Overcoming common difficulties in IELTS and TOEFL preparations

The dreaded IELTS and TOEFL exams! These English proficiency tests are a rite of passage for anyone wishing to further their education, career, or migration. Preparing for these exams can be daunting, but with the right strategies and extra effort, you can overcome the common difficulties and crush these exams.

Abby Okwu, an English coach and all-around language guru, shares insights on preparing properly for the IELTS and TOEFL tests with Workee experts. She discusses everything from how to understand different aspects of both exams to providing useful tips for effectively addressing students' common struggles.

 A little bit about our expert. Abby is an experienced English coach and founder of English with Abby, a platform that helps people ace the IELTS and TOEFL examinations. She also teaches business English, how to improve your accent, and how to write, read, and speak.

Useful tips for overcoming challenges in IELTS and TOEFL preparations

1. Know what to expect

Familiarizing yourself with the exam specifics can help alleviate test anxiety and boost confidence. Understand the exam structure: Know each section's format, time limits, requirements, and grading criteria.

I've found that many times test takers don't achieve a good score it is because they went into the exam unprepared.

2. Developing a personalized study plan

Develop a personalized study plan that outlines your goals, the specific skills you need to improve, and a timeline for achieving these objectives. One of the keys to success in the IELTS is actually having a clear vision of what you want and being intentional about it. So, be consistent and disciplined in following your plan. Break tasks into smaller, manageable chunks, and use time management techniques to stay on track.

One of the keys to success in acing IELTS or TOEFL is having a clear vision of what you want to score and being intentional about it.

3. Use High-quality resources

Utilize high-quality resources, such as official exam preparation materials, textbooks, and online platforms, to practice and enhance your skills. Many courses, textbooks, apps, and programs are available for IELTS and TOEFL prep. However, your first stop should be the official practice materials on exam boards' websites, social media channels, and textbooks.

Using the right study materials will help prepare your mind for what is to come and also allow you to study with the right information.

4. Seek tutoring help

Having an IELTS or TOEFL specialist tutor to guide you through the process will save time and effort. You'll be better prepared for success with personalized advice from an experienced professional.

Especially when it comes to the writing and speaking sections of the test where you can't give yourself feedback. Having an expert coach would not only help you see where you need to improve but how to improve. 

5. Join a study group 

Consider joining a study group to help you stay motivated, receive personalized guidance, and learn from your peers. Sharing your experiences and insights can lead to a more effective and enjoyable learning process.

Being accountable to a group and having the support of other members of a group can go a long way to improving your band score.

6. Consistent practice is key

Dedicate time each day to practicing the four core skill areas: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. This will help build your confidence and fluency. Regularly take full-length practice tests under exam-like conditions to familiarize yourself with the test format and develop effective time management strategies.

Practice is the key to passing the IELTS and TOEFL exams. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Practicing is similar to taking an exam; the more you do it, the better your chances of success.

7. Learn from mistakes

Don't just do practice tests and exercises. Practice is useless if you don't identify the areas you are doing well and the areas that need more work. So, analyze your performance in practice tests and exercises, identifying areas that require improvement. Use this feedback to refine your study plan and focus on the skills that need additional attention.

Don't just do practice tests and exercises. Practice is useless if you don't identify the areas you are doing well and the areas that need more work.

8. Stay positive and manage stress

Fear, stress, and panic will only jeopardize your overall performance. So try to keep a positive attitude and find ways to help you manage stress. Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or visualization, to help you stay focused and calm during your IELTS or TOEFL preparations.

Fear, stress, and panic will only jeopardize your overall performance.

Strategies for tackling IELTS and TOEFL sections


Students often find this section challenging, especially when faced with different accents or fast speech. If you need help with the listening section, here are some tips to help you succeed while preparing for the exams.

  • Take notes 

 Jot down key information while listening to the audio clips, especially in parts 3 and 4

  • Listen actively and use prediction techniques 

Engage with the material by predicting what might be said next or asking yourself questions about the content.

  • Familiarize yourself with different accents.

Exposure to various English accents through movies, podcasts, and news channels. Practice active listening and work on pronunciation by imitating native speakers, using pronunciation resources, and practicing tongue twisters or minimal pairs.

  • Use the break periods between the listening period to read the questions in order to predict what you will hear.


The reading sections of both exams can be difficult due to time constraints and complex passages. Here are some tips to help you succeed:

  • Skim and scan

Quickly review the passage to identify the main ideas and key information.

  • Skim for a general idea of the text

  • Scan for the location of answers

  • Close read for specific information 

  • Learn to recognize the structure of passages.

Identifying the organization of the text can help you locate relevant information more efficiently.

  • Don't spend too much time on a single question. Instead of guessing, move on, and come back to it later if you still have time left. You won't be penalized for a wrong answer.

  • Pay attention to instructions, especially regarding word limits, or you will be penalized 

  • Don't allow an unknown word to bother you. Instead, focus on understanding the general idea/meaning of the sentence or paragraph. 


The writing sections of the IELTS and TOEFL exams require clear, concise, and well-organized responses. These strategies can help you improve your writing skills:

  • Plan your responses

 Before writing, outline your main ideas and supporting points to ensure a coherent and well-structured essay.

  • Practice paraphrasing

Paraphrase the prompt or question in your introduction to demonstrate your understanding of the topic.

  • Use a variety of sentence types, such as simple sentences, conditional sentences, compound sentences, and complex sentences. 

  • Use linking words to make your essay cohesive 

  • Expand your answers by giving reasons and examples for each of your main points.

  • Proofread your work

Check for grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, awkward phrasings, and vague ideas.

  • Seek feedback on your writing and implement it on your next practice test.


  • Develop your fluency

 Practice speaking English daily to improve your confidence and fluency.

  • Expand your vocabulary

Plan to learn new words daily and review English grammar rules regularly. Use flashcards, apps, word lists, and targeted grammar exercises to reinforce learning. Seek feedback use self-correction techniques when speaking.

  • Practice with a partner

Engage in conversation with native speakers or language partners through language exchange programs, conversation clubs, or online platforms. This also helps to simulate the exam environment and receive valuable feedback on your speaking skills.

  • Have a framework for answering questions and expand your answers with reasons and examples because the more you say, the more opportunity you are giving the examiner to grade you.

  • Use linking words throughout your speech.

  • Use advanced vocabulary but don't overdo it. Ensure you are using words that you are sure of their meanings.

  • Stay calm and conversational when speaking. 

Thank you, Abby, for sharing your insights and supporting Workee!

Connect and learn more about Abby on her Facebook and LinkedIn.

Ihor, CEO at Workee

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