Active versus Passive Learning in IELTS

  • 16/07/2018

Many IELTS students struggle with developing an effective method for learning new material. The main reason for this problem is that they often rely on passive rather than active learning techniques. But what is passive learning? Here are the most common types:

  • Reading books, listening to audio and watching videos
  • Listening to a teacher in class
  • Taking notes in class

You will recognise that these methods are not just common for learners of English but also typical of the entire education system. There has been a lot of research in this area, and studies demonstrate that people remember:

  • 10% of what they read (passive learning)
  • 20% of what they hear (passive learning)
  • 30% of what they see (passive learning)
  • 50% of what they see & hear (passive)
  • 70% of what they say & write (active learning)
  • 90% of what they do (active learning)

So, what is active learning? Some methods include the following:

  • Revising and summarising notes
  • Asking questions in class
  • Understanding the relationships between different topics
  • Participating in class practice and discussions
  • Researching new information on a topic (this does not mean copying!)

Perhaps you can see the reason why active learning is so effective is because it requires a student to think about a particular topic and put their knowledge into practice. This improves both comprehension and long-term memory.

So how can students employ active learning techniques in IELTS? Here is some advice:


  • Practice developing and giving your opinion on a wide range of IELTS topics, such as crime, education, the environment, healthcare and cities.
  • Listen carefully to your partner in class and then ask them follow-up questions (this will test your listening skills and improve your understanding of part 3)


  • Subscribe to the Facebook news feed for the Economist, Telegraph newspaper, Science Channel and TED Education – review the infographics and diagrams and try to describe and summarise the trends or main points
  • Develop your ideas and opinions on a wide range of IELTS essay questions


  • When you have completed a reading passage in class, review your incorrect answers at home and identify the correct answer from the passage
  • Construct keyword tables with the underlined keywords from the questions and their synonyms from the passage


  • Use the time before the audio begins to predict (not the same as guessing) what the answers could be. Think about grammar (noun, adjective, verb) and vocabulary
  • Listen again at home and identify the expressions and keywords which lead to the correct answer

Good luck with your exam! 

Mark Lamerton – IELTS Trainer

There is no science in this day