Tips for acing your language proficiency test
By Maria Montemayor
Posted on January 13, 2021
If you are thinking of becoming an international student, skilled worker, permanent resident, or citizen of Canada, you are probably aware that achieving a high score on an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test or a Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP) test is vital.
IELTS and CELPIP Language Tests
The IELTS Academic test is for individuals applying for higher education or professional registration in Canada. It focuses on academic language proficiency and assesses an individual’s readiness to study and train in English.
The IELTS General Training test is for individuals going to Canada to complete a secondary school education, gain work experience, or participate in training programs. It focuses on the use of the English language in social and workplace contexts.
The CELPIP – General test is a three-hour test for individuals applying for permanent residency and obtaining professional designations in Canada.
The CELPIP – LS test is a one-hour test for Canadian citizenship applications and professional designations.
The IELTS and CELPIP language tests contain four components or sections: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. Let’s take a look at them and see how you can prepare for each.
Structure: The listening section of the IELTS exam takes around 30 minutes to complete. During this part of the exam, test takers listen to four recordings in English and answer a total of 40 questions.
The 40 questions include:
- Multiple choice: you have to select the correct answer from a choice of three possible answers (A, B, or C). *Sometimes test takers are given a longer list of choices and have to choose more than one answer.
- Matching: you have to match two sets of information.
- Plan, map, and diagram labelling: you are asked to add labels on a plan (e.g. a building), a map (e.g. a part of a city), or a diagram (e.g. appliance).
- Form, note, table, flow-chart, and summary completion: you are given an outline based on audio clip, and you have to fill in the gaps. The outline may be a form, set of notes, table (which involves summarizing information into clear categories), or a flow-chart (which entails synthesizing a process).
The first and third recordings are of conversations (between two-to-four people), and the second and fourth recordings are of monologues (e.g. speeches or college lectures). You will only have one chance to listen to the recordings. These recordings feature different accents of English speakers, including British, Canadian, American, New Zealand, and Australian accents.
Goal for IELTS listening: Pay attention to the spoken content and select, write, or type the correct answers. You will be penalized for poor grammar or spelling and for writing more than the specified number of words.
Structure: The CELPIP listening component takes between 47 to 55 minutes to complete. There are six parts to the listening component: listening to problem solving, listening to a daily life conversation, listening for information, listening to a news item, listening to a discussion, and listening to viewpoints.
Goal for CELPIP listening: Listen carefully and select the correct answers for the multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank questions.
How to get a good score in the listening section
1. Use available practice tests
For any test available, whether it’s a driver’s written test or a language test, it is best to use all of the available resources to become comfortable with the format of the exam.
The IELTS exam has free sample test questions available online for all of the test sections. To make the listening section more interesting and interactive, you can ask friends or family members to read and act out the transcripts instead of using the recordings. They can even try reading the text in different English accents, such as Australian, American, or New Zealand accents.
The CELPIP has a free online practice listening test that should only take 30 to 50 minutes to complete.
There are answer keys available for all of the listening tests.
Sample listening test: https://ielts-up.com/listening/ielts-listening-sample-6.1.html
2. Take notes during the test!
Whether you are taking a test with a computer or paper and a pencil, you should take notes. Unless you can quickly memorize exactly what a person says to you, it is easy to forget small details included in a recording (especially when multiple people are speaking), and you may miss important information.
Bring a couple of pencils to jot down information, notes, and details on the extra paper offered during the IELTS and CELPIP tests. The listening section will be more difficult if you try to memorize everything you hear. Try to complete the practice tests with and without taking notes, and you’ll notice the difference. You will also be more confident in your answers if you have the notes to back them up.
3. Listen to podcasts and watch TV shows and movies in English with closed captioning
Preparing for a listening test does not need to be boring or stressful. You can also listen to English podcasts and watch English TV shows and movies that interest you. For example, if you like watching action movies, you can watch your favourite action movie with closed captions (for example, Rush Hour). Closed captions are helpful because they indicate how spoken English words are spelled.
With podcasts, it is beneficial to listen and try to understand the topics being discussed. Write down any important points. What is the interviewer’s perspective? How does the interviewee feel? What do the speakers agree or disagree on? Try to summarize the podcast episode in a few short sentences.
You can also practise writing the details of conversations or monologues featured in your preferred TV shows and movies. If you decide to watch a popular movie, there may be study guide questions for it online. Try to answer them based off of your notes and your memory of the movie.
Get a notebook to jot down all of your notes. Write any words you are unfamiliar with, so that you can later look up the definition or translate them.
Structure: The reading section for the IELTS takes around 60 minutes to complete. The reading section of the IELTS General Training test has passages from books, magazines, guidelines, etc. The IELTS Academic test’s reading section, on the other hand, has three long academic texts; they are typically analytical, descriptive, and factual.
There are 40 questions included in the reading section. The questions are multiple choice, true or false or not given, yes or no or not given, match the heading to the correct paragraph or section, and fill-in-the-blank questions.
The CELPIP reading component takes between 55 to 60 minutes to complete. There are four parts to the reading component: reading letters, reading to build a diagram, reading for information, and reading to understand viewpoints.
Goal for IELTS and CELPIP reading: Read information carefully to select, write, or type the correct answers.
How to get a good score in the reading section
1. Find available and relevant reading test resources
Again, the IELTS has free sample questions of their reading test available on their website. The CELPIP offers a free webinar for test-takers to help them prepare for the reading component.
You can also find unofficial IELTS and CELPIP reading practice tests online with a Google search. The good thing about the online tests is that they have answer keys. Some of them also have explanations for the answers.
Sample reading test: https://ielts-up.com/reading/academic-reading-sample-1.1.html
2. Highlight, underline, and jot down important parts of the text
When you use the practice tests, pretend that you are taking the real one. Give yourself a time-limit and keep scrap pieces of paper to jot notes. If you are taking a computer-based test, you can practise highlighting relevant text with your mouse and copying that information onto your scrap pieces of paper. If you are taking a paper-based IELTS test, you can practise underlining relevant text with your pencil on your question sheets.
3. Use process of elimination
The facts and information are all provided to you in the text. Your task is to select, type, or write in the correct answers. A quick and effective way of selecting an answer from a list of options is to use the process of elimination. You can first remove all of the answers that don’t correspond with the text provided. Then, choose the remaining and most likely answer.
Some of the answers may be quick and easy to locate within the text, while others may not be so straightforward, so you may have to spend more time verifying that your selections are correct.
In order to do well with the reading questions, you’ll need to have solid reading comprehension skills to thoroughly understand what you read and the ability to discern what is expressed in a text.
If you find that there are words in the practice tests that you don’t understand, write them down in your notebook. Once you complete the practice tests, you can look up the meaning of those words and practise using them in sentences.
Structure: The IELTS and CELPIP are composed of two writing tasks, which take 53 to 60 minutes to complete.
As part of the first IELTS task, test-takers must write a letter, if they’re taking the General Training test. If they’re taking the Academic test, they will be asked describe, summarize, or explain a diagram. They have to write at least 150 words within 20 minutes. For the second task, test-takers must write at least 250 words on a given topic within 40 minutes. They will be penalized if the answers are too short, the response is off-topic, the sentences are in bullet points, or there is plagiarism.
In the CELPIP exam, on the other hand, test-takers start by writing an email that is between 150 to 200 words within 27 minutes. For their second task, test-takers complete a survey question and choose between two writing options. Then, they must write between 150 to 200 words on their chosen option within 26 minutes.
Goal for IELTS and CELPIP writing: Write understandable and complex sentences that highlight relevant points.
How to get a good score in the writing section
1. Practise writing 200-word letters and emails and 250-word summaries on news topics
Unlike the listening and reading practise questions, there are no answer keys available for the writing practice tasks available online. There may be sample answers available—which would be useful to review— but ultimately, the scoring is up to the examiners.
On your own, you can practise writing letters, emails, and summaries based on topics you read on the news. You can also attempt the online IELTS and CELPIP practice writing tasks.
Sample writing test: https://ielts-up.com/writing/general-writing-sample-1.html
2. Have a skilled writer or editor evaluate your answers
In addition to writing letters, emails, and summaries and attempting the practice writing tasks, you can ask a skilled writer, editor, English teacher, or English tutor look at your responses, correct your grammar and spelling mistakes, and give you feedback on how to improve and strengthen your writing. Once you have read their feedback, you can apply it to other practice writing tasks, and then ask them to evaluate those tests as well.
Try to find a person who has the skills, qualifications, and willingness to help you. It could be a friend, a relative, or even an acquaintance.
Structure: The speaking section takes the shortest amount of time to complete for both the IELTS and the CELPIP exams. It takes about 11 to 14 minutes to finish for the IELTS and about 15 to 20 minutes for the CELPIP.
Goal for IELTS and CELPIP speaking: Answer the questions clearly and speak on various topics with fluency and ease.
How to get a good score in the speaking section
1. Sound confident
The more confident and comfortable you sound when you speak in English, the better your speaking score will be. If you sound uncertain or hesitate when you speak, the examiner will notice it. Your English-speaking skills do not have to be perfect, but you should be able to show the examiner that you can form logical sentences consistently.
2. Practise answering questions in front of other people
Before you start answering the various practise questions, you can tell your listener (whether they are friends, family members, tutors, or teachers) to correct you and make note of strengths and weaknesses. Ask them to provide feedback on the flow and coherence of your sentences, the use of filler words, and the variety of your vocabulary. You should also be open to learning about grammatical and pronunciation corrections.
You can record your answers, and when you listen back to the recordings, you can identify moments when you paused for too long, when you started to ramble or stumbled on your words, as well as moments when you appeared either composed or confused.
Sample speaking test: https://www.ieltsbuddy.com/speaking-test-for-ielts.html
Now that you have these tips, you can start preparing for your upcoming IELTS or CELPIP test!
Free IELTS practice materials:
Free CELPIP practice materials: