Preparing for IELTS is a daunting task. Regardless of your English level, it is stressful and exhausting, and getting the band score you need always seems so difficult. There are thousands of websites, Facebook groups, and message boards online offering help with IELTS preparation, but the information can be overwhelming.
What I’m going to offer you today is a simplified approach that I call a two-pronged attack. This means that you just take two approaches, rather than remember dozens of different ideas. I will call these approaches general focus and specific focus.
If you are studying IELTS – and indeed, if you are reading this without translation software – then you can read English, and have probably been an English user for some time. You probably began using English long ago in simple classes or with simple books. You probably began with “Hello, my name ____” and so on.
People learn languages every day and they start with a very general focus. Most of them continue with that general focus, and it is enough to get them through life. We pick up language by studying and by immersion. We learn the names of the things around us, and get a grasp of basic grammar. Unless you are learning English for business or study, you probably will only need general focus. However, the IELTS exam also requires a more specific focus, which we will return to later.
So how can general focus studying help you with IELTS?
Most students want to know how to pass the IELTS quickly. I hear it every day from my students. They want to know shortcuts to success. However, there are no shortcuts. There are no tricks to passing the IELTS. I made this video about it:
Instead of trying to memorize essays and predict speaking questions, you should work hard increase your overall English ability. The IELTS is a great test of English skill. A native speaker would get a really, really high score even if he had never seen an IELTS exam before! This is because general English is more important than actual exam preparation. If you taught the IELTS structure and question types to someone with no English ability whatsoever, they wouldn’t be able to answer any questions right.
Then how do I do general focus?
General focus means practicing your English every day without just looking at IELTS materials. Some students think that as soon as they begin preparing for IELTS, they should only prepare for IELTS.
This is a mistake.
Instead, you should continue to set aside some time each day – at least 30 minutes, and ideally more than 60 minutes – for general English practice. This could be listening to or reading the news, talking with people online, or whatever. As long as you are using English and actively paying attention, it is good practice.
Here are some ideas:
· Listen to a podcast while you go to work
· Read a few pages of a novel before bed
· Find a subreddit devoted to your hobby or interest, and talk with others
· Subscribe to an interesting YouTube channel
· Get a speaking partner and have Skype conversations
There are so many ways to improve your English. Don’t worry if it’s related to IELTS or not. In the end, almost all English practice will push you further towards IELTS success!
By “specific focus” I mean actual IELTS training. This is probably what brought you to my website. People like me and countless others post materials online to help you get better at IELTS. We offer all sorts of advice and practice, and this is really important. However, it all requires that you already have some basic grasp of English first.
Specific IELTS training will look at one of the four sections of the IELTS exam:
It will offer you advice or practice on how to do better. For example, how to structure your IELTS writing essays or how to increase your reading speed for the reading exam.
Here are some popular articles I have written to help IELTS students:
How to plan specific focus practice
Firstly, you need to honestly assess your IELTS goals and abilities. Take the IELTS exam and see what your weakest section is. For many students, it’s the writing part. Then you need to spend time working on your weakest skills. But don’t neglect the others. Just because you did well in reading doesn’t mean you can’t improve your score!
Find a teacher or a good textbook, or follow the advice from a useful website like mine, and then set about training yourself to do well in each part of the exam. Become familiar with the questions and content. Don’t fall for any shortcuts, but rather make yourself an IELTS expert!
You also need to find a reasonable balance between general and specific focus. For someone with a high degree of fluency, it makes sense to practice specific focus more. However, for those whose fluency is relatively low, it would be a waste of time to do too much specific focus training.
Let me explain:
I have many students in my classes. Some of them struggle badly with grammar, but they are determined to get a high score in IELTS so they spend lots of time studying specific IELTS techniques. However, the problem is that they aren’t doing enough general focus, so although they improve in some small way, their problem remains.
My suggestion is this:
· If you got a band 5.0-6.0 you should spend 75% of your time doing general focus and 25% on specific focus.
· If you got a band 6.5 -7.0 you should spend 50% of your time on each.
· For candidates with a score higher than 7.0, you should probably spend most of your time on IELTS techniques.