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For those familiar with the IELTS, they may have heard about a friend who passed the IELTS exam the first time, without any great preparation, etc.. Whilst that might be true for some, having taught the IELTS by Skype for quite a few years, (as of January 2015) I can say that certainly not all applicants are able to do this.
My methodology is to focus on all of the four areas, taking into account the goal that is required. For some, they may pass in three sections and fail in one. According to the minimal score requirements needed, this might potentially be alright sometimes if a place is lenient, but often it is not and a retake is necessary.
Whilst it may be the case, that native speakers or those with advanced English can pass the IELTS the first itme, for a lot of people, the IELTS might involve a lot of hard work. Remember that for those who could pass the first time, they may have previously practised English for thousands of hours and their level was simply then currently high enough to pass without much effort.
For those candidates who are trying to pass and their English is not extra high, then a methodical strategy can be advised. Focus on each section in accordance to the amount of time before you need to pass the exam and take regular practice exams to see how your level is progressing. If your level is not sufficiently high before the exam, try to delay it until another time, as otherwise it might be an expensive financial disappointment and effect your confidence.
In addition, you might also have heard about someone with low English who then scored highly in the exam. However, whilst there might be sometimes some incorrect grade, remember that a native speaker is likely to always score a reasonably high grade - the reason being, that they have good English and it is not a challenge to them so much and that is reflected in the grade.
For those failing, it can be quite disappointing perhaps, as your goals may have to be put on hold - however, unless you think the examiners got it wrong and you want to get a regrade, then simply proceed as if you are taking the IELTS for the first time in terms of general strategy for your current level, time allowed and goal required.
So in conclusion, whilst it may be the case that some pass the IELTS easily, or those with lower levels might get higher grades, remember that for those who do not fit into these two areas, the system can be simple and logical: see your level, see the time before you need to pass it, keep practising and checking your level and delay the exam as required, until you are likely to pass - and if you are confident that you should have passed (especially for the speaking/writing), then you can always try getting a regrade - see the "Tips" on this page for more information.
Keyboard Controls: click on top of audio player first to activate it = 1. "space" = play/pause / 2. "up" = next question / 3. "down" = previous question".
Try doing practice listening and reading exams to find out your level and get a teacher to test your speaking and writing levels.
Make a calculation about the time needed - sometimes it may not be possible to extend the time - do the best you can.
It is important to know your current level - keep taking practice tests to see your level. A proficient IELTS exm teacher will likely be necessary to measure your level for the IELTS speaking and writing exams.
Keep improving any of your weak areas for each of the four IELTS sections, until you are reasonably confident to pass, with regular testing.