How to Study for the GRE and the IELTS at the Same Time

Many international graduate students need to take both the GRE and an English proficiency exam. Luckily, there are ways to study for both of these tests at the same time. In fact, the IELTS and GRE are similar in quite a few ways.

Study for IELTS Writing and GRE AWA at the same time

IELTS Writing Task 2 and the GRE AWA’s Analyse-an-Issue Task are almost exactly the same. Both tasks involve writing your opinion on a social issue — something like global warming, funding for education, etc. In addition, almost all GRE AWA questions have the same format as an IELTS Task 2 opinion/point of view question. (This is the most common of the 3 main types of IELTS Writing Task 2 questions.)

The main thing that separates IELTS Writing Task 2 and the GRE AWA Issue task is difficulty. GRE AWA is harder than IELTS. The GRE’s issue topic has a 30-minute time limit, and successful responses are usually 500-600 words long. In contrast, IELTS Writing Task 2 has a 40-minute time limit, with a recommended word count of 250-300 words. So on the IELTS, you analyse an issue in less detail, and you have more time to do it.

Because of this difference, it’s a good idea to treat IELTS Writing Task 2 as a warmup for the harder — but similar — GRE Analyse-an-Issue essay. As you get more confident with your IELTS writing, you can even rewrite a shorter IELTS Task 2 response, changing it into a GRE Issue response. From there, you can work on mastering your GRE writing skills in both AWA Tasks (Issue and Argument), while strengthening your IELTS writing abilities.

You can also use IELTS Speaking to refine your writing skills in IELTS Task 2 and the GRE Issue topic. The Speaking topics on the IELTS don’t explore social issues in the same way as IELTS or GRE essays. But IELTS Speaking does require you to quickly think of your personal opinions and views, and express them clearly; this is especially true in part 2 of IELTS Speaking! So your IELTS Speaking practice can help you think quickly about your opinions within the time limits of GRE AWA and IELTS Writing.

Study for IELTS Reading and GRE Verbal at the same time

IELTS Reading and GRE Verbal also have a lot in common. Here again, GRE practice can be treated as a harder “next step” after some IELTS practice.

The sentence completion in IELTS Listening and reading is easier than the sentence completion in GRE Verbal. But SC on both exams involves the same basic skill — understanding the way that vocabulary fits into a sentence’s context.

And speaking of vocabulary, the IELTS does not have any questions that directly ask about the meaning of vocabulary words, while the GRE does. However, the readings on both IELTS and GRE have almost the exact same difficulty level. In fact, the level of IELTS vocabulary and GRE Reading Comprehension vocabulary are about the same. Only the GRE’s shorter sentence completion readings are consistently harder than IELTS reading.

The thing that really makes GRE Reading Comprehension harder than IELTS Reading is the questions. The GRE is much more likely to ask questions about theme, subtext, and author attitude than the IELTS. However, the IELTS will also touch on these question types. So again, what you’ll want to do is start out by building IELTS skills, and then go on to practise the harder GRE Verbal materials as well.

Study for the IELTS and GRE Quantitative at the same time

Believe it or not, some IELTS skills can be used in GRE Quantitative. This is because GRE math includes graphics — charts, tables, and so on. The IELTS also has a graphics component. IELTS Writing Task 1 asks test-takers to write a description of an infographic. And IELTS reading includes some reading activities with diagrams and charts. To sharpen your skills with English language infographics, it can help to study IELTS Writing Tasks 1 and the visual parts of IELTS reading while you also study the GRE’s visual math content.

Here, the GRE exam is not necessarily “harder” than the IELTS. Math and reading comprehension are two very different skills, and it’s hard to compare them directly. It is worth noting that IELTS visuals are often more complicated than GRE math visuals. So you may want to practise reading the GRE Quant infographics before you move on to practise with visual information on the IELTS exam.

By the way, improve your IELTS score with Magoosh!

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  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he's helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master's Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he's presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

6 Responses to How to Study for the GRE and the IELTS at the Same Time

  1. Daniel July 5, 2018 at 7:19 am #

    I got an overall IELTS score of 8.0 but a paltry 6.5 in writing. I’m anxious for the AWA section of the GRE as I fear I might end up scoring less than 3.0 or 3.5 in it. What should I do?

    • David Recine
      David Recine July 11, 2018 at 8:47 am #

      The GRE AWA Issue task really is like a harder version of IELTS Writing Task 2. In other words, these are the same basic task, but GRE AWA Issue task requires you to write a response with greater depth and sophistication.

      Before you panic, though, there are a few things that give you a “leg up” in GRE AWA, so that you may succeed even if your IELTS Writing score wasn’t what you’d hoped.

      First off, the GRE AWA Argument task is very much its own animal. The thinking skills for GRE AWA Argument are closer to the type of thinking you’d do to correctly answer the paragraph argument questions in GRE Verbal. GRE AWA Argument is not-so-close in form to anything in the IELTS Writing section. And in fact, I’ve seen many students who struggle with IELTS Writing but are still strong in the AWA Argument task on the GRE.

      Second, literally every possible essay question you might see on test day is publicly available on the official GRE website, on ETS’s pages for GRE AWA Argument and GRE AWA Issue. This is especially valuable for the Issue Task, because the total list of possible AWA Issue questions can be grouped into just a few different thematic categories. See Chris Lele’s post on the types of GRE AWA Issue question for more information. 🙂

      Finally, ETS offers sample essays with scorer commentary, which is also very helpful. You can find many sample essays on the abovelinked official pages for GRE AWA Argument and Issue. You an also find more sample essays with commentary at the following links on the ETS website:

      And of course, Magoosh GRE subscribers can go through some very useful video lessons to help them master GRE AWA. 😀

    • Madiha August 10, 2020 at 9:53 pm #

      Hi. Does the IELTS here in the article refer to IELTS Academic?

      • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
        Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 28, 2020 at 12:55 pm #

        Hi Madiha, I think that the information in this blog is applicable to both tests. Most people who are taking the GRE will also take the Academic IELTS, since the General IELTS isn’t often used for admission purposes.

  2. AASHISH TIWARY July 19, 2020 at 2:36 am #

    Does this post means that by preparing for GRE, preparation for IELTS can be done without required to take any any plan for IELTS or Is there any plan provided by Magoosh for both?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 24, 2020 at 11:56 am #

      Hi Aashish,
      You should still use a study schedule for the IELTS and the GRE, you’ll just be using them at the same time 🙂

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