IELTS Exam Experiences and Details

Please share your actual IETLS test experience. Some questions which might help in structuring your response:

  1. Looking back, what are the things that helped in your preparation
  2. Looking back, what are the things that you thought would help and you spent a lot of time, however they were not important at all.
  3. What are the things that were little different in the actual test, compared to what you imagined? If you could explain the entire experience of the actual test, it would be extremely helpful.
  4. As an Indian, what are the most important things to prepare in each section so that we can maximise our score?
  5. If you need to go through the entire process of IELTS preparation, what are the 3 things that you will change so that you can score even better?

Your responses would be very helpful for everyone who are yet to appear for the exam. Would be great if you can spare 10-15 mins capturing your experience.


This existing thread on IELTS preparation has some online testing courses you can take.

Yes it was helpful. But, it would be great if people here can write their actual experience. I am sure everyone will get so many insights from different experiences.

@anon25417004 Could you please share your detailed experience.

@akg Thats a great idea, I’ll write something up.

Waiting for your reply

@others, please share your experiences

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My IELTS exam started around 9am it was at some middle of nowhere school in central California. Most all other kids there were there were for the academic version of the test. There were only a few people for the Canada PR version of it. The first module was writing followed by listening. The questions were very similar to what I had seen and studied from sample tests. The second module was listening there were no headphone or any such thing the audio was just played out aloud to the whole class. I was a little uncomfortable with this part since the acoustics in the room were terrible and I could not clearly hear the audio. I got one question wrong (the only one) in this part. The general test that I did was much shorter than the academic one others were taking so I was done early.

There was a break of several hours I remember meeting a software engineer from a Russian who was also taking this test so we ended up getting some food. After much waiting and walking this campus it was time for the conversation module. For this were were individually called in for a conversation with the instructor. I remember mine was a lady who wanted to speak about my taste in music, it seemed pretty informal she asked what groups I liked and what type of music I listened to also some small talk about what I did, etc.

While this next part is not useful to you guys. I will say personally I hated this whole experience, it was a big waste of my time and the test itself was super basic like a middle school level english test.

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Thanks @anon25417004
Anyone else?


I gave my IELTS exam yesterday so I can’t really look back and give much info yet. I might be able to better comment on that once I have my scores in hand but here’s a gist of how everything went.

I didn’t prepare for the exam in advance. In fact, I booked the appointment only last week. I stay in the SF Bay Area and did not have any dates available locally, until 9/30. I did not want to wait that long to give the test. The closest center which had anything available for 9/9 was Santa Monica (LA).

We were asked to register at the center between 7:30 AM and 8:30 AM on 9/9. All we needed to carry with us were our passports. During registration, our passports were checked, we needed to sign sheets to confirm our attendance, our right index fingerprints were taken and our photos were clicked. Then we were directed to our classrooms where the seat numbers were already assigned and stuck to our desks.

The exam began at 9 AM. We had the Listening section first, followed by Reading and then Writing. The only practice that I had done for the Listening and Reading sections was going through the practice tests on the IELTS website ( For the Writing section, I had only read samples from the IELTS website and from this website - I did not read all the letters and essays, but just some of them for reference about what is expected. These three sections completed by 12 PM. I think I did fairly well in these.

The Listening section was the best for me followed by Writing and then Reading. The Listening section had audio which was played out over the CD player for the whole room; no headphones were provided. Some of the answers were confusing for me in the Reading section. These were mainly for the questions where we need to assign appropriate titles for a bunch of paragraphs. For Writing Task 1, we were to write a letter to our manager asking for some office equipment and for Writing Task 2, we had to provide arguments on girls and boys having to participate in sports at school, considering that sports were being added to the timetable in some schools. My letter was a little over 200 words and my essay was a little over 250 words. I wish I had practiced a few essays before the test but I don’t know how much that would have helped with the topic that I got.

My main concern was the Speaking section since this was going to be a 1:1 conversation with an actual person. I am more of an introvert so it gets a little uncomfortable for me to start talking to random people, face-to-face, but it’s not like I had a choice. After our first 3 sections completed, we were assigned time slots for the Speaking section. Mine was scheduled at 1:10 PM and I was asked to report for registration at 12:40 PM so I took a half hour stroll outside the center and then came back for the Speaking section.

In the Speaking section, I was asked a bunch of questions. Since they are typically in 3 sections, I have tried to segregate them below:

Section I
Where do I stay and whether I like it?
How my future house should be and why?
What do I think about politeness and whom did I learn it from
Is politeness going down in the modern world?
Who is my favorite historical figure?
Have I ever watched a historical movie and learnt history from it? If so, which one?

Section II
Who is a couple, I know, that is happily married and for how long? And what are some possible reasons that they are happily married?

Section III
What are the roles of husbands and wives in my culture?
Are the roles changing?
Do I think that the roles in India and America started changing at the same time?
What do I think about a family unit?
Why is the family unit shrinking?
Do I think it will continue to shrink?
Should children’s opinions matter in family decisions?
How important is the family unit?

There might have been a few other questions which I don’t remember now. The topics are changed abruptly so this is one thing that I should have definitely practiced. More importantly, I should have practiced a little more public speaking as that would have helped calm my nerves. My husband was asked about which invention does he think helped mankind a lot (I am not sure if I have fed it correctly). He answered with ‘microprocessor chip’ and the examiner asked him whether he doesn’t think the wheel was the most important invention by mankind. So be prepared for counter-questions to your answers.

Once I was done with the exam, it felt like a heavy burden was lifted. It’s not like it was tough but I usually tend to freak out before exams, in general :persevere: The good part about the whole experience is that it is now over and hopefully the scores wouldn’t be too bad. My husband also gave his IELTS at the same time but he doesn’t like discussing exams after they are done since he feels that it will not change the results in anyway.

I worried a lot about everything, including whether I have enough pens and pencils. No one in my exam center brought pencils with them. The center provided those. My husband’s hall instructor, in fact took away his pencils and asked him to write with the ones that the center provided. My hall instructor didn’t enforce that rule for some reason so I was able to write with mine. It would have been good to know that the centers provided everything and I might have been a little less worked up.

Now, a few things that I would like to point out to everyone who plans to take the test:

  1. This is ironic coming from me but try to stay calm because your ability to think gets impacted if you are in a frenzy.
  2. Read all the instructions carefully before you answer the questions. Some answers can’t exceed 1 word, some can’t go over 2 words and some are restricted to 3 words. In the writing section, the tasks have to be at least 150 words and 250 words respectively. Take the word count requirement seriously.
  3. After you have completed writing your answers in the answer sheet for the Listening and Reading sections, re-read them and make sure that you have answered all questions correctly, to the best of your knowledge. It is possible to jumble up sometimes.
  4. For the Writing section, before you start writing, spare a few minutes and jot down the points which you want to cover and if possible, put them in order. After you complete writing, go over the answers to check for any gmatical and spelling mistakes.
  5. Try preparing for the Speaking test with a partner. Focus on what you speak and how you speak. Emphasize appropriately on words. Don’t speak too fast or too slow. If you practice with an actual person, it will help you with your pronunciation as well.
  6. I have been in the US for a while now and am used to writing in U.S English. Remember to try writing in U.K English, wherever possible. I don’t know whether they deduct marks for this but I followed this approach. For example, writing ‘colour’ and not ‘color’.

I will update my answer if I remember anything else. Hope this helps!

  • Veena

@mrandmrs thanks such a great detailed answer it’ll be super useful to so many people. I was freaking out a little too :slight_smile:

Good luck I’m sure you guys did great.

Thank you, @anon25417004! :slight_smile:

@mrandmrs Awesome explanation. I think you covered most of the parts. Thank you so much for sparing time.

Could you also answer the below questions:

  1. For the listening section, did they provide you a headphone or it was on speaker? I read somewhere that headphones are not provided in USA.
  2. For the reading section, does the question paper come as a booklet form or as loose pages? If booklet form, do you need to go back and forth to see the passage and questions? Also, the answer sheet is a different sheet of paper, right?

Thanks again.

Thanks @akg! I have answered your questions inline below, in bold.


@mrandmrs Thanks for these critical clarifications. Three followup questions:
(a) Does the audio played is same for the entire room? I mean if different audios are playing for different people, isn’t it confusing to concentrate? How easy / difficult it is?
(b) Can we ask them to listen on a headphone (if they don’t have it, we can take headphone with us)?
( c ) Are we allowed to make marks / circle important words on the question paper OR we cann’t write anything on the question paper?

I have written my answers inline in bold.


Awesome thanks @mrandmrs.

I thought basic watches are allowed. If watch is not allowed, how did you manage the time?

I am sure that we get 10 mins to transfer answers in Listening Section. Do we get time to transfer the answers in Reading section as well?

There were wall clocks in all the exam rooms plus the invigilator gave reminders at the 40 min mark, 20 min mark, 10 min mark and 5 min mark.

There is no extra transfer time for the Reading section.


@mrandmrs Thank you so much

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Really helpful!
I’m appearing for exam on 2nd Nov.

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I gave my IELTS almost a year and a half ago so dont know if things have changed since then. But here’s my experience:

I had applied for the Phoenix center but they took the test in my hometown of Salt Lake City which was pleasantly surprising; saved me on Airbnb and car rental.

My first impression was that they are STRICT about their protocol. And I mean Defcon level 1 strict! They don’t even allow water bottles with labels on them, or waterbottles that are not completely transparent :no_mouth:

You need your passport for the examination (without that you don’t exist), you have to be on time, you can’t carry anything inside except your passport, phones and other things should be checked in, and forget about the VitaminWater you just bought at the vending machine!

The first section is usually the listening section. You have to listen to an audio clip about a conversation between two people and answer the relevant questions. They make it very clear, you are not allowed to even visit the restroom until the listening section is over! To visit the restroom during other sections you have to ask permission and they give you a tag or something like that…felt like I was back at school again :face_with_monocle:

Then comes the reading and writing section. In reading section you read an essay of some sort and answer the relevant questions. The questions are not 3rd grade level and you have to actually revisit the essay and make sure the answer you wrote is the correct one (the context of the question and the relevant lines in the essay are important). It’s important to keep an eye on the watch (sorry, you’re not allowed your own watch; the one on the wall) since I almost ran out of time.

That being said, for any English users like us, listening and reading section should not be too tough.

Then comes the writing part. This is tough since we’re not used to writing on paper anymore, especially software ppl. You have to write a letter and a passage about something random. Shouldn’t be too tough, although you have to use the given space properly and use pencil (that they give you).

After these sections are done, comes the speaking section. They will assign you time slots when you have to come in and talk to a real person (the test-taker) about some random topic that they give you on the spot. For me it was my favorite sportsperson (easy: Sachin!). I was lucky; some people get topics that are vague and not easy to blabber on for 5 minutes and you have to think what you are going to talk about. But really what they are looking for is whether you can speak English and get your ideas across in a comprehensible manner, not whether the content is right or wrong. I decided to wait for my turn without leaving the center (the hotel banquet room they had booked), and luckily, they invited me sooner since a few people were awol at the time. So keep this in mind, you might get your speaking turn earlier than anticipated.

I got my result 13 days later in the mail (you can also access it online after a certain number of days.)


I gave my IELTs a few weeks ago. I currently stay in the bay area so this write up is focused on IELTS in the bay area. Specifically on ILSC SFO.

Unlike the many reports here and also elsewhere - ILSC does in fact provide headphones for the listening section. This is awesome for when it works. Unfortunately it doesn’t work all the time. The headphones are 80’s technology and are analog radio frequency based. This means just as the test speaker is saying the thing you want to jot down - there can be a bout of static. This doesn’t happen to everyone, but it happened to enough number of people on my test (including me). Nevertheless, this distraction did not cause me to loose any points on the listening section.

Nothing much to be said about the reading and writing sections, these were fairly routine. For speaking however, you can end up spending 3 - 4 hours waiting for your interview. I had not budgeted for this much time and may have planned my commute differently had I known this. So please keep this in mind if you are choosing a SFO center on weekends.

Also anshul’s observation on ridiculous adherence to protocol by test invigilators holds true for ILSC SFO. It got to the point of minor irritation. Definitely be physically prepared to sit in one spot for three hours.

ILSC is otherwise conveniently located in the heart of SFO downtown close to the bay bridge. They validate parking on some of their test dates (weekend) which is very convenient.

Some words on preparation:
I agree with the sentiment expressed by others on this thread - this is essentially a test of middle school grade English. For most folks on here, the real differentiation would be (some) practice.

I would change two things about my practice habits - firstly, I would take a couple of exams in the same sequence and back to back as the actual IELTS exam. Practicing in one hour stints each for reading, writing etc. doesn’t exactly mirror the actual exam setting. Secondly, I would focus a bit more on writing - specifically the physical act of writing, erasing, re-writing etc. I hadn’t done this for a decade and my hand was actually paining in the real test.

IELTS Liz is a great resource. The videos are super helpful to get an overall idea of what the test expects. However, the examples used on that website are not high fidelity. The IELTS is a standardized test and it is most beneficial to practice material that closely conforms to their standardization. Some of Liz’s examples frankly - aren’t representative at all.

The cambridge IELTS tests (these are different from the official test practice materials) are a high fidelity representation of the actual test and I recommend practicing a couple of those tests, in addition to the official tests. Practicing any more than 4 full length tests is going to be a waste of time so far as reading, listening and speaking are concerned. However, I do recommend practicing writing a bit more (e.g. 6 or 7 each of writing task 1 and 2) on actual exam answer sheets (you can find these online).