As we approach a new year, it is important to make plans for what we want to achieve, and when it comes to IELTS, it is no different. This is a good time to formalise your preparations and optimise your strategy, so today I am going to offer a guide that you can follow in order to pursue IELTS success.
Learning a language is difficult and succeeding in IELTS is notoriously hard, but this guide is intended to show you a streamlined way to do it. Obviously, there are many other things missing. Most of these are common sense, like studying grammar and vocabulary. However, if you follow the guide below, you should be in a good position to make rapid progress.
1. Pick a Realistic Exam Date
First of all, if you have decided to sit IELTS, then pick a realistic date to do the exam. You can find the IDP test dates here.
The reason for this is that you need to have a target in mind so that you can plan a study schedule that is reasonable. I have seen many students who say things like “I want to go from band 6 to band 7 in two weeks!” It is honestly not very likely and they usually just waste their money.
To pick a realistic exam date, you need to figure out your current score and your target score, then plan how long it will take you to improve. That is a difficult assessment to make and there is no fixed answer. It will totally depend on you and how much effort you are willing to invest.
Generally, be conservative in picking a date. It is better to book an exam date many months in advance and then use that time to get as good as possible at English than to book an early date and struggle.
2. Find Out Your Current Score
Humans are not very good at estimating their own abilities. We often underestimate or overestimate our skill level at different things, and both of these can be quite damaging to our chances of success.
When it comes to IELTS preparation, you need to figure out your current level before you plan to move to a higher level. The reason is simple. If you are currently at band 6.5, it is reasonable to aim for a 0.5 band improvement over a period of weeks and months. However, if you are at band 5.5 and want to move up to a band 8, it could take a year or two.
By learning your current score, you can begin to make a plan that is specifically aimed at getting you up to a higher level. You can work alone or with others to boost your skills. For example, those already at band 7 need only eliminate errors and fine-tune their language skills to improve, but people at lower bands need to focus on the fundamentals.
There are numerous practice tests online but try to use the more official ones hosted by the likes of the British Council. You can find them here.
3. Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Beyond just finding out your current level, you also need to figure out your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to IELTS, English, and studying in general. This will also help you to plan more effectively and move forward at a steady pace.
This stage requires you to really analyse your own abilities (or have a qualified teacher do it) with total honesty. Don’t be afraid to admit your fault and also be proud to acknowledge your talents. Consider some of the following:
You can see that there’s a mix of language issues, spoken and written form concepts, and also issues pertaining to studying. If you really want to move forward, you need to consider all of them.
Here’s an example:
Francois wants to score band 8 in IELTS. He is currently at about band 8.5 for reading and listening, but only at 7 for speaking and 6 for writing. From practice tests and teachers, he knows that his weaknesses are pronunciation and grammar, and he struggles a little with composing coherent essays. He is, however, good at organising his studies and can maintain his focus for a long time, but he works too much and doesn’t have a lot of study time.
By evaluating himself in this way, Francois would be able to put together a study plan that rectifies his weaknesses and plays into his strengths. He would have to focus intently on improving his pronunciation and grammar, as well as figuring out the intricacies of coherence and cohesion.
Once you know what to focus on, studying for IELTS becomes a lot easier.
4. Make English a Part of Your Daily Life
This one might seem strange, but I cannot omit it from this list because it is vitally important in my opinion.
For many people around the world, English is just something they have to study in order to pass exams. However, these people invariably struggle because they do not really care about the language. In fact, it is hardly a language at all to them.
If you want to learn quickly, you need to actually use English and the more you use it, the more quickly you will learn. I recommend that you bring it into your everyday life in a range of ways:
- Reading news articles and blogs
- Engaging in social media discussion
- Listening to podcasts
- Speaking to people whenever possible
You can turbocharge the effect by doing things that you are interested in. For example, if you love cars, then watch YouTube videos about cars. If you find politics interesting, jump into some political debates on Reddit. All of this will help you to learn more efficiently.
Whilst you’re at it, consider finding an IELTS speaking partner with whom you can speak on a regular basis. This sort of practice will prove immensely helpful.
5. Find Good Teachers and Resources
Thanks to the internet, there are now countless options for English and IELTS studies, but it can be difficult to find the right ones. If you choose wisely, you will make the learning process much easier and put yourself on the express route to success! However, if you choose badly, you’ll waste time, money, and effort.
So what do you do?
I’ve put together an IELTS reviews page that ranks IELTS websites, helping you to tell the good from the bad. I’ve also written about how to find good materials on Facebook and Instagram because social media is a pretty great way to learn new vocabulary each day.
Beyond that, here are a few pointers:
- Find reputable organisations (such as the British Council, BBC English, etc)
- Don’t trust anyone who makes outrageous claims
- Ignore people who talk about shortcuts and learning “tricks” for success
6. Be Persistent
This may seem obvious, but its importance cannot be overstated. Learning a language is a long and exhausting journey, and academic exams like IELTS make it even more frustrating. Everyone who studies for IELTS will reach a point where they think, “This is impossible!” However, it is never impossible and this is where they need to keep going.
So far, I have advocated various methods that will help you to learn effectively and continuously over a period of many months, but without the right attitude many people will not reach their goal. You have to stay focused and be persistent.
7. Learn from your Mistakes
We all make mistakes. It is a natural part of life. However, the difference between successful people and the others is that successful people learn from their mistakes.
When it comes to learning a language, making mistakes is something that happens many times each day. It could be spelling, grammar, pronunciation, or any number of other things. It is important that you don’t feel embarrassed or frustrated by these errors. Instead, just learn from them.
Of course, this means that you need to figure out how to identify your mistakes. That often means working with a good teacher, but even if you don’t have one you can still learn. Doing online tests can help, or working with a speaking partner. If you want to figure out what’s wrong with your IELTS writing, you can use my writing correction service.
Once you know what errors you are making, you can focus your attention on avoiding them. Mistakes are nothing to be ashamed of, but the fewer you make, the higher your IELTS score will be.
8. Take the Test Only When you are Ready
I said at the beginning that you should pick a realistic exam date. Well, as that date approaches you will need to ask yourself honestly whether or not you are ready. Exams are stressful and expensive, so don’t sit it unless you believe you are in a position to get your target score.
But how do you know?
I’ve talked already about various ways to assess your level and figure out your strengths and weaknesses. If you get used to these, you will realise whether or not you are at your target level. Let’s say your aim is to get band 7 in each section. If you routinely get just band 6.5 for writing, then I wouldn’t recommend sitting the exam. That’s because the real exam will probably be harder than the practice ones, in part due to nerves.
Before you sit the test, make sure that you can easily reach your target score in a range of practice tests. Have genuine experts assess your skills if possible. You can use my writing correction service or practice speaking tests to find out your score for those parts.
Note: Getting band 7 once in a practice writing test does not mean you will necessarily be able to do it in the real exam. The nature of IELTS means that your grade will often fluctuate, so you need to be able to do it consistently, and ideally you should be getting 7.5 in your practice tests before you sit an exam hoping to get band 7.
Learning English can be difficult and time-consuming and this is doubly true for IELTS. If you want to succeed, you need to have a good plan. Follow the advice above in order to have the best shot at success. Avoid false promises, shortcuts, tricks, and teachers who rely on gimmicks. Instead, put an emphasis on responsible learning and look out for genuinely gifted teachers and high-quality resources. If you set realistic goals and work hard, you will surely reach your target score.