IELTS Test Preparation: A Lesson in Strategy
Ok, we really need to talk about IELTS Test preparation.
As an expert with E2Language, I spend a lot of time answering questions about IELTS test preparation and the best way to go about it. It seems like a lot of people think there is a one-size-fits-all magic formula for preparing for the IELTS, and I think it’s time that I dispel this myth once and for all! So, I’m going to hit you with a few hard truths:
Hard truth #1: IELTS test preparation looks different for everyone
Some people are ready to take the IELTS tomorrow, some people have six months of hard work ahead of them, some people may find that the IELTS isn’t even the right test for them. Unfortunately, just because something worked for someone you know, it doesn’t mean it will work for you.
Hard truth #2: Most people need at least a little bit of direction
I know there is a lot of free information out there on the internet, and I know it’s tempting to “teach yourself” using this free information. But trust me, I talk to dozens of people on a daily basis that thought the same thing and wasted hundreds of dollars before recognizing that they needed help. If you don’t truly understand what and where your weaknesses are, how can you overcome them?
Now that the tough love is out of the way, let’s get to my best recommendations for how to tailor your IELTS test preparation so that it suits you.
IELTS Test Preparation Recommendation #1: Figure out your level
The first thing you need to do when you decide you’re going to write IELTS finds out exactly what your current level is. Then you can create an appropriate timeline and some realistic goals. NEVER set your IELTS test date before assessing your level. You will almost certainly regret it. How can you assess your level? Here are a couple of ways:
- Try out some reliable practice questions and pay attention to the scores you are getting. Don’t just trust any old practice information you see either – trust the professionals! Get your practice questions from ielts.org or from the E2Language blog practice bank, free trial or YouTube lesson series.
- Talk to an expert. At E2Language, we take a lot of things into account before we start working with a student. We look at their previous scores (if there are any), we get a sense of how much they use English in daily life, and we carefully assess each of their skill sets (speaking, writing, listening & reading) to direct their studying and teacher support appropriately. If you are unsure about where your level is and what kind of timeline and time commitments you will need to take on, we can help!
IELTS Test Preparation Recommendation #2: Build on your weaknesses
Once you know what your level is, stop doing practice questions immediately. Although practice questions are useful for teaching you the format of the test, they don’t actually teach you any new skills. Now is the time to focus completely on building up the weak skills you’ve identified. Here are a couple of tips:
- If you have issues with the IELTS Speaking section, get a conversation partner (either in person or online) and make sure you talk to them at least once a week. Let them know that they need to be honest in their constructive criticism to help you pinpoint your difficulties (i.e. volume, fluency, grammar, sentence structure). In addition, get comfortable speaking in English by recording yourself talk about a topic for one or two minutes and listening back to yourself to hear what you actually sound like. This tip is more useful than most people realize!
- If you are struggling with the IELTS writing section, practice organizing essay structure and work on the mechanics of language, like grammar and vocabulary. We have essay writing webinars on YouTube specifically for IELTS, and we have “core skills” videos that teach the basics of grammar, vocabulary and sentence structure. What’s more, all of these lessons are free! Not only that but if you take on an IELTS course with us, we can provide you with multiple writing assessments to help you improve your writing style and content.
Here is one of our free core skills lectures. You can find more right here.
- If you are having difficulty with the IELTS reading section, start reading online news articles every day. Note down important key points and write a small summary of the articles in your own words, focusing on what you consider to be the most important information. Once you get comfortable with this, start scanning articles and trying to pick out keywords before even reading the whole text.
- If the IELTS listening section is proving challenging for you, start listening to a podcast, audiobook or radio show in English every single day. Familiarize yourself with different accents, write down vocabulary that is new to you, and listen carefully to the speaker’s intonation and pronunciation. If you are listening to a lecture, write down the key points that the speaker is saying and try to summarize them in your own words. Don’t worry if you have to rewind and listen again at first, that’s part of the learning process!
IELTS Test Preparation Recommendation #3: Start Practicing Again
Once you have built on your weaknesses, it’s time to start practising IELTS questions again. This time, you can focus more on understanding the format of the test, that is how the questions and information will be presented to you. This is almost as important as your overall English skill.
Again, use our blog test bank or sign up to one of our courses for access to an extensive bank of IELTS questions written by real IELTS experts. This stage of IELTS test preparation should take you at least a couple of weeks. There are a lot of tasks, and you should be practising them all multiple times. You shouldn’t be taking the IELTS until you are confident that you’ve seen the entire format and you have a good method for each one. Our YouTube webinar and lesson series can help you out with this too.
Take a look at our webinar for IELTS writing task 1:
IELTS Test Preparation Recommendation #4: Get Expert Feedback
Once you feel ready for the IELTS, it’s incredibly helpful to get feedback about your progress from someone who knows what they’re talking about. This can be a teacher or a tutor in your daily life, or one of our IELTS experts online. Essentially, you need someone who understands your skill level and can add to your success by giving you strategies and feedback once you are almost ready to go. If you decide to do this before taking your test, chances are you will have a lot more knowledge and confidence, making it much more likely for you to succeed on your first try!
What’s the Take Home Message?
Remember, you are a complex and unique individual. Your IELTS test preparation is not going to look the same as your friend’s preparation or your classmate’s preparation. If you want to succeed on your first try, you need to be honest with yourself about your weaknesses and you need to be realistic about your timeline. And if you need help, E2Language has you covered. Don’t fall into the trap of wasting money on five IELTS tests because you wanted to save time and money on preparation. Smart investments always pay off, and proper IELTS test preparation is no exception!
Written by Kaia Myers-Stewart