If you’ve started to research your study options in Australia, you’ll know that taking the IELTS is an essential prerequisite for almost every university course. IELTS stands for ‘International English Language Testing System’ and is a test taken by millions of students around the world each year. Different universities in Australia require their own minimum scores, but usually, you’ll need to achieve at least 6.0 out of the possible nine bands.

The IELTS tests your listening, reading, writing and speaking skills in English. There are two versions: the Academic Test (AC) and General Training (GT) test. The Academic test is generally for students wishing to undertake undergraduate or postgraduate study at a college or university. The General Training test focuses more on everyday language and is designed for those making a visa application. The Listening and Speaking portions of the two versions are the same, but the Reading and Writing sections are different, so make sure to double-check with the test stakeholder (the organisation you’re giving your test results to) which version of the test is required.

Otherwise, if you’re planning to work in or study healthcare in Australia, you’ll probably need to take the Occupational English Test (OET) instead. The OET will also show you have the necessary level of English but specifically focusses on the kind of language you’ll need to use every day in the healthcare sector.

The IELTS and the OET can be tricky for those unfamiliar with English tests of this particular format, but with a bit of preparation, you’ll be able to pass with flying colours. Here are our top tips for acing the test.

Know the Format

The first step is to understand the test and know what you need to prepare for. The IELTS is divided into four sections, and knowing exactly what to expect in each one will give you the best chance of achieving a top grade.

First up, the listening section has four parts. It includes a social conversation, a social monologue, an academic conversation, and an academic monologue.

The reading section has three parts. It contains texts related to everyday life, the workplace and a general interest topic.

The writing section has two parts in which you will be asked to write a letter (Task 1 of the GT) or data interpretation (Task 1 of the AC) and an essay (Task 2 in both tests).

Finally, the speaking section lasts 11 to 14 minutes and involves introducing yourself, answering questions about your life, talking on a particular topic, and holding a conversation with the examiner. You’ll have to register for an allocated time slot for this part of the test, which could take place at any time of day depending on where you take your test.

It’s important you understand how the writing and speaking tests are marked. Looking at the band descriptors will give you an idea of what the examiners are looking for and what you need to do to satisfy the assessment criteria.

Find a Friend

As with all languages, the easiest way to improve your English is to speak it on a daily basis. If possible, make a friend in your classes and practise together, or reach out to an English speaker who might want to learn your native language. This will help you gain confidence in preparation for the Speaking section of the IELTS and the OET, where you will be asked to answer general questions about yourself and present a short talk on a specified topic.

Make it Fun

New vocabulary and grammatical structures are more likely to stick if you reinforce them frequently. Including English in your daily routine is a great way to do this. Watching TV shows without subtitles will improve your conversational listening skills, and reading news articles will broaden your knowledge of the written format. You can even follow media outlets and accounts in English on Facebook or Instagram to make sure they pop up regularly.

Practice Makes Perfect

Treat the test like any other exam and make sure you study beforehand. There’s an incredible range of resources online to help you prepare for the IELTS and the OET, including sample questions, as well as in-person workshops and tutoring available. The test is designed to ensure you have a sufficient level of English to learn effectively in Australia, so putting in the effort will definitely be worth it when it comes time for your future studies.

Take it Slow

On the day of the test, try to relax beforehand and remind yourself of all the preparation you’ve done. Read each question carefully and plan your response before you start writing. During the test, answer the questions you’re most sure of first and try to attempt as many of the others as possible. If there are questions you really can’t answer, just leave them and move on. You can always come back at the end if you have extra time.

Use What You Know

In the writing and speaking sections of the IELTS, remember that you are not being marked on your opinions or chosen answers, but on how you convey the information. If there are certain areas where you have more confidence speaking in English – for example, your favourite sport or movie – you can try to adapt your answer to fit those topics. Obviously, you still need to answer the question, but it is a smart tactic to think creatively about how you can play to your strengths. It is usually better to use vocabulary and grammatical structures you’re sure of, rather than trying to demonstrate knowledge you’re still learning.

So, what about preparing for the OET?

The OET is made up of the same four sections as IELTS, but with some minor structural differences, so the above advice generally applies. If you already have a healthcare background, the vocabulary in the OET may even be more familiar than that in the more general test. Certain skills, like communicating your empathy for patients and using precise language, are more important in the OET. You can study online or take an in-person course to prepare thoroughly.