It is the beginning of a New Year and so it is a good time to make plans. However, it is important to make realistic ones. I would like to offer a few thoughts and a simple strategy for all IELTS learners.

Step #1 – Identify your Current Level

Before you make plans and set goals, it is important to know what your current level is. Be honest with yourself. What are your strengths and weakness? Consider the following:

  1. How good is my grammar?
  2. Do I know enough about the exam?
  3. How disciplined am I?
  4. What are my English weaknesses?
  5. What am I best at?

It is important to be truthful and fair when assessing your own abilities. That means be critical… but not too critical. Whilst some people overestimate their abilities, others do the opposite and constantly doubt themselves. These are both big problems.

One good idea is to take an IELTS practice test. Do it under realistic conditions and then check your score to find out your current level. This is easy for reading and listening, but for speaking and writing you will need an expert. Check out my writing correction service and mock speaking tests.

Step #2 – Set your Goal

Once you know where you are, you can start thinking about where you want to go. Be realistic or else you will set yourself on course for disappointment. For example, if you are currently at about band 5, then it would be unrealistic to aim for a band 8 in the next few months. The jump is just too large.

You need to consider the various factors:

  1. Why do you need to do IELTS?
  2. What is the purpose of your score?
  3. What would happen if you did not get this score?
  4. When do you need to reach your goal?

For many people around the world, the magic words are “band 7.” This is really common for universities and immigration departments. They want to know that candidates have a band 7 in IELTS because that signifies that they are a good user of English.

Set your target and then you will be ready to plan your journey.

Step #3 – Make a Realistic Plan

This is probably the hardest part. Let’s say you now have two pieces of information:

  1. My current level is band 6.
  2. My target level is band 7.

How do you proceed?

There are various factors to consider first of all you make sure you understand what band 7 really means. For many people, it is just a magical and seemingly impossible goal, but it is not. Having a band 7 in IELTS means that you are a good user of English, capable of having relatively fluent conversations. You will be able to read and listen quite easily and to express yourself in a sufficient way.

You should think about the different parts of the test, too. Most people find that writing is the hardest part and that reading and listening are easier. Why is this? What do you need to do to get a band 7 in IELTS writing? These are important questions.

Learning about IELTS is the first step here. This can help you to plan your progress. Once you know your own level, your target, and understand the test, you can begin to formulate a plan.

IELTS Prep Case Study

Let’s look at a case study.

  • Name: Weiwei
  • Current level: Band 6.5
  • Specifics: Listening 8; Reading 7; Speaking 6; Writing 6
  • Target level: Band 7.5

How should Weiwei plan her studies?

First of all, she should plan on doing less listening practice because her skill in this area is already quite advanced. Instead, she clearly needs to work on her speaking and writing abilities. That is the first and most important factor to consider.

Beyond that, Weiwei needs to look at specific strengths and weaknesses. She should book a practice speaking test or find a teacher to help her diagnose her problems. When she does, she might find that her pronunciation is great but her grammar is poor. This could be the main issue for her writing score, too.

Once she knows her specific strengths and weaknesses, she can prepare better:

  • Strengths: Pronunciation, spelling, vocabulary (range)
  • Weaknesses: Grammar, confidence, vocabulary (accuracy)

It is not easy to jump from 6.5 to 7.5 but it can be done in a few months if your practice is extremely efficient. Weiwei will do the following:

Month #1 – Buy a new grammar book and work on fixing grammatical problems; Read 2 articles each day and make notes on vocabulary, re-using it in practice writing sessions; Attend open speaking practice sessions at a local café; Sign up for English-language writing course online.

Month #2 – Focus more intently on specific areas of grammatical weakness; Read more and practice writing summaries; Find online speaking partner; Do daily writing practice and seek essay corrections; Listen to TED talks and podcasts for occasional listening practice, then make notes on vocabulary use.

Month #3 – More practice tests; Continue tackling specific grammar problems; Read longer passages; Daily short listening sessions; Speak English for 15 mins each day; Practice error-correction in writing test.

At this point, Weiwei would be in a good position to attempt her next IELTS test. Of course, she should not book a test date until she is totally ready, but with such an intense schedule, she could definitely make a good attempt at scoring 7.5.

Why is this a good strategy?

Fundamentally, the hardest part of IELTS is learning to speak English. Once you hit a level of about 6.5, you need to work on removing errors and fine-tuning your understanding of the test. These are not easy… but they are much easier than learning a whole language from scratch!

People make a lot of mistake in IELTS preparation, one of which is trying to learn loads of new vocabulary. It’s good to learn new words, but it’s better to make sure that you really know the ones you’ve already learned. Being accurate is very important.

I keep talking about strengths and weaknesses and this is also really important. If there’s something at which you excel, you don’t need to work so hard on improving. Instead, find the weaknesses and deal with them. This will help you a lot.

Step #4 – Stick to the Plan

It is hard to learn new things and achieve difficult goals. Perseverance is really important, particularly when you feel a sense of failure. IELTS can often seem overwhelming, but you should continue in an intelligent fashion. Sometimes, success seems impossible right until you achieve it.

It can help to keep visualising your goal. Imagine what life will be like once you have gotten band 7 or 8… Keep that in your mind and remind yourself that you can do it if you keep trying.