Revving up to submit your study abroad applications for your dream university? If you’ve been preparing for a while, you already know that English proficiency tests are a big part of the equation. The IELTS Academic is one of the most accessible and widely-recognised proficiency tests out there. This means that thousands of universities and institutions (as well as immigration authorities) recognise IELTS scores as a reliable reflection of your English language ability. So, how do you prepare to ace your IELTS Academic test in one sitting? Let’s take a closer look at the best IELTS preparation books for self-study in 2023!
What You Need to Know About the IELTS
Before jumping into it, let’s quickly speedrun some of the key things you need to know about the IELTS. As a student, the test you’re focusing on is the IELTS Academic. This test assesses you across four types of English language skills - Speaking, Listening, Writing, and Reading. The type of content you’ll encounter in the Academic test gauges how well you would be able to conduct yourself in an English-dominated, academic environment - like a university in an English-speaking country. The Speaking section happens separately, while the Listening, Reading, and Writing sections happen in the same sitting.
Sitting the Test
You have a couple of options, depending on your location and accessibility, on how to sit the test. The most common option is booking a test at an official IELTS centre near you. Finding available appointment slots is fairly easy, since the IELTS is so universal a simple Google search can narrow down the test centres close by. You can also pinpoint your ideal location through the official IELTS site.
Depending on the centre, your test may be computer-delivered or paper-based. The Speaking section will always be one-to-one with an IELTS examiner!
Starting in 2022, this test’s accessibility is even greater thanks to the launch of IELTS Online. This at-home edition lets you take the same test as you would at a centre in the comfort and safety of your home. IELTS Online is currently available at limited locations. If you have access, safety, and/or mobility issues sitting the test at a centre, look into whether the option is available to you!
A quick reminder - because the Speaking section happens separately, you may have to sit the test on two separate days.
Your scorecard, after completing your IELTS, will show both your overall score and band scores. The overall score is the average of your performance across all four sections or bands. The band scores reflect your performance in each of the four sections. Both the band and the overall scores will fall within a range of 0 to 10, at 0.5 increments.
So, if you’ve seen requirements like “minimum 6.0 in all bands” or “overall score of 6.5”, that’s how to interpret what the university is looking for in your English ability! The higher the band and overall scores, the greater your level of English proficiency.
|IELTS Score Band||Skill Level|
|8||Very good user|
|3||Extremely limited user|
|0||Did not attempt the test|
Resources to Prepare for the IELTS Academic
Now that we’ve blitzed through what the IELTS is, the next big question is how to ace it. After all, sitting the test isn’t exactly cheap and you don’t want to risk resits that consume time and money. Both of which students typically need to budget carefully while working on their study abroad plans.
Scoring well for the IELTS works in the same way as scoring for any type of academic exam does - the more you prepare, the better you’re likely to perform. If you’re looking into independent study, you’re in luck! The official test owners of the IELTS offer a variety of resources for prospective test takers.
The best IELTS preparation books for self-study would depend on your current proficiency level. You may need just a couple of practice tests to get the hang of the IELTS format and best scoring practices. Or you may need more comprehensive support building your skills and strategies from the ground up. Whichever the case, there is a range of self-study resources out there to help you out!
All the resources listed below are official test resources. In other words, these are test prep resources made by the official IELTS examiners themselves! We believe this helps students access the most authentic and accurate impression of the test and how to perform well in it.
The Best IELTS Preparation Books for Self-Study
1. The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS
Consider this your IELTS bible, especially for beginners! This comprehensive resource is great for students working their way up from a Band 4 proficiency level. The book breaks down the test format and all its components, walking you through the tips and strategies you need to score higher. Practice exercises cover all the types of questions you might find in your test. Along with answer keys and clear explanations of the correct answers, you can build your test-taking strategies overall or focus on the areas where you need a little extra help.
The book comes with eight full practice tests, so you can get a hands-on feel for what to expect from the real thing! Since Cambridge is one of the official IELTS administrators, you can be confident that you are studying using test-accurate material. The DVD-ROM that comes with the book includes videos to help you work on your Speaking section too!
2. Complete IELTS Student’s Book Range by Cambridge
Targeting a specific band score? Exploring the Complete IELTS range of mixed media resources may be a great place to start!
|Complete IELTS Bands 4–5 Student’s Book|
|Complete IELTS Bands 5-6.5 Student’s Book|
|Complete IELTS Bands 6.5-7.5|
Aimed specifically at prospective university students, the Complete IELTS Student’s Book range builds on your skills and strategies for each of the four sections of the test. With a step-by-step approach, you will learn about the different question types under each section and how best to answer them. Each mixed media kit contains the following:
- Language Reference: with explanations and examples of grammar and vocabulary
- Writing Reference: covering the variety of writing skills you need to score well on the test
- Speaking Reference: to develop the skills you need to perform well in the Speaking test
- Complete sample exam to practise the real deal
- Revision and practice exercises to help you chart your progress
3. Official IELTS Practice Materials (Vol. 2)
While technically a resource for IELTS trainers, this resource is very helpful for students looking to get in as much practice as possible before the big day. The book, put together by English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) examiners, comes packed with practice tests and answer keys for each of the IELTS sections. You will find scripts for the Listening section as well as practice Listening audio in the accompanying DVD, alongside sample videos of three students sitting the Speaking test.
4. Cambridge Assessment English’s IELTS 16
IELTS 16 is another full resource pack with up-to-date practice tests and answer keys. The resource is perfect for students getting to know the test and the best practices to help them ace it. What makes this one of the best IELTS preparation books for self-study is the diverse study tools it contains. Sample answers for sectional test questions come with extra, clear explanations. The Resource Bank includes both scripts and audio for practice Listening sections, as well as film footage of sample Speaking section answers. Sample Writing section answers help you work on the writing skills the IELTS examiner is looking out for in your answers. The book comes complete with four full-length IELTS practice tests too! These official tests, crafted by the official examiners, give you a taste of the real thing as well as an idea of how well you’d perform at your current and improved skill levels.
Other Great IELTS Resources
This article might be about the best IELTS preparation books for self-study, but we’d be doing you a disservice not covering the range of other resources out there to enhance your IELTS preparation. And the great news - some of these resources are free!
1. IELTS Prep App
Available for both iOS and Android, you can learn on the go with the easy-to-use IELTS Prep App. This free resource offers practice exercises and tests, quizzes, and even tips for grammar and vocabulary practice. You can also find sample questions for the four IELTS sections. The app is a handy way of tracking your progress and gaining a better understanding of what the IELTS tests are all about.
2. British Council Free Online Practice Tests
The British Council, which co-owns the IELTS along with Cambridge English and IDP: IELTS Australia, offers open-access practice tests for all students! You can easily find and practise a list of questions and tasks for the Listening, Writing, Reading, and Speaking sections. These questions mimic the actual style and structure of tasks in the real exam, including audio files for the Listening and Speaking sections. The resources come with some easy-to-follow tips on how to perform best as well as answer sheets to compare your answers to.
3. IELTS Academic Free Practice Tests
Explore the variety of question types you will encounter under each of the IELTS Academic sections with IDP’s free question resources! These are helpfully broken down by each section, with accompanying answer keys. For example, under the Reading section sample questions, you’ll find:
- Multiple-Choice One-Answer samples
- Multiple-Choice - more than one answer samples
- Identifying Information - True/False/Not Given samples
- Identifying Information - writer’s views or claims samples
- Matching headings samples
- Matching features samples
- Summary completion samples (Tasks 1 & 2)
- Flow chart completion sample
Having easy access to the various question types you can expect during your IELTS goes a long way in helping you prepare. You can figure out which sections you might need the extra help with and look for more targeted content to practise. It also helps you learn what to expect from the IELTS and become more familiar with its format and structure. Too little practice may catch you off-guard in the exam room, eating into valuable time you could use on your answers. Plus, understanding what each question is looking for boosts your chances of answering correctly during the test.
4. IELTS Progress Check
This official, online practice test mimics the real deal in format and structure! You can purchase multiple practice tests, with a 90-day validity for each. The perk is that the test isn’t on a time limit. You can work through the questions and grow familiar with their format at your own pace. Often, having time pressure can make even the most prepared of us panic and blank out. Taking your time working through the sections helps you acclimate to the structure and process of sitting the test.
That’s not even the best part of these handy progress checks. This is an official, fully-scored test, meaning not only is the content completely accurate to the real test but so is the feedback you receive! Alongside band and overall scores for your performance, you get detailed feedback on what to improve upon. You can also get tips and tricks to apply for each section that you can use for the actual test too. Though a paid resource, it goes a long way in building your confidence to perform at your best on test day.
5. IELTS Official Practice Test
The official IELTS website hosts sample questions and answers for each of the sections of the IELTS Academic. You will find free samples of all the different question types under Listening and Speaking, as well as Academic Reading and Writing. These free-to-download resources help you get a closer look at the individual question types and sample answers for all four sections.
6. Road to IELTS
Booked your IELTS Academic appointment already? Once you register, you get free access to the Road to IELTS resource! This comprehensive toolkit contains over 300 online interactive practice exercises and full, timed mock exams that simulate the real deal. You also have access to a Practice Zone letting you explore and practise the various question types under each of the four IELTS sections. Tutorials from IELTS trainers and sample videos from previous test-takers give you more insight into exactly how to score well for your test.
You can upgrade the Road to IELTS tool to paid versions that include more sectional and full-length tests, expert advice, tutorial videos, and strategies to build your grammar, writing, and study skills for the IELTS.
7. The Complete IELTS Training Program
Using the best IELTS preparation books for self-study is a great way to build your skills where they need to be for the test. Sometimes, though, you may need some one-to-one guidance to walk you through the strategies and knowledge you need to truly excel. UniSearch’s Complete IELTS Training Program is purpose-built to help you access your target IELTS scores. From virtual to in-person classroom sessions, certified trainers with impressive track records of fantastic IELTS scores lead month-long batches covering the four sections in detail. Classes include practice questions and sectional tests, with full-length practice exams included in the curriculum. Students also get one-to-one Writing and Speaking section evaluations to work on their individual band scores!
The Complete IELTS Training Program will soon be available as an on-demand online course as well. The interactive nature of the classroom sessions, plus the insider tips from experts who have helped thousands of students achieve their target scores, can do wonders for your test performance. The program uses exclusively official resources, practice tests, and materials.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can I study for the IELTS in a week?
In our opinion, a week is cutting it a bit too close. Whether you’re at a Band 4 proficiency level or closer to Band 8, remember that the IELTS has a very distinct format and scoring system. Being familiar with the strategies for each question type, knowing what helps you score higher, and in general knowing how the IELTS test sections work goes a long way in sitting a smooth test. With too little time for practice, you risk getting confused and turned about during the timed test. Practising helps you identify potential areas of improvement, seek out strategies to improve your score and track your progress. You feel calmer and more confident when you sit the test, with far less room for error. You’re better able to use the time available for each section to the fullest with more practice!
Can I study for the IELTS by myself?
This depends partially on your proficiency level as well as the type of learner you are. Some students may only need the best IELTS preparation books for self-study to get a stellar score. Others might need a bit more one-to-one guidance. We recommend trying out the various free practice IELTS tests and questions available to get an idea of your proficiency level. You can then work out how much and how intensively you need to prepare.
How can I get Band 8 or above score in the IELTS?
A Band 8 or above score reflects an impressively high level of English proficiency. This means that you have close to native-user proficiency in the language. You may have a natural affinity for the English language and have an easier time scoring Band 8. If you find that you’re a couple of proficiency levels below that, you can still work your way up to it!
The first thing you will need to do is take enough time to prepare. You will need to understand the various underlying skills and assessment areas covered by the IELTS. From your lexical resource to your familiarity with common English phrases and idioms, how naturally you apply this knowledge, your ability to manage your time, etc. all play a part in your final score. Once again, our biggest recommendation is to practise as much as possible. Self-study is great to get as familiar as possible with the sections as well as the strategies that help you score best for them. We also recommend getting the help of experts to pinpoint key areas of improvement and work on these. UniSearch’s Complete IELTS Program, using exclusively official resources and practice tests, is a great step-by-step crash course to build up your English proficiency.
Can I Study abroad without IELTS?
Yes, you can study abroad without IELTS. But you'll have to show English proficiency required for universities or visa centers. You can have PTE, GRE, ELLT, SAT, etc as a proof of English proficiency. Have a look at our Study in Canada without IELTS guide for having a clear understanding.
Our Concluding Thoughts
The IELTS test has a distinct format, with specific skills and criteria assessed for its four sections. Going into the test blind will probably not yield your best performance. You won’t be aware of exactly what each section is testing or the tips and tricks that help you confidently input your answers. And because you’re working on a time limit, you won’t have the wiggle room to become familiar with the exam. All this does is create more room for error. Prepping and practising for the IELTS well in advance is the one surefire guarantee of scoring well on the test. And with the best IELTS preparation books for self-study - along with all the other great resources shared in this article - you know exactly where to start.