with a perfect 9 in Reading. He is 30 years old and his first language is Arabic. When we asked him “What do you think is a good way to score high in IELTS?”, he said:


1. The last day before the test won’t have a big effect on your score, so no need to stay up late before the test. Get a very good night’s sleep beforehand, it takes a while to go through all the formalities of signing in for the test and security measures. By the time the test paper is distributed, you would be fatigued if you haven’t slept well, this will primarily affect your listening segment and writing. I was overconfident and did not sleep well and that made me miss a few things in listening and writing, due to the fatigue from lack of sleep.

2. Do not get bored in the Listening section even if your Listening skill is very good, and do not try to interpret something you did not understand. Listening is designed to relay information only once with the occasional – you should have been paying attention – segments. If you want to score as high as possible in listening, having a pencil to write highlighted notes on the test paper that can help you remember the important parts about the answers. This is quite handy for date- or time-based questions.

3. In Listening, Reading or even Writing, if you have a doubt about any of your answers/ideas, immediately move on and don’t fret over that, the tests are designed with a limited time frame, you simply don’t have time to spend analysing 1 point out of 40, in a manner that would affect a lot more points.

4. Do not try to show off too much or use too many fancy words in writing, we have grown accustomed to auto-correct on PCs and phones, writing test is done by pen and you could easily lose points for small spelling mistakes unnecessarily. But you should also illustrate your capabilities and drive the assessor away from any suspicion that you don’t have a rich vocabulary, by avoiding using the same words over and over again, or the same kind of format as much as possible.

5. You can easily sense in each test the way it is structured, there is a lot of easy stuff, a big hard one and a lot of mini tricky ones, so you need to manage your attention, time and focus accordingly. Always think in points and check the point value for any answer on test, your job is to get more points, disregard any other criteria, because there is none.

6. Get familiar with the speaking format, there is really no point in my opinion to “improve” or “memorize” anything, speaking can not be improved overnight, and if the tester feels you are fake or memorizing that is bad news. But getting familiar with the format of the speaking test so you don’t get “surprised”, is very important, especially if you have low skills in that regard. Unlike other tests, and unlike writing in particular, your job here is to show off and flex your muscles as much as possible, don’t worry much about making mistakes in pronunciation or accent here, only worry about comprehension and flow. Be as confident and relaxed as you can, the rest will come naturally.

I also recommend not to think a lot about your answers as you would in a job interview, because your knowledge on the subject is really irrelevant, just say what comes to your mind naturally to keep things flowing because that’s where all the points are at. However, if you get a question that you completely understand but simply your mind was not able to create an answer immediately, just ask the tester calmly, to think about it for a second, instead of panicking or answering incoherently and losing points. Treat the test as a conversation with a casual friend about random stuff, nothing more. Also stay on point and don’t steer the conversation into YOUR comfort zone.


1. Watch a lot of English language TV or YouTube, ditch subtitles immediately even if you don’t understand anything, you will eventually. I’d recommend series and movies over documentaries or educational materials, because you would be able to observe how people interact in social situations and what terms they would use, which is what IELTS (especially GT) is geared towards.

2. Talk to yourself in English, might seems silly at first, but eventually you would only be able to think in English and it will take over your mother tongue, once you do that you would dominate any test, especially speaking.

3. GT writing definitely requires research in formal and corporate correspondence in addition to essay writing techniques, if you don’t do that professionally as most jobs require this, you should invest time in doing that as much as possible.

4. Online interactions are very helpful to building confidence in engaging with native speakers of English, chatrooms, chat apps, online games that require comms (voice interaction between players) will build your confidence and skills like nothing else. As a geeky example, I play EVE online a lot and fleet battles require you to be Johnny on the spot with your clarity and information during the battle, IELTS speaking test fades in comparison. The upside of this is that it’s fun to do, so it imprints itself in your memory and helps.

5. Avoid speaking with individuals with weak English or bad accents, it transfers to you, try only to speak with very high level English speakers, or natives. Not all practice is good practice, at least that’s my own opinion.

6. On lazy afternoons or spare time, load an online thesaurus website and just type anything, you would be surprised, and speaking of that try to switch to using ‘English-English’ dictionary not ‘English-your first language’ dictionary as soon as you can. I also recommend wikibinging (reading a lot of Wikipedia articles), it expands your knowledge in general, in addition to adding subjects you can talk about during the test or even on a personal level.”

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