So often students ask, “What’s the one thing I can do to improve my IELTS score?” That’s a really good question, but, it’s really quite tricky to answer.

One thing everyone can do is practise paraphrasing – and by that I mean rephrasing statements, questions or ideas, and saying them in a different way.

Why? Well, it’s a really useful skill to have for all parts of the test, and of course, it will stop you repeating things and sounding boring in real life. Let’s look at how we can use paraphrasing in each part of the test.

IELTS listening test

Before you listen to each section, you are given time to read the questions. It’s a great idea to use this time to circle or underline the key words and while you are doing so, you can try to think of synonyms or other ways of saying the same information.

For example, they may ask you a question like: “Which hotel matches each description?” where you are given a number of options in a box and have to match them to descriptions:

A. The Majestic

B. Sea View

  1. Is set in a rural area
  2. Only opened recently
  3. Has an indoor swimming pool

Now, when you listen, they are not going to say, “Bakers Hotel is set in a rural area”. Instead, they might say something like, “Bakers Hotel is located in beautiful countryside.”

They have paraphrased ‘set’ and used the synonym ‘located’ and instead of saying ‘a rural area’, they’ve used ‘countryside’. If you’ve done the paraphrasing before you even hear the recording, it will be easy to hear it and catch the correct answer.

IELTS reading test

You can use a similar technique to help you locate answers in the reading passages.

For example, you could get a question like this:“What did researchers identify as the ideal time to eat lunch?”

Here, I would select the key words and then think of synonyms, or even antonyms. So:

  • researchers – scientists
  • identify – find
  • ideal – perfect

and the text may have information that looks like this: “Scientists have found that 12.00 is the perfect time for us to eat our midday meal, whereas eating later was not a good idea.”

IELTS writing test

It’s really important in both tasks 1 and 2 that you summarise the question in your own words. Be careful not to copy whole phrases from the question itself, as this may be discounted from your word count, and you could lose marks.

Have a look at part of a typical task 1 question:

“The pie charts below show the average household expenditure in Japan and Hong Kong in 2014.”

You could start your essay like this:

The pie charts illustrate how much typical families in Japan and Asia spent in 2014.

As you can see, we’ve changed:

  • Show – illustrate
  • Average – typical
  • Expenditure – how much… spent
  • Household – families

Just be careful not to write the word ‘below’ in your answer, as there are no pie charts below your sentence in your answer (just on the question paper!) And don’t worry about having to change everything.

Sometimes, you can’t – there’s no other way of saying Japan and Hong Kong, or 2014, so just keep those the same.

IELTS speaking test

Finally, with speaking, part of the test criteria is that you are able to paraphrase the question in your answer. So if they ask you:

“What do you like doing in your free time?”

Try not to answer by simply saying, “I really like dancing and doing sports”, but try to bring the question back into what you say:

“I’m really into dancing and doing sports, and when I have any spare time, I also love going walking in the countryside.”

More IELTS advice from Sona Lisa Bose

Sona teaches Business English and IELTS preparation in the IH London Executive Centre.

Upgrade your IELTS

With Martin Thomas, she has written and published an iBook: Upgrade Your IELTS: Writing Task 2, Using the Right Vocabulary

This iBook uses a mixture of explanations, exercises and answer guides, to help you understand what examiners are looking for, and give you key strategies which you can use in your preparation and during the exam.

Featuring interactive quizzes, presentations and videos, this book is designed to help make your exam preparation more dynamic, challenging and useful.

IELTS preparation guides

We have more tips and advice to help you get the IELTS score you need:

Find out more about the IELTS exam and what it can be used for here:

IELTS at International House London

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Our language school also offers IELTS preparation courses to help candidates reach their desired IELTS band.

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