Do you think that one week is enough time to prepare for the IELTS test? How about one month? How about 3 months?
You would not believe the amount of emails I get every day that sound something like this: “I have my test next week, what do I need to do to get a 7.5 in all areas?’’ If you have only one week before your test and you have not studied at all, you are in serious trouble. Below I will outline what you should do if you have 1 week, 1 month or 3 months to prepare for your test.
Chances of getting the scores you need: Very low.
There are two things you need to consider here: your general level of English and your test skills. First and foremost, the IELTS test is an English language test. There are certain techniques you can learn that will help you boost your scores for grammar and vocabulary in Writing and Speaking, but you won’t be able to do this in a week. Likewise, it is very unlikely that you will be able to improve your pronunciation or reading/listening skills in just one week.
Secondly, there are four different tests you need to familiarise yourself with. For example, there are around 10 different types of reading question and any of them might be on your test. You need to be able to identify each different question type and then have a unique strategy for each of them. This takes a long period of time to learn and we are only talking about reading.
There are also five different types of Writing Task 2 question. One of them is Advantages and Disadvantages, but you can’t simply learn one structure for this type of question because there are three different types of Advantages and Disadvantages question and they all require a different approach.
Are you getting the point? Even if you did nothing else apart from IELTS for a week, you would still not be prepared.
What should you do?
I would advise doing one of two things. If you have the money, then do the test. This will give you very valuable experience and you will probably perform much better next time.
If you don’t have the money, then I would try to move your test date to something more realistic and prepare properly.
Below we will talk about having one month and then three months (the optimum time) to prepare for the test.
Chances of getting the score you need: low to moderate.
This really depends on your current English level. If you currently have a high level of English then all you need to do is to learn proper exam technique and you should be able to get the score you need. However, if your English level is quite low you are less likely to get the score you need.
This is because exam technique (learning strategies for each of the questions) does not take as long as learning the language itself.
It takes around 200 guided learning hours for a student to go up one level of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR).
For example, someone who is currently at B1 level (intermediate) would probably need 200 hours of study to go to B2 level (upper-intermediate). Don’t listen to schools that tell you that you can do it in a much shorter period of time; they are just telling you what you want to hear in order to get your money.
You therefore need to be realistic about your goals.
What should you do?
You need to prioritise two things: improving your general level of English and learning exam technique.
If you only have one month you should surround yourself with English. You should be listening and reading to English as much as possible. You should also be writing and talking in English whenever you get a chance. Don’t know how to achieve this? The links below will give you great ideas.
You must also learn about all of the different types of questions and how to approach them for Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. The great thing about IELTS is that it is fairly predictable. For example, if you are doing General Training Writing, you should know that the test is split into 2 parts. Part 1 will ask you to write a formal or informal letter. It is quite easy to learn how to write one of these letters. If you can do this for all of the different types of questions, for all sections, you will have a good chance of getting a decent score.
Look at the pages below that will show you exam technique for the four main areas:
Chances of getting the score you need: Good.
The longer you have to study, the better, but for most students 3 months is the optimal amount of time. This will allow you to plan out your study schedule, improve your exam technique and improve your general level of English.
What should you do?
As above, you need to improve your general level of English and your exam technique, but you will have much more time, therefore you will be able to achieve more.
You should focus on the following things for general English:
5. Reading skills
6. Listening skills
However, everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, so my advice would be to focus on the things you are not good at the most.
Below you will find links to articles of each of these:
Grammar is difficult to give advice on because everyone makes different grammar mistakes. What you should do is get a good English teacher to mark you writing and listen to your speaking. They will then be able to identify your common mistakes. You can then review these grammar points and practice to become better at using them. Most English learners have 3-4 common mistakes and fixing them can really boost your score.
As stated above, you should surround yourself with English. However, don’t listen to or read boring IELTS past papers. Boring things will, obviously, make you bored and you are more likely to quit. Instead, find something you are actually interested in and use it. For example, I really love History; therefore, a good way for me to learn Japanese would be to read about the history of that country in Japanese. I could also find a Japanese podcast about history and listen to that. That way I will be enjoying myself and improving my language skills at the same time.
For exam technique, it is very important that you familiarise yourself with all of the different question types and then have a strategy, or method, for that question. For example, on the reading test you might be asked if a question is ‘True, False or Not Given’. You need to understand the difference between these three options and also have a technique for answering them.
You will also need to practice using this technique by doing some past exam papers, so that you will be able to repeat this in the real exam.
See my links below to my main pages which have most of the different question types and strategies for you:
Top Tip- Schedule Your Study
This is probably the most important part of this article. As human beings, we tend to think that we have more time than we actually do, in order to achieve something. Lots of students have 3 months to study and they do a little bit of work every week for the first 2 and a half months and then realise that their exam is next week and they still know very little.
Don’t let this happen to you by scheduling your study.
First of all, you must stop doing non-essential things for the entire time before your exam. Stop checking Facebook every 10 minutes, playing games on your phone, wasting time with friends or watching TV. These non-productive things waste an unbelievable amount of time that could be better spent improving your chances of getting the score you need. This might sound harsh, but if you want to get a seriously high score, you have to work seriously hard. For me, hard work is the number one differential. It doesn’t matter how intelligent you are or how naturally good you are at learning English, if you work hard, you will get the scores you need.
You should do the following things:
1. Make a list of all of the things you need to do before you do the test. These should be as specific as possible e.g. learn technique for part 2 of speaking test, listen to podcast every day, read 4 English newspaper articles each day, practice test etc.
2. Work out how much free time you have every day from now until your test.
3. Get a calendar (make your own calendar or use an electronic one) and fill out what you are going to do every day before your test.
4. Tick off every day and every task you complete as you do them.
5. Don’t skip. If you miss something, go back and do it.
If you follow the advice above you will be more prepared that 95% of people doing the test.
One of my students recently got great results following this system. You can read about her story here.