I am very proud of the fact that the majority of my students achieve the IELTS Band Score they need first time. I have also received some excellent feedback in emails from people who have either done a practice IELTS Speaking Test with me on skype or have had some of their IELTS Writing corrected by me.
I really do think that some feedback from a qualified IELTS tutor (either online or offline) is very valuable, even if you have decided to study by yourself or know that your English is of a very high standard already. To do well in the IELTS test, you need to concentrate both on your level and on the necessary strategies to do the test well.
Recently, I conducted a couple of lessons with a native speaker of English! Jon is from Liverpool, UK (coincidentally, my hometown, although we didn’t know each other before coming to Australia) and is a psychiatric nurse. He needed to sit the IELTS General Training test for his permanent residency visa (as a skilled migrant) and felt quite nervous about the test. Needless to say, he’s just scored 9 in his test. This example does show, though, that even someone with a very high level of English saw the benefit of getting feedback from a qualified IELTS tutor to understand the layout of the test and the necessary strategies.
So, here are some of the pointers I gave Jon that he said he found particularly useful.
• Make sure you note down all your answers on your question paper while the recording is playing. You can use shorthand and abbreviations if you want to, to make it quicker, you don’t have to worry about it being neat (the Examiner doesn’t see your question paper) but make sure that YOU can read your own handwriting as you are given 10 minutes transfer time at the end of the test to copy your answers to your answer sheet. Make sure your handwriting on your answer sheet is neat and legible (the Examiner does read this part!)
• Even native speakers need to concentrate quite hard in the listening test as you only hear it once and if you let your mind wander you can miss hearing an answer. If your centre uses headphones, make sure that the volume is high enough to block out any distractions but not so loud that the sound is distorted.
• Never, never, never leave an answer blank. As a teacher in class, I’d tell students to make sure they understand all their answers fully so that we can talk about why a particular answer is correct / incorrect but this isn’t a lesson; it’s the test. Remember that if you don’t write anything, you’ve got a 100% chance of scoring zero for that question. If you write something, it might be correct. Make an educated guess. (This also applies to the listening test).
• Underline the key words in each paragraph before you answer the questions.
Writing (Task 1)
• Make sure you answer the question! Include all the information required in the bullet points.
• Try not to include lots of irrelevant details.
Writing (Task 2)
• Write at least 4 paragraphs (introduction, body and conclusion). The neatest and most common way to separate paragraphs nowadays is to leave a blank line between paragraphs and to start a new paragraph at the beginning of a line. (When I and the psychiatric nurse were at school, the common trend was to indent the first line of a paragraph).
• Make sure you plan and write notes (about 8 – 10 points). Think about how you will connect these points in the essay, make sure they are relevant to your argument and make sure you can explain them or support them with examples. Writing the points down before you write the essay will keep you focussed and ensure that you don’t forget to write about them.
• Make sure you don’t write less than 250 words; conversely do NOT write too much (try to set yourself an upper limit of about 280 words, certainly do NOT write more than 300 words). Your aim is to write a well-structured, grammatically correct essay, more words do not mean more points!
• Be aware of using appropriate idioms and expressions in your writing (there is a difference between spoken and written English). For non-native speakers, I would also add that you shouldn’t use a phrase or idiom if you’re not about what it means or how it is used.
• Maintain eye contact with the Examiner (this is good manners and also helps establish a relationship).
• Try not to be nervous and be as confident as possible.
• Use the one-minute preparation time in part 2 to think about what you are going to say and make a few notes.
• Try to speak about all the points on your card in part 2.
• If you’re not sure if what you are about to speak about in part 2 really answers the question, tell the Examiner; ‘I’ve been asked to speak about ‘blah’, I’m not sure if this is completely related, but I’m going to speak about ‘blah, blah’.
• Remember that the Examiner is not trying to ‘catch you out’. You want to do your best and the Examiner also wants you to speak to the best of your ability. Relax and enjoy it!
Here’s to the best IELTS score possible!