Thousands of students around the world are practising for their IELTS test at this exact moment.
Hunched over an IELTS textbook and reading passages. Or great walls of text in the vain hope that somehow these magic words and sentences will help them get a band 7 or 8 or even a 9 in the test on the big day.
Unfortunately, they are wasting their time.
When preparing for the IELTS test you have to remind yourself of one major thing — it is a test of English. There is no such thing as ‘IELTS English’. There is only English.
And if your General English is up to speed, then you are almost ready for the IELTS test.
Make sure you have a good command of English in all the skill areas — reading, writing, speaking and listening. Once you have that then you can start looking at strategies and skills needed for the actual test itself.
I want to outline a few key points you need to think about before doing the test. Go through these points one by one and make sure you understand what you need to do when test day arrives.
The IELTS test is a test of your English Ability
Let me stress again, there is no such thing as IELTS English. There is only English. And that is what the examiner is testing when he meets you.
Without a decent command of General English, you are not likely to do well in the IELTS test. Do yourself a big favour and make sure that your General English is up to speed before you even book the IELTS test.
You can have a test for your General English from an English teacher in your area.
If you can find a local teacher who has experience teaching IELTS, then ask him or her to help you with a test. The teacher should be able to give you a test under real IELTS test conditions and tell you if you are ready or not.
Even better, if you can find someone who is an IELTS examiner then they should be able to tell you exactly if you are ready or not.
You may have to pay a small fee for this but it is better to know if your English is at the right level before you book the test.
Please remember — your General English must be of a good standard first. Then you can think about improvements for the test. Once your English is at the right level, then you can think about studying on an IELTS course. This course will teach you the format of the test, what the examiner is looking for and what you need to do at each stage of the test.
But first your General English. Because that is what the test is about. Your English ability.
Are your English Skills all at a good level?
It is no use going into the test and thinking, well, my listening is great so I’ll probably get a Band 9 for that but my writing is terrible so I’ll only get a Band 4 for that. So I might get a Band 6 overall.
This is just a way of trying to trick the IELTS test.
If you go into the test with this mindset, you will lose.
You must ensure that all your English skills are as high as you can get them. Yes, you may be better at speaking than reading but you still need to work on your speaking skills to improve your chance of a better score.
A good teacher will help you with this.
A good teacher can see which of your English skills need more work, which English skills you are better at than others. Let the teacher help you so you do the right amount of work on each English skill and see a marked improvement.
Think about this: If you were to be tested only on your poorest English skill, what score would you get?
If it’s anything below a 5.5 in the test, then you need to do more work.
Don’t cheat yourself on this — it’s not worth it.
Don’t rely on IELTS books, classes or courses
I keep saying this but it is worth stressing again.
The IELTS test is a test on your English skills. There is no such thing as IELTS English.
Use IELTS books but do not rely on them. Read everything and anything you can get your hands on. Reading IELTS test articles or other material is not enough.
There is an unlimited supply of reading material that you can get your hands on. Read the news, read blogs, read articles on any and every subject.
All of this reading material is good for you. As long as you are reading something in English it will help your reading skills improve. And this will help you broaden your range of vocabulary and improve your writing and speaking skills.
Many students when preparing for the IELTS test only read IELTS articles and books. Maybe they imagine that this is what they really need to help them do well in the test. They could not be any more wrong.
Read everything. It will help you so much.
Use English every day
You need to get into the habit of using English as much as you can in your everyday life.
This means not only reading anything and everything in English but writing, speaking and listening too.
There is no need to just write IELTS style articles — write other things too. Write a daily journal, write short stories, write your own news articles based on current news in the world. Make writing a daily habit that you stick to every day. Each time you write, understand that your writing is getting better a small degree each time.
Try to speak English every day. Form an English-speaking group with your classmates where you only speak English. Practice speaking English when you are alone. You can talk into a mirror — it works.
And listen to English songs, English podcasts, English news.
If you are isolated away from many other people, use the internet to connect in English with the world.
It is not enough to only use English in your IELTS class or English class two or three times a week.
Make English part of your life every single day.
Make an English group with your classmates
One of the best things you can do to give all your English skills a kick start is to form an English group with your classmates. You could have an English Only group where you only use English all the time you are together. This can be quite a challenge but you can see a lot of development by doing this.
If you are in school or university, it is easy for you to start your own English group. Just get like-minded students to join you to practice English together.
You could put a sign up on the notice board to get attention. Or use social media.
Make sure that all the people in your group are serious about studying English and not just there to socialize or play. You might have to set some strict rules so that people understand you are serious.
Then it is just a matter of meeting regularly and choosing what skill to study or practice. Maybe on Mondays you want to practice English reading — so you do that. Then on Wednesdays you do speaking practice. It is all up to you and your group.
Meet regularly for it to work. So no making excuses and missing any meetings.
Do a different English activity every day
Focus on a different English activity to do for every new day.
So, for example, on Monday you listen to a podcast — and therefore practice your listening skills and comprehension.
Then on Tuesday you read three articles. You write all the new vocabulary from these articles and go through them again to make sure you completely understand the meaning of each one.
On Wednesday you write an article or short story. Therefore, practising your English writing skills.
And so on and so on.
The good thing about doing this is that you only focus on one skill for each day. This means you have the maximum concentration on that one skill. This is much better than doing five minutes here and five minutes there.
You need absolute and total concentration on one skill at one time.
Be a Volunteer
A cool thing to do is to volunteer your services as an English tutor or teacher.
You can do this in your neighbourhood or local community. Ask at your local schools or community centre if they need an English tutor to help the students study English.
The good thing about doing this is that while you are teaching others, you are also learning English yourself.
Self Study All the Time
You must study English by yourself. Do not think just by attending a few IELTS classes and going to a speaking class that you are doing enough to improve your English skills.
You have to put in the effort to make a major improvement in all your English skills. The only way to do this is by self-study. Most students hate going over the books and practising all the skills. But you have to do it.
Make time to study by yourself and do it every day.
Over time, you will see a gradual rise in improvement in all your English skills.
So just do it.
IELTS classes — only when your General English is good enough
Once your English is up to speed, then start your IELTS classes.
IELTS classes are very useful. But only if your English skills are good enough. It is a waste of time doing IELTS classes if your English is no good.
This is the biggest mistake that students make. They sign up for IELTS classes when their English is nowhere near the standard required to do the IELTS test. This is such a waste of their time.
Yes, IELTS classes can be very useful. But only when your General English is good enough.
It’s not rocket science. I don’t think I am saying anything revolutionary. It is all common sense.
But if you want to get a good score in the IELTS test, you need to follow some of these simple rules.
The most important things to think about are:
– Improve your General English
– Practice English every day and everywhere you can
– Use ALL English, not just IELTS English
By doing only these basic things you stand a much better chance than many others of doing well in the IELTS test.
It takes work and commitment. It is not easy.
But it is not hard work. And it only requires a few hours study a day.