There are many things you can do to improve your IELTS Score, and my website is full of advice on how to do this.
But the aim of this article is to see how your MINDSET might be holding you back. I will consider the most common reasons my students give for not making progress, and I’ll suggest action points for each one.
Disclaimer: These reasons apply to many areas of life and we all use them. I am not criticising your behaviour. I just want to share what my students tell me, and offer help where I can. Here are the 6 mindset issues we need to tackle:
- I don’t have enough time.
- I don’t have enough money.
- I don’t need to prepare yet.
- I’m confused by all the information.
- I don’t have any motivation.
- I need guidance.
Do any of these apply to you?
1. I don’t have enough time
What this really means: studying is not a priority for me right now.
We all have to juggle work, family commitments, household chores and leisure activities. But if you want to see progress you have to FIND time and make sacrifices.
Action point #1: Manage your time
Keep a diary of how you use your time. Analyse the results – do you notice a lot of your time going on something you could give up, just until you get your IELTS score?
- Social Media/Netflix/Gaming: I am the WORST person to talk about wasting time on my phone – probably at least 2 hours a day. What to do? Allow yourself a fixed time each day. Schedule this time in your calendar. Set an alarm on your phone. Or get an app that limits your screen time.
Time saved: At least one hour a day.
- Wasted time: waiting for a bus/train, at the doctor’s, while your kids go to clubs etc. These are times when we might just scroll on social media. Can you carry something with you to work on instead, like your IELTS vocabulary revision notebook?
Time saved: I make my weekly IELTS podcast on my phone while my son has a French lesson. This routine gives me an hour a week block of focused concentration.
2. I don’t have enough money
What this really means: studying is not a priority for me right now.
Improving your IELTS score is going to cost you time and/or money.
We’ve talked about ways of creating more time to study. But if you have a job or you’re studying at university, it’s likely that you are time poor, so you don’t have time to go through all the free stuff.
This is one reason why online courses may be better for you, as they can give you the necessary materials in bite-sized pieces to save time.
But many people don’t want to pay for help. Why not?
I think that when people ask me for a discount or say my lessons are too expensive, what they’re really saying is:
- ‘I’d rather spend my money on other things.’ [= IELTS is not a priority right now]
- ‘I don’t see the value in your course.’ [= ‘I don’t understand how it’s different from the free materials’].
Also, asking for a discount is another delaying tactic. If a $20 discount is the deciding factor when buying my course, it is clear that you do not really want to do a course. It gives you another reason to delay your preparation. A discount will not make any difference to whether you pass or fail, but a good course will.
Action point #2: Prioritise your spending
The IELTS test is not cheap, yet people tell me that they will happily pay the $200 test fee every month (though they say they can’t afford to pay for tuition). This seems to be the wrong way round.
You need to decide what your priorities are when it comes to spending money on IELTS. Is it better to lose $200 every month hoping to increase your score? Or is it better to use that money on a course that will improve your chances of increasing your score?
3.I don’t need to prepare yet
What this really means: I don’t want to prepare yet
IELTS preparation takes months and sometimes years. Why? Because you are not just preparing for a test. You can’t simply memorise information. You are learning how to use a language. [Try my IELTS Progress Predictor to see how long it might take you].
So when people ask if they can join my course for just a month because their test is next month, I say no. Why? One month is simply not enough time to make any difference to your IELTS score. You need a minimum of 3 months’ intensive study to start seeing progress.
Action point #3: make a plan
Make studying a priority NOW. Don’t put it off until it gets too late. New language takes time and lots of practice before it can be assimilated and used naturally.
If you were planning to run a marathon in 6 months’ time, you would start training NOW. There may be days when you can’t train – sick days, rainy days, holidays, unexpected days. 6 months suddenly becomes 3 months and then it’s too late. Start training NOW.
[This is a funny Ted Talk about people who leave all their preparation till the day before the deadline. Don’t watch it now! Stay focused!]
4. I’m confused by all the information
I totally understand how confusing IELTS can be – I have taught it for the last 20 years, and experience my students’ confusion on a daily basis!
It doesn’t help that there are so many tutors online, many of them saying different things.
There are lots of fantastic IELTS websites, and lots of rubbish ones. Every teacher has their own style, so maybe it’s better to go with the person whose teaching style suits you best. Then you’ll be more likely to stick with them, feel motivated by them and make good progress.
This strategy means that you are less likely to jump from website to website getting more and more confused. This will also save time.
Action point #4: Make a to-do list
Make a to-do list of everything you need to cover to prepare for the IELTS Test (like the one in my free 28-Day Planner). Keep it near your desk, on a piece of paper, so that you can tick things off as you work through them.
This will help you see the test more clearly in terms of the skills required for the different question types and band criteria.
Be intentional: plan what you’re going to do with each block of time that you created in #1, and then tick off each activity as you work your way through the list.
5. I don’t have any motivation
Getting the same result over and over again despite all your efforts can be extremely demotivating and you may start to lose confidence in your ability to achieve the score you need.
IELTS is not just about language – it’s also about mindset, e.g. the way you tackle a difficult reading/listening passage (dismissing questions you can’t answer, making educated guesses, ignoring distractors) or cope with a tricky Writing Task 2/Speaking Part 3 (thinking academically, looking at the bigger picture, showing awareness of the issues).
This all comes with time. It’s something you develop alongside your language skills.
Action point #5: increase your motivation
- Break down the material into manageable chunks (I’ve done this for you in my 28-Day Planner).
- Study in short bursts.
- Understand the topics – don’t just memorise lists/templates.
- Remember that all of this work is temporary.
- Make learning active and interesting.
- Study in a group.
How can I study in a group?
There are many IELTS communities on Facebook. Try to find a smaller group where you feel more confident about posting and asking questions, and one which is not constantly spammed with links/illegal downloads that will distract you.
Find a small group of like-minded enthusiasts who can support you, ideally where the admin is an IELTS teacher (like me!).
6. I need guidance
The final point brings us back to point #1.
It is fine to study by yourself and use free materials (this strategy gives you information only), but there may come a time when you get stuck and you need help (this brings transformation).
A good teacher will cover solve most of these mindset issues. They will:
- give you a roadmap for learning
- give you personal feedback (something that free websites can’t do)
- identify your weakpoints and point you towards the right materials to fix them
- motivate you and monitor your progress
- answer your questions and clarify your doubts.
- give you deadlines make sure that you take action
To sum up
I hope this article has given you some areas to consider before you jump onto the next website or download the next free PDF.
The world of English language learning is a very noisy one, and it’s difficult to stay focused when there are so many options to choose from.
You need to stop drifting and start planning. All of the action points above will help you do this.
Action point #6: Choose an action point
Have you identified which of these mindset issues apply to you? I would love to know how I can help – please let me know what YOU think is holding you back (in the comments).
5 reasons why your IELTS score is not increasing. (have you hit an IELTS plateau?)
How to write a Band 9 Essay.
How to get Band 7 in the IELTS Test.
How long will it take to increase my IELTS score?
14 simple ways to improve your IELTS Writing score.
Get more free grammar lessons here.
Get more free Writing Task 2 lessons here.