Review of IELTS Exam Material: Cambridge Books
The best books to prepare for the IELTS exam are these Cambridge Books of previous IELTS exams. You can find sample exams online or in other books but I think it is more sensible to practice actual, real IELTS exams in a book instead of some that may or may not be genuine.
You can trust this series of books as they are produced by the same people that produce the IELTS exam itself and they proudly display an "official" badge on the front cover.
This series books are numbered, at the time of updating this article, September 30th 2021, the most recent edition is number 16 which was published on July 8th 2021 with a new edition usually published every year.
Each book comes with 4 full exams and with the recent editions starting from 11 there are separate books for academic and general.
Ideally I think you should be practicing around 8-12 entire exams in total, more if possible, in order to be fully prepared for any question that can appear on the exams.
How to use the Cambridge IELTS books
It's quite simple really, just practice them!
At least now with edition 16 and 15 you can download the audio. With edition 14 you have to buy the audio CD separately which I think was a very bad decision by the publishers. It seems they only did that for one edition but I’m sure it was very unpopular. So make sure you carefully check that the audio is available.
Start with the latest edition, which is 16, then do edition 15, then possibly 14 if you are ok about buying the audio CD separately, then 13 etc.
You need to do the most recent ones as the exams may have changed very slightly over the years although the main structure is the same.
You can read my guide to IELTS here for more information, but it is probably best to do speaking with an experienced English teacher so that they can grade you and correct your mistakes and give you some strategies to help you.
You will probably need a teacher to help you. I think it's best that your teacher reads your writing the day before class, then they try to get you to see your mistakes as they review your writing in your presence.
They don't just return your text with corrections made. This is the method I use in my classes which you can read about here and also about a typical private English class with me here.
IELTS writing is a skill you need to learn and practice. There are specific ways to answer each question that will not be familiar to you.
You don't need to worry about the time at the start. Just focus on answering the question with correct structure and the fewest errors possible.
With plenty of practice answering all the different types of questions you will be a lot more comfortable and quick and you should be able to answer the in the time allowed, 20 minutes for question 1 and 30 minutes for question 2.
Cambridge IELTS Writing
Again I strongly recommend you read my IELTS guide and there are many other specialist IELTS resources out there that help you gain the skills required to achieve high scores in the IELTS test.
Each book in this series will have 4 writing exams which isn't enough, I think you should be planning to complete 8 exams at least so therefore you should probably buy 2 of these books.
These books are perfect for the IELTS reading section as you don't need a teacher. You simply do the exams yourself and then you can check your answers and calculate your score using the answers at the back of the book.
Again, don't worry too much about time at the start, you will naturally get faster as you go along.
You need to practice as many as possible in order to become familiar with the structure and to get quicker.
A big disadvantage is that the audio CD for the listening is sold separately for edition 14, though it appears that edition 15 and 16 come with audio.
My copy of IELTS 9 was supplied with an audio CD back around 2013/2014 when I bought it.
Cambridge IELTS 8
Something else I noticed is that, as I mentioned earlier, there are now separate books for academic and general.
Again I think this is simply a way to make more money. In my old edition number 9 it has all the academic papers at the beginning and then the general writing at the end, so all you need to do both the general and academic is in one book, now you would need to buy two.
Again I think this is a shame but there is not much you can do about it. And as for the listening CD itself, these are actual, real previous IELTS exams so you simply must practice them as much as possible before the test.
You can also learn here the difference between TOEFL and IELTS exams.
But if you need to practice the IELTS test then there really isn't any other choice. Get these papers, make sure you get the audio, and good luck!
Did you already know any of these books? If so, what's your favourite? Leave a message in the comments below!