I have been teaching IELTS for almost ten years, and in that time I have had hundreds of students ask me the same questions: “How can I succeed at IELTS?” or “How can I get a band 7?”
Many of them want a simple answer, but there is none.
Succeeding at IELTS is a matter of learning a language, and that is never easy. If you want to score a band 7 in IELTS, you need to be able to speak English very well, and that means speaking it, writing it, reading it, and listening to it.
In short, there are no shortcuts.
But don’t worry! It is possible to learn English quickly, and to improve your IELTS score significantly. You just need to be realistic and hard-working.
Know Your Current Level
It is really important to know what your current IELTS level is because then you can formulate a plan to improve. You can also begin to look at materials that are appropriate for your level, and work more effectively.
It is also important to know your current approximate band score because it can give you realistic goals and improve your psychological state in regards the IELTS exam. For example, if you know that you are a band 5.5, you would not expect to score a band 7 next week. If you expected to score a 7 but only got a 6, you may feel disappointed. Instead, you should look for incremental improvements.
In studying languages, expectations are important. You need to seek improvement, but if you expect too much, your disappointment may cause you to lose interest. When you feel you have “failed”, you may spend less time studying, or look to take shortcuts.
Knowing your current level can allow you to set realistic goals for progress, and to stick to a healthy regime of training. It will allow you to work positively towards the next step, and to continue your development until you reach your ultimate target.
Training for IELTS can be boring. I think every student knows that. However, that is only true if you are just studying IELTS materials. The IELTS exam is pretty limited in scope, and it is common for students to fixate too much on it. For example, some students will write dozens of writing task 1 reports about line graphs. Eventually, they become sick and tired of seeing the same material over and over.
As I mentioned above, IELTS is a test of your English ability. If you speak English well, you will not struggle in the IELTS exam. Therefore, it makes sense not just to practice specific IELTS techniques, but to work on your general English skills.
Here are some ideas of how to do that:
- Get a speaking partner (or a friend) and practice having conversations in English each day. Don’t worry about making mistakes; this is just a matter of building up confidence and fluency.
- Listen to podcasts and watch your favourite movies and TV shows. In fact, listen to or watch anything in English. Over time, you understanding of English will improve greatly. I have known students who watch the news every day and their English listening skills are great.
- Throw yourself into everyday situations where English is used. If you can do it, go travel! If there is some place nearby where people habitually use English, go and join in. Don’t be shy; just get involved.
- Read novels, articles, news stories, and so on. A little reading each day will help you a lot. Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything – even native speakers sometimes come across words or ideas they don’t understand. Instead, soak up the language like a sponge. If you see anything useful, such as vocabulary or a grammatical expression, write it down in a notebook.
- In fact, try keeping a notebook of language. When you read or hear something interesting, write it down. You can check Google later to see how native speakers use it in everyday situations.
- Get used to writing in English, even if it’s just a short post on social media. Even though it may not seem helpful, if you often write things in English, it will help you. You can post on Facebook or write a blog. Try getting on an interesting subreddit and start a conversation with people. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. It’s about practice and communication.
Follow this advice, and your English studies will be much more fun and rewarding.
You can also look on YouTube for helpful videos about English or IELTS, like this one on how to write a great essay:
Self-study is really important, but you should also seek out expert advice if possible. Try searching for IELTS classes (or general English classes) in your local area. Working together with others in a structured but open environment is really important.
If you can’t find such a class, you can find online English teachers to help you. I will soon be starting online IELTS classes through Skype, so let me know if you want my help 😉 I also run a writing correction service, which is another really important way to improve your IELTS skills. By knowing what mistakes you make, you can work towards improving much faster.
There are so many online courses and books that you can use as well. Remember, though, that not all materials are equal. Check the reviews and recommendations to see which ones are the best, and of course look to see whether they are appropriate for your level.
Attitude is Everything
I have known lots of people who study English and other languages and there is one thing that ensures success above all others – attitude. You can have the best teachers and the best books, but if you don’t care about what you’re learning, you will not get far. On the other hand, if you have a positive attitude, you will always succeed.
It is important to visualize your own reasons for learning English and taking the IELTS exam. Maybe you are doing it for immigration purposes, or perhaps in order to get into your dream school. Whatever the case, keep your goal in mind, and don’t lose focus. This positive mental attitude will help you when times get tough.
It doesn’t matter whether you study English or Chinese or Italian, if you really care about the language, you will pick it up. Maybe it’s just from watching movies or speaking with friends, rather than reading textbooks and studying with a teacher, but I know for sure that those who have a true passion for the language will eventually become expert users.
When doing a test like IELTS, it is easy to get discouraged. Sometimes it is boring and sometimes it seems too hard to prepare; however, a positive mental attitude will overcome these stumbling blocks and let you reach your goal.
Taking the Test
When you are on the road to IELTS success, you sometimes get impatient and just want to do the exam. When I was teaching in China, my students would often schedule many IELTS exams over the course of a year, and just do the exam again and again… They weren’t ready for it the first few times, but their parents insisted.
I personally found this to be a waste of time and money, and it was also very stressful for them. Inevitably, they scored band 5, when they wanted a band 7. It was too early for them to take the exam. Of course, China is a high-pressure society, where parents push their children too much.
It is best to follow my guide and take your time. Don’t think that you will get lucky and score highly in the exam. Make a coherent plan. Study hard, set realistic goals, and aim to do your exam when you are ready.
You should, however, incorporate some practice exams into your studies. Do these once every few weeks, and note your progress. When you feel that you are close to your ultimate goal, then you should book the real thing. If you are scoring band 5.5, and you need a band 7, don’t sit the exam. You will just end up feeling dejected.
When doing practice exams, remember to stick to real exam conditions. If you take 2 hours to do a reading exam or use a dictionary when doing the writing, you are not adequately preparing yourself. You should stick to the real conditions as much as possible or else you will be shocked on exam day when you run out of time.
In conclusion, you should be realistic and hard-working. Don’t look to take shortcuts or expect your score to magically improve in a short period of time. IELTS is a reflection of your actual English level, and you should aim to study all areas of English in order to prepare. Only sit the exam when you know you are ready and have a good chance of achieving your desired band score.