Time Management Strategies for the IELTS exam

As IELTS examiners, one of the hottest feedbacks that we get from IELTS candidates is about the lack of time in the IELTS test. In the Listening test, there is not much time to read the questions before the recording begins and also to review the answers after each part. In the Reading test, the articles are lengthy and complicated, and it seems impossible to complete all the questions in an hour, and finally, in the Writing test, managing time so both essays can be completed and reviewed in the given time is quite a challenge. In this article, I will look at smart ways to manage your time in the IELTS exam.

Time Management in the Listening Test

You will be given some time (around 30 seconds) to read a set of questions, for example, the first 4 or 5 questions in part 1 or 10 questions in part 4.

It would be best if you used this time to read the questions, highlight keywords and pay attention to the words before and after each gap in gap-filling questions. This time is very short, so you only have a few seconds to read each question. Therefore you should prepare and learn how to get the gist of the question in such a short time. This requires focus and practice, therefore make sure that you always time your practices when you are preparing for the IELTS exam.

Remember that it is not possible to thoroughly understand every question in such a limited time, therefore, avoid spending too much time on any question and just quickly go through the questions by having just an overview of them.

Managing time at the end of each part is also very important. This valuable time should be used to double-check the answers. Since there is not enough time to review every one of the questions, it is essential to mark any answer that you are unsure of when you are answering the questions. It would help if you also used this time to check your answers to make sure that you have not made a spelling or grammatical mistake.

In the Paper-Based IELTS exam, you will be given a 10 minute transfer time at the end of the listening test to transfer your answers to the answer sheet. Use this time wisely; otherwise, you will end up with some answers still not transferred when the time is up.

In the Computer-delivered IELTS exam, however, you don’t have this 10 minute transfer time. Instead, you’ll be given 2 minutes to check all of your answers. Use this time to review the uncertain answers, and to double-check spellings and grammatical correctness of your answers.

Time Management in the Reading Test

Now, the reading test is where you really face the time challenge.

The first thing you need to be aware of is that not all of the three parts in the Reading test are equal in importance and difficulty. The text and questions in the first part are easier than the other two. The best way to approach this part is to begin by reading the topic sentences only. Topic sentences are usually the first sentence in a paragraph. The topic sentence (or sentences) tells us what the paragraph is about and introduces the topic of the paragraph. The next sentences in the paragraph explain the topic sentence, expand on it, or give examples.

The next step is to go straight into the questions, and since you already know where the answers can be found in the text, you can easily find the relevant part of the text and identify the answers.

The second and third parts in IELTS Reading will contain more challenging texts and questions and therefore, will require more detailed reading. The sentences are usually longer and more complex, and if you are careless, may get thrown off by many distractors that are placed within the text and infer incorrect information.

Even though you have 60 minutes to answer the Reading test, before you begin, try to imagine that you only have only 50 minutes to answer all of the questions completely. You might say that you are already short of time, and now we are cutting it further! But remember that if you are aiming for a high band score, you need to leave 10 minutes in the end to check all of your answers. This is where many candidates get it wrong. This review is not just a simple spell-check because you will need to read the questions once again and quickly answer them in your heart. Ask yourself if your answers make sense in the question? Are the completed sentences grammatically correct? Has a distractor mistaken you?

Remember that you only have 60 minutes to answer 40 questions. That means that excluding the reading time, you have only 90 seconds per question! So don’t waste time on questions you can’t find the answer to. Mark them, skip them, move on and come back to them later.

Now let me name a few pitfalls which can affect the way you manage the time to answer the Reading questions:

If you read the passages carelessly or without concentration, finding answers will become very difficult, and you will consume more time reading the passages over and over again because you can’t easily find the answers.

If you get stuck on a particularly challenging question, you will lose time that can be used to answer simpler questions. Remember that all questions have equal importance, so it is essential that you can answer all of the easy questions instead of a few difficult questions.

If you read slowly, or you do not pay attention to understand important parts of the paragraphs, you will not be able to answer the questions correctly within the time. Therefore you should work on your pace and focus before the IELTS exam.

Most of IELTS candidates confirm that even getting an overview of the passages in the time available is a challenge, and this is only half the story because you then need to answer all of the questions within time. This means that you must absolutely practice reading and answering the questions in the time allowed as much as you can.

Time Management in the Writing Test

I see so many candidates wasting time in the writing exam because they don’t know what to write. They spend a long time thinking about their structure and plan for each task. Remember that before you even attend the exam, you should already know the most common structures and content of each task in the IELTS Writing test. These are some of the common types of IELTS essays you may get in the exam:

  • Agree / disagree
  • Advantages & disadvantages
  • Causes (reasons) & solutions
  • Causes (reasons) & effects
  • Discuss two opinions
  • Problems & solutions

Now while not every essay will fit one of these patterns, many do.

For most IELTS candidates, the temptation is to begin writing immediately. But then you are the danger of having ideas that are not well thought out and a poorly organised essay. Also, you may not answer the question correctly if you do not spend some time analysing it. That is the reason why you should spend around 5 minutes at the beginning of task 1 and 10 minutes at the beginning of task 2 doing the following:

1) Analyse the question
2) Brainstorm ideas
3) Plan the essay structure using these ideas

To be successful in the IELTS writing test without running out of time, you need to practice the process of analysing, brainstorming, planning and writing in 60 minutes as many times as possible before the exam day. The more practice you have, the better you will become.

One last thing: don’t write too much. There is no point writing 300 words of a rushed essay with a lot of grammatical mistakes and bad structure if you can write a coherent essay which is 260 words that is well organised and gives you enough time to check it for errors.

As I mentioned, the key to successful time management is practice. The best practices are those which simulate the actual IELTS exam and give you a sense of what you should expect on the test day. IELTS tutors and examiners always suggest taking IELTS mock tests as practice for time management. Not sure where to find high quality IELTS mock tests? TakeIELTS.net’s mock tests are the most popular and trusted online IELTS mock tests in the world.

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