Wednesday, July 9, 2008

IELTS PREPARATION - an overview

English is an international language and the IELTS (The International English Language Testing System) is a highly respected and recognized exam which tests English communication skills in four areas :

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Listening
  • Speaking


There are two different IELTS exams, one is called the Academic IELTS test and the other is called the General training IELTS test. The academic test is mainly taken by students who wish to study at University , whereas the general training is often taken by people who are seeking to work, or to immigrate to an English speaking country. The same four skills are tested but the format changes for the reading and writing sections. For the academic modules, the language is more focused towards academic studies whereas the general training modules are testing the ability of the student to use general English. At the beginning of your IELTS preparation, you need to decide which exam you will be taking so that your exam preparation can focus on the correct skills.


It is important that you prepare for the IELTS exam, and become familiar with the exam format. It is possible to buy IELTS study programs online, as well as to find free practice sites where you can take mock exams. The more at ease you are with the exam and the types of questions that may come up, the more relaxed and confident you will be on the day of the test. It is vitally important that you read all instructions carefully and that you understand what each task is requiring you to do. I notice that people misread words when they are in a hurry or under stress, their mind makes up what they think the word is. Read each question twice if you have to.


Sometimes students do not have enough time to complete the reading and writing components of the exam, resulting in a lower band score. However, if you time yourself in practice tests before the actual exam, you will be able to train yourself to complete the tasks within the allotted time. For example make sure that you leave a few minutes at the end of the writing test to check through your essays for spelling mistakes, punctuation errors and any other mishaps that might cause you to lose valuable points. For the listening tasks , skim read the questions first so that you have a general idea of what information you need to be listening out for. This technique is also true for the reading part of the exam. There are free reading comprehension tests that you can do online, to familiarize yourself with the different types of questions and to help you complete the reading within the time allowed. You do not have time to read each and every word slowly. Reading skills include :
  • Recognizing the main point in paragraphs.
  • Reading for gist, detail and comprehension.
You will need to skim read the text. Skimming is a fast reading technique. Use it to quickly identify the main ideas in the text. The main ideas of a text are called the gist. Make sure you get a lot of reading practice before the exam, in order to perfect your skim reading skills. One stategy is to read the first and last sentence of each paragraph. You do not need to read every word or every sentence. Let your eyes skim over the text, taking in key words. You can employ this skill when reading newspaper articles for example.

Often, it is worth investing in lessons, either with a language school or a private ESL tutor as you can learn valuable exam tips. Sometimes people get very nervous in the spoken part of the exam, but having some lessons beforehand can make a huge difference in your ability to shine in the exam. Your tutor can guide you through the process and help you to prepare for different topics that might come up. The speaking part of the exam lasts for about 14 minutes and while this may seem like a long time to a non native speaker, it actually goes by quite fast. It is not a lot of time to showcase your spoken English skills so you want to make sure that you are able to come up with the goods on the day. A common concern that students have, is that they go blank and cannot think of what to say. The more practice you get before the exam, then the more likely you will be able to cope with the stress of exam conditions. Please click here for preparation for the spoken part of the IELTS exam.

Likewise with the essay writing, there are certain skills that you need to exhibit and a tutor can help you develop these skills for the purposes of the exam. Your writing needs to show :
  • Correct grammar and sentence structure
  • Appropriate and varied vocabulary
  • Cohesive and logical train of thought.
Time is the biggest enemy, so I cannot over emphasize that you need to practice writing essays of the correct length within the time period. A tutor can give you feedback on your essays and pinpoint the areas of weakness that you need to work on. The more effort you are able to put in before the exam , the better you will do on the day. Practice, practice, practice! Please don't forget to write clearly, it is worth spending time asking people if they can read your writing. If they cannot read your work, then you need to print your words more clearly.


For most people taking the IELTS exam, a lot is resting on the scores they achieve. Perhaps it is a new job, or a place at university or maybe a good band score is needed for immigration purposes. There is no real short cut to success, but there are good methods of exam preparation. Make sure that before the exam you are speaking as much English as possible. Try and listen to English speaking radio shows, or TV shows. Aim at reading English newspapers or articles on a daily basis. This will give you exposure to vocabulary, correct grammatical structures, and who knows you may get some good ideas to put in your essay or to talk about in the oral exam.


I am a qualified ESL tutor. If you need help with preparing for the IELTS exam please contact me.


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