You have decided to take the IELTS test and work towards getting your dream job or studying on a course abroad. You have to balance your office work and household work while preparing for the IELTS test. Now you're feeling nervous and don't know what to do. Is this high-stake test keeping you awake in the night? There’s so much to do and so little time! Where do you start and how to get the band score that you're looking for? Don’t worry because there are a lot of tips that can help you get closer to your dream score. Remember this test has been taken by millions of candidates before you and many of them have achieved what they were looking for.
Here are four top tips that will help you prepare better:
Don’t focus on every single detail while reading
In the reading test, it's very tempting to read all the comprehension passages in detail and get lost in that information if you are fond of reading like me. However, that is the last thing you should do! Remember to first read the text to understand the general meaning or the big picture that is also called ‘skimming’. Then look at the questions related to the passage and look for the specific information that the questions are asking you about. For this you need to engage in ‘scanning’, looking for the answers to those questions. If you can’t find the answer to a certain question, that’s when you need to do some intensive reading that is reading in detail to find out exactly what is required.
Remember you have 40 questions and 60 minutes to answer them, which means you need to practise reading and scanning for information quickly. Another thing to remember is that you should build a habit to read different types of texts. This will help you get used to the various text types that you might get in the reading test. Moreover, the text types are different for the Academic module and the General Training module in the IELTS exam, so make sure you are reading the right sort of text for the test you will take.
If you want to improve your reading and comprehension skills, you need to practise answering questions based on different types of passages. Checkout this website to further develop your reading skills. You will find that there are different kinds of texts on this website aimed at different levels. You could try to start from the intermediate level and if you find this is easy, you can continue on to the upper intermediate level. After attempting the questions do remember to check your answers. If you got some answers wrong, try and reflect on why they are wrong. This will help you identify the kind of mistakes you're making and then you can work on your weak areas. Secondly, the more you practise the faster you will get in terms of understanding the given text and responding to it. In addition, extensive reading will expose you to a lot of new words which will help you build your vocabulary. Do remember to use the techniques that were mentioned above, skimming and scanning, while answering the questions and reading the texts.
Listen for key information
In the listening test you will have 40 questions that you need to answer in 30 minutes. Keep in mind that there will be other information in the audio, called distractors, and you need to look out for the right answer. What this means is that sometimes you may be confused with two different pieces of information which are related to the same question. For instance, the speaker might tell you about the ticket prices for the morning and afternoon train, but you perhaps need to only mention the ticket price for the afternoon ride in the test and ignore the ticket price for the morning train ride.
You will get time to read the questions which makes it essential for you to quickly scan the questions and predict the answers in that time so that when you listen to the audio you know exactly what you are listening for. The audio in the listening test will only be played only once. What's more the speakers might have varied accents which can be from around the world. A good idea would be to familiarise yourselves with different accents by listening to a wide variety of podcasts and radio programs.
If you want to improve your listening and comprehension skills, you need to practise answering questions based on different types of audio and accents. Refer to this website to further develop your listening skills. You will find that there are different kinds of listening texts on this website aimed at different levels. You could try to start from the intermediate level and if you find this is easy, you can continue on to the upper intermediate level. After attempting the questions do remember to check your answers. It’s a good idea to re-attempt the ones you got wrong and reflect on the right answers. This will help you identify the kind of mistakes you are making and then you can work on your weak areas. Just as reading helps build vocabulary, so does listening to a variety of text types. Do remember there will be ‘distractors’ that might confuse you, but you need to focus on the given question and information that is relevant to it.
Plan your writing
You have to complete two writing tasks in 60 minutes so it's very important that you learn how to plan your writing. Before the test it might seem to you that 60 minutes is sufficient time for the IELTS writing task, and you can do a lot in that time. However, when you are practising for the test, you will realise that proper time management is needed. The best way to deal with this is to learn how to use POWER writing. Let me explain POWER writing:
P stands for Planning: The minute you read the question whether it is Task 1 or Task 2, your mind should start thinking about all the points related to that topic- this is also called brainstorming. This is a process where you come up with as many ideas related to the topic as possible, in a short amount of time. Remember, you don't have to use all the ideas that come to your mind, but you need to have enough ideas to choose from. For example, if you get a question related to public transport and the advantages and disadvantages to it, think of all the pros and cons that you can and make a list of it.
O stands for Organising: After you have made a list of all the points that you can think of you decide which points you want to keep and explain in a paragraph. You don't need to use all the points that you have on your list. Choose only those points that you think are logical, well connected to the topic and something you can give an example about. Remember your Task 1 needs to be a minimum 150 words and Task 2 needs to be a minimum of 250 words.
W stands for Writing: Now that you have your points with you can actually start writing in paragraphs. If you are attempting Writing Task 1 ( a letter) for the General Training test, you should aim for a minimum of three paragraphs, a paragraph each for each of the three bullet points. If you are doing Task 1 for the Academic module, consider writing a minimum of two paragraphs. For Task 2 for both the test modules try to at least stretch to four paragraphs: the first paragraph should be the introduction and the second and third paragraph should be the body paragraphs and the last paragraph needs to be your conclusion. The band descriptors for Task 1 and Task 2 clearly mention that paragraphing is very important.
E for Evaluate: The writing tasks can seem simple and easy to write about. What is difficult or tricky is to actually understand what the question requires and to meet those requirements. In order to do that you must see if your response actually addresses the question that has been asked. All the writing tasks will have bullet points and sub-sections in the question and you as the test taker need to be certain that you have focused on all of them. Sometimes test-takers may get carried away by the topic at hand and forget what the question is actually about. It's important that you make sure you check the question and your response during the test.
R for Review: Now that you have written your Task 1 or 2 responses, you need to revise and edit them. Check your writing for spelling, grammar or other mistakes, remove whatever you think is wrong and add whatever is missing. I am sure you know that if your grammar or spellings are wrong, it will negatively affect your band score as accuracy is essential. Secondly, check for punctuation. Often students forget to add a comma where required or end up using capital letters when not required. Re-checking your work after writing will help you catch unintentional errors. While editing also check for the logical sequencing of your ideas. After you have finished your writing task and edited it, remember to give it a final review to see if you have covered all the parts of the question and that there are no errors.
To find out more about POWER writing you should watch this video. The speaker will give you an example of a writing task that has been completed using the POWER writing process. You need to practise using POWER writing as initially it might take time to complete a writing task using it. However, once you learn how to use it to your advantage you can then apply it to complete any writing task. This process will create a clear structure for you and for your reader when he reads the response that you have written. Moreover, it will help you attempt writing tasks when you are feeling nervous or lost during the writing test.
The minute you read the question you should immediately start using this process to plan and complete your writing task. You need to practise writing under timed conditions so that on the test day you are comfortable and successful in completing the writing Tasks 1 and 2. You need to practice using POWER writing before your IELTS exam as initially it might take extra time to complete a writing task using it. Don’t leave it for the last minute as you will not what to do and how to use it to complete the writing task.
Have a conversation
It is time for your speaking test, and you are feeling very nervous. You will be sitting in front of an examiner who is of course a stranger to you, and you need to impress this person with your language abilities in 14 minutes. Thinking about this can make anyone nervous! However, preparation and practice is the key to avoiding getting overly nervous. Think of the examiner as your colleague and develop a conversation with him or her. Don't speak to the examiner the same way you would to your best friend because it might make you use informal language or slang.
If you’d like to get more tips on developing your fluency overall, you can read this blog post by my colleague on ‘How to improve your fluency in English and speak to impress’.
For more tips on the IELTS Speaking test, read this blog post on ‘Top tips to get a better IELTS speaking score’.
The IELTS test is not only about your English language abilities but also requires the use of test strategies and speed . The more you practise and analyse your responses and mistakes the more you will learn about your weak areas. This will help you develop your own strategies and understand your common mistakes and hopefully you don’t repeat it in the actual test. Secondly, when you practise your speed of understanding and completing a task type becomes much better which means that you can actually finish the test in the given time period. People might tell you that the test is easy, especially for someone with good language abilities but if you want to get a good score it is extremely important to prepare well.
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