Wednesday, 10 October 2012

IELTS Ahead? Read these tips first!

Preparing for an exam that is important for your future is not something that many people enjoy, and IELTS is no exception.  Just a few short papers can determine whether you get a job, university place or visa, so the pressure is on!  Fortunately there's lots of good advice out there about preparing for specific parts of the IELTS test, along with practice questions, model answers and video material for the speaking test.

This post is not more of the same.  Instead here are four tips of a slightly different kind, which are mostly related to you and your motivation:

1. Be generally interested in a lot of things.

IELTS exams are like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get.  It's possible to predict general subject areas that come up, like education, business and science, but the specific topic could be absolutely anything, from androids to zoology.  What you can do is make sure that you're generally well informed on lots of different things, and that you can express an opinion about them if necessary.  Don't only read your favourite music magazine or technology website.  Instead, know just a little bit about politics, science, the environment, economics, literature, history...  Be curious about subjects you don't know, and willing to try new things.  Students with a very narrow range of interests are likely to find IELTS extremely frustrating.

2. Keep reading in your own language too.

To get a high IELTS band you need to have advanced reading skills in English, however learning these will be an uphill struggle if you don't already read at a high level in your first language.  You may need to get back in practice.  Firstly, choose a text in your first language which deals with a complex topic, but is written for a general reader.  Current affairs magazines are usually good for this.  Can you skim read the article in 1 minute and pick out the main ideas?  Can you look briefly at a paragraph or section, then write a brief summary in your own words?  Can you identify all the means which the writer uses to indicate his or her opinion?  Of course there will be differences in style between the two languages, but trying to become better at reading in English will be much easier if you are an excellent reader in your language to begin with.

3. Don't say 'I can't'.

Self-belief isn't everything, but it goes a long way.  Students who say 'It's impossible', 'It's too difficult', or 'I can't', usually don't get the IELTS band that they want.  I wonder why!  Their attitude becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and they give up rather than keep trying.  It's difficult when you know you have a lot of improvement to make, but don't give up.  Set yourself one study target at a time - 'Today I'll look at linking words for contrast', or 'This week it's all about scientific vocabulary' - and keep records so you can see when you make progress.  Then you can start to believe 'It may be difficult, but it's possible'.

4.  IELTS is not like your driving test.

I've met students who seem to think that IELTS is like a driving test - that if you keep taking the exam, you'll get better at it and 'pass' one day.  Unfortunately these students are wrong.  Just taking the test is not enough, nor is doing lots of practice papers.  Of course you need to prepare specifically for the exam, but that's better done with help than on your own.  In any case, you most likely need to improve your general English as well.  If you can, find a class, because it will make a difference.  Take opportunities to practise English wherever you find them, take advice from your teachers, and take time to learn from your mistakes.

And Good Luck!

Images taken from by @pacogascon, @mkofab, @cerirhiannon, @elt_pics, @klizbarker, @vickyloras, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence,

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