IELTS Preparation – What really helps?The IELTS exam is a thorough test of how well you use English. It examines both productive and receptive abilities as well as the skills that are common to both. The test is in four parts: speaking, writing, listening & reading.
Productive abilities (speaking and writing: producing language)
Linking ideas together in a logical way, using a range of grammatical forms and vocabulary accurately. Pronunciation.
Receptive abilities (listening and reading: receiving language)
Following a conversation or piece of writing and extracting relevant information. Understanding a range of grammatical forms and vocabulary.
So, all four parts of the test need you to use a wide range of vocabulary and grammar to score highly. These are the things that make the difference between an average score and a good one. If you want to score well, you need a wide vocabulary and to understand how to use a variety of sentence structures.
One sure way to lose marks in the exam is not to finish one of the tests. The reading and writing parts of the test challenge students, not only to answer the questions, but to do so within a time limit. Many students struggle to produce enough words for their writing piece, or to read quickly enough to find the answers to all the questions in the reading.
The examiner controls the time taken for the speaking test, and the audio controls the duration of the listening paper. But many students don’t answer all the questions in the listening paper because they don’t hear the information for one answer because they are still writing down or working out the previous answer.
Fortunately, there is plenty of information available online and in published books. Previous test papers and questions are available for students to practice, and the answers are usually given at the end. This means students can get used to the types of questions used in the IELTS exam and become familiar with the test format.
Of course, there are also tutors available to help. My basic advice is that you should find a tutor who is qualified to guide you through structured preparation. But if you need to work through the process by yourself, here are some hints to help you.
Buy a good English Learner’s dictionary - one that gives pronunciation, example sentences and synonyms.
Make a vocabulary list. Whenever you find a word you don’t know, look it up in the dictionary. Write it in your own vocabulary list and try to make two new sentences using the word. Review your list at the end of every week and make at least one new sentence for each new word added since your last review.
Work out your mistakes. When you are marking your practice tests and get an answer wrong, try to work out why. Did you misunderstand a word or phrase? Was the grammar difficult to understand? If you don’t know why an answer is wrong, you will make the same mistake again.
Learn to recognize all the question types for each test and practice answering them.
Don’t only do IELTS test papers and practice. You need to extend your vocabulary and grammar in different directions. Practicing with a range of materials will improve your skills faster.
Don’t spend all your time working on one part of the test. Each part of the test is worth 25% of the total mark. Most of the skills you practice are equally useful in more than one of the areas. For example, writing task two is very similar to speaking task two. You need to think quickly and compose a lengthy response in both cases.
Time your practices. Especially the reading and writing tests. You need to know if there are areas that need extra work. Be honest with yourself and time things accurately.
If you are studying towards your IELTS exam at the moment, good luck and try to make some time for other things too. We all work better when we are happy and relaxed.