When it comes to IELTS preparation, how do you know where to begin? There are so many books and websites and teachers, but how can you really get ready for the exam?
Today, I’m going to outline 10 golden rules that will help you prepare for IELTS.
Attitude is Everything
I’ve been teaching English for about twelve years now and I can tell immediately when I meet a student whether they’re going to speak English well or not. Of course, sometimes people surprise you, but it’s usually obvious.
If I walk into a new classroom, some students will already speak English well, and others won’t. That doesn’t matter. What tells me where a student will be in one or two years is their attitude.
Attitude is the most important factor in learning anything. All of these are important, but not as important:
- Natural ability
- Learning techniques
In the end, a student who really cares about something will absorb far more information than one who doesn’t care that much.
I always tell my students a story that is funny but also true:
I have many friends who speak Chinese well because they fell in love with beautiful Chinese girls. They learned Chinese so they could impress the girl of their dream, while so many of us living in China study for years and make little progress.
It’s actually true and I’ve seen it so many times. No matter whether it’s the girl of your dreams or your dream job, you need a reason for studying IELTS, and that reason has to be good enough to ignite your passion.
Beware False Promises
IELTS training is becoming big business nowadays, and sadly many people are willing to take advantage of eager students. Go on any IELTS forum or Facebook page, and it’s loaded with offers of fake certificates and shortcuts to success.
Let me be clear: THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS TO IELTS SUCCESS!!!
The IELTS is a trusted exam all around the world because it is an accurate and fair test of your English ability. You cannot cheat it, and you cannot trick the examiners.
Many students want to do the following:
- Memorize essays
- Recite answers to questions
- Learn magic phrases
But none of this will help you. In fact, it will all cause you to get a lower band score.
Watch out for YouTubers and bloggers who promise you ONE SIMPLE TRICK or any other promise that seems too good to be true.
Address Your Weaknesses
We all have strengths and weaknesses when it comes to studying language, and you need to know how to address yours.
That means you have to figure out what you aren’t so good at. For example, maybe you are bad at writing, or your speaking is always weaker than your listening.
To find this out, take the IELTS for real, or get a teacher to evaluate you. Look at your results honestly and openly.
Next, devise a plan to tackle your weaknesses.
If your writing is always low scoring, do more writing practice and get a teacher to give you detailed feedback. If your reading is a problem, do more reading practice and look at methods to manage your time better.
There are so many ways to improve each part of your IELTS skills, but you need to first know what needs improved.
I always tell my students to take a two-pronged method for IELTS training. I wrote an article about it last month, that you can find here. What it means is studying for IELTS in two ways:
- General English practice
- Specific IELTS practice
I always see students working on their IELTS exam skills, which is great, but they have a poor grasp of grammar or reading comprehension. No matter how hard they study, their score will always been affected by their poor English.
Remember: IELTS is a test of English, not your exam techniques.
You need to study both general English and IELTS. If you are going to study for two hours each day, then maybe spend one hour reading and listening to the news, and one hour doing IELTS exam practice.
As your general English improves, you can devote more time to specific IELTS preparation, but it is always important to keep doing both methods.
I mentioned this above, but it is so important that I will say it again: NEVER MEMORIZE ANSWERS FOR IELTS!!!
Don’t do it.
I have encountered literally hundreds of IELTS students who think they can take common IELTS topics like hometown, technology, family, and so on, and memorize answers.
This is a horrible idea.
Let’s say the examiner asks you, “What do you like to do with your family?”
You hear “family” and say:
“There are five people in my family. My mother is a very lovely woman…”
All the examiner hears is “blah blah blah blah”.
You have utterly failed to answer the question, and will be penalized accordingly.
What’s more, even if you do manage to memorize hundreds of answers and you do give the correct answer to the correct question, memorized answers sound fake!
An examiner, who sits and listens (or reads) to dozens of candidates every single day will easily tell that you have memorized your answer from a book, and will give you a low score.
Don’t Fall For Fake Tests
What do I mean by fake tests?
If you look online, you’ll see hundreds of IELTS websites and apps offering IELTS writing questions. Unfortunately, most of them are not real IELTS questions. They are fake.
What is the problem with this?
Well, it’s not always a big problem. Any practice is good practice, right?
In actual fact, many of the questions I see online are not accurate to those in the real exam. In fact, here in China most of the apps that students use to prepare include questions written in bad English.
Sure, they cover real topics and they sound a little like real questions, but by reading these fake questions, you are absorbing and internalizing the bad English.
It’s not just China. I see it all the time. Russian English has a distinctive quality where people often drop the articles, and many Russian websites produce these fake IELTS writing questions. Students then use the language from the question in their own writing and…
Congratulations, you’ve just learned bad English.
Practice Practice Practice
This is an obvious one. You can’t get better at English without practice. And that doesn’t mean just using theory. Could you learn to swim by reading a book about swimming? No!
To succeed at IELTS, you need to use your English every day. I recommend a minimum of one hour per day. That means reading, listening, speaking, and writing. You simply won’t get better without practice.
Over a long enough period, even the weakest student will become an English master with the right attitude and the right sort of practice.
But how can you practice speaking by yourself?
Amazingly, you can improve your pronunciation while at home along:
Feedback is so important in IELTS preparation. In fact, I’d say it’s essential.
Imagine you are preparing for IELTS writing and you keep making the same mistake over and over. How would you know?
You wouldn’t. Without a guide to help you, it is impossible to identify and alter the errors that routinely hold students back from IELTS success.
Every IELTS student needs a teacher reviewing their essays for errors. Ideally, you want a qualified native speaker giving you full feedback. At the very least, you want a talented friend who can find some mistakes, and point you in the right direction.
I often help students by reviewing their essays and offering advice. Drop me an e-mail to find out when I take on new students.
Eat, Sleep, and Breathe English
When you are preparing for IELTS, you can’t simply devote an hour or two each day to English practice. It’s not enough.
When you cook dinner, you need to think in English:
- I’m cracking some eggs over the frying pan. Next, I’m going to take some black pepper and add just a sprinkle. Oops, there’s not much left. I need to buy some more next time I’m at the shop.
The same goes for everything in your life! Even if you’re just thinking English, you’re forcing your brain to associate English words with the world around you. It speeds up the process of actually using these English words.
Trust me, when you stop translating and think directly in English, your language skills will drastically improve.
When doing actual IELTS study, don’t get a book in your local language and learn IELTS skills that way. Force yourself to study 100% in English. It’s harder, but it’s better. By making your brain do the extra work, you are giving it more information.
If you have friends studying English, too, then speak with them in English, even if it feels weird.
If you have “English time” in the evening for studying, it is not good enough. Make sure that you have English on your mind throughout your whole day.
Finally, you need to visualize your goal. This relates back to my first point, about attitude. Without a positive attitude, you will never speak fluent English. However, to build that level of enthusiasm requires visualizing your dream.
One of my students told me recently that he wants to learn English so he can go to America and watch an NBA game. I told him to sit down for a few minutes each day and imagine – really imagine! – sitting at the side of the court, watching the game.
How great would that feel?!
When we visualize our goals, it helps them become real. It gives us the energy to go out and achieve them.
When you are feeling tired and getting a high band score in IELTS just seems impossible, take a few minutes and ask why you are studying IELTS. Then visualize achieving that goal.
Make a habit of this. Do it at least once a week, and ideally once a day. Don’t forget why you’re doing all this hard work.
Studying for IELTS is tough, but by following the ten golden rules, you can give yourself a much better chance of success. Just remember to set realistic goals, work hard, and don’t forget why you’re making all this effort. In the end, the reward will be worthwhile.