Hi I’m Fiona and I sell online IELTS preparation courses through my Members Academy.
The aim of this blog is to help you choose the best IELTS course for YOU.
I would recommend reading Part 1 (“Read this before you buy an online IELTS course”) before you read this blog.
Scroll down to get my free checklist guide to help you choose the best IELTS course.
What kind of online IELTS courses are available?
If you’re preparing to take the IELTS test, there are plenty of options.
- study by yourself, using free resources such as YouTube, Google and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)
- buy a self-study online course or book (without a teacher)
- join an online school/academy/study programme (with a teacher)
- get a private tutor.
- go to your school/university classes or a private language school in your country or abroad.
The cost obviously ranges from free to expensive (Options 1-5 respectively) and, in my experience, the length of time it takes to improve your score ranges from Option 1 (studying by yourself – the longest amount of time) to Option 5 (the shortest – hiring a tutor or going to a language school in an English-Speaking country).
This blog will focus on the ‘best of both worlds’ option because that is what I know about most of all – online courses with support from a teacher.
If this is the option you’re looking for, this blog will help you ask the right questions so that you choose the course or provider that works best for your needs.
Having taken a LOT of online courses myself, and having been disappointed by the majority of them, I’ve written a checklist of questions that I now ask before I buy an ANY online course or join an online study programme.
Disclaimer: I confess to being slightly biased because I only know my own online IELTS course.
Questions to ask the IELTS course provider
1. Course Quality
Who created the course and its materials?
The credentials of the course provider/tutor are possibly the most important part of a course.
Ask the course provider these questions:
- Do you have a recognised teaching qualification?
Most TEFL teachers in the UK start with a basic 4-week ‘survival course’ called the CELTA or CertTESOL. This usually means that they have had 6 hours of teaching practice (or maybe no actual teaching experience, if they did an online course), so make sure that you check how many years of actual teaching experience they have had since qualifying.
Look for a DTEFLA qualification or equivalent as a minimum (Diploma). This means the teacher has had at least 2 years of teaching practice.
A teacher who has done an MA in a subject related to teaching would be further evidence of knowledge and experience.
- Do you specialise in IELTS?
We all know that IELTS is a weird test. Check to see if the tutor or company’s blog and free online materials show a clear understanding of IELTS.
- Do you have any experience of being an IELTS examiner?
Teachers who have been through the rigorous standardisation and recertification procedures that you need in order to qualify as an IELTS examiner have a better knowledge of how the Speaking and Writing tests are marked and graded than those who have not.
- Do you follow any specific teaching methodology?
It might be good to check if the teacher is using any methodology that might not be suitable for IELTS e.g. ‘English with Fun and Laughter’.
- How long has this course been running?
Since Covid, a lot of course providers have moved online in a hurry but it takes weeks and months to create a high-quality well-designed course with all the materials and resources that should accompany it.
Technology has made it very easy to throw a course together almost overnight, just by putting all your live Zoom sessions online. Although the teacher might cover the materials, it will not be the most efficient way of learning, as you’ll have to sit through hours of unedited ‘Can you see my slides?’ type videos.
Check out the ‘Course Content’ questions to make sure that you won’t be just listening to a head talking.
Other things you can check:
- Is there any free content available?
Many teachers these days have a YouTube channel and a website, so you can see if you like their teaching style. See if you can get a demo lesson or trial.
- Are there any reviews of the course?
Reviews are important but you can’t always rely on them. I have bought many courses that got great reviews, including video testimonials, that did not live up to the hype. The same goes for success rates. Course providers (myself included) tend only to publish success stories, and teachers have very different teaching styles, so again, check out their free options first to see if their style suits your way of learning.
- Does the teacher have a social media presence?
Teachers aren’t always on social media, but you would expect to find them or their company online. LinkedIn would be a good starting point, as it is a place for professional profiles.
- How big are the classes?
The smaller the class size, the more individual attention you can expect from the teacher. Zoom Meetings (for small numbers) allow you to chat with your teacher and classmates, whereas Zoom Webinars (up to 200 students) only allow you to listen. Smaller numbers also mean that the teacher will get to know you better and be able to help you more.
TOP TIP: Run a mile from any company that discriminates against non-native teachers or who advertise themselves as “native speaker teachers only”. Being able to speak your own language does not qualify you as a good teacher.
2. Course Content
What does the course consist of?
There are lots of questions to ask here. Check to see if the course includes:
- Edited videos (not just replays of Zoom sessions and people talking at you)
- Printable materials (PDFs, worksheets, checklists, models, grammar exercises)
- Interactive, engaging materials (e.g. quizzes, flashcards)
- Study Skills materials (to motivate you to be a self-learner)
- Revision/extension materials
- Self-check materials
- Mock Tests
- Live lessons
- Individual Writing and Speaking Feedback
- Peer review opportunities
- Private Community
- Access to the teacher
- Regular updates/new lessons
It is important to understand the difference between a courses and a membership.
Courses (without a teacher) tend to give you lifetime access to the materials. There are pros and cons to this. (I have bought several lifetime courses that I have never used, and there is no-one to help you when you get stuck. It’s like learning to swim by reading a book).
Memberships like my Members Academy work more like a gym – you only have access to the lessons while you’re paying for them. Memberships usually include live lessons, feedback and access to the teacher when you need help.
3. Course Structure
If you can get all the materials you need for free on Google, why would you buy a course?
Courses should provide you with a clear structure, so that you cover everything you need to do and also, if you need to, you can start with the basics and work your way up to the more advanced materials.
Ask these questions:
- Is there an Individual Learning Plan?
- Do you have to complete everything before you can move on?
- Can you work at your own pace?
- Do you get access to all of the materials when you join?
- Do the materials cater for different levels?
- Do the materials cater for different learning styles? (e.g. audio, video, worksheets, interactive elements, gamification, slides, images etc)
- Are the materials IELTS-related (e.g. I’ve seen some terrible examples e.g. a lesson about question tags – “Snow is white, isn’t it?”)
- Are the materials pedagogically sound? (e.g. I have a student whose IELTS tutor told her to improve her reading skills by reading aloud – possibly the least effective way to improve your reading skills).
4. Course Community
Studying alone can be a very lonely and frustrating experience.
- Can you easily connect with other learners?
- Can you easily connect with the teacher?
- What platform do they use to chat?
- How active is the community?
Most students make faster progress when they have access to a tutor to guide them and give them feedback.
Tutor availability varies considerably between courses.
- Are you able to ask questions to the tutor?
- Can you get regular writing feedback? (How detailed, how often)
- Can you get speaking feedback? (How often? What format)
Accessibility is hugely important – however wonderful the course is, if you can’t access it easily, there will be a barrier to your learning.
- be in Multiple formats (videos, slides, PDFs, interactive)
- includes Tapescripts or captions
- allow you to ask questions on each lesson
Videos should ideally:
- be privately hosted (not publicly available on YouTube)
- have ‘bookmarks’ or ‘chapters’ so you can skip ahead
7. Red flags
Please see my previous blog (How to choose the Best IELTS Course Part 1) for in-depth advice about ‘danger signals’ such as:
- offering fake discounts
- using ‘scare’ tactics
- lying about course availability
- putting pressure on you to join
Is the course provider using any of these dodgy sales tactics? If so, go and find someone more trustworthy.
8. Unique selling points
I hope that this blog and checklist has helped you think carefully about which IELTS course provider you go for.
At the end of the day, the idiom “horses for courses” stands true: different people are suited to different things.
Your final decision may depend on which provider stands out as being the best for your needs and your budget, or the one who provides just something extra that the others don’t have (‘unique selling points’).
Your final questions to the provider might be:
- what makes you different?
- why should I choose your course?
- what will I get from your course that I won’t get from the others?
Remember to check for positives AND negatives:
- Are there any additional benefits or perks included? The Members Academy gives you Premium access to other learning tools such as CommonLit.
- Are there any extra expenses/charges? For example many courses charge an extra fee to ask follow-up questions, or force you to book a 1:1 review.
It is impossible for anyone to recommend a course unless they have experienced it first hand.
I have never bought anyone else’s IELTS course, so I can only base my recommendations on
- what I know of the teacher through any interactions I have had with them
- the quality of their published materials
- the way they conduct themselves with students
It goes without saying that IELTS-Liz is excellent resource, and here are some more that are in the same league. The list below is in alphabetical order.
Simon is a well-known and trusted IELTS expert who’s been blogging and helping students on his IELTS-Simon website. He has just launched a paid option which I am sure will tick many of the boxes in the checklist.
Keith needs no introduction from me as he’s world- famous! There’s a reason for that, and his Speaking and Pronunciation courses get rave reviews. He gives so much to his students so I would have no hesitation recommending his courses.
Key to IELTS (Pauline Cullen)
I’ve bought all of Pauline’s study books (which are very similar to courses) and always refer back to them when students ask me questions about things they’ve heard on the internet that are wrong! Pauline is the ultimate IELTS guru, having actually written IELTS test papers.
I first heard about David Wills through his IELTS books. They are very high quality and give ample evidence of his knowledge of the test and his ability to help students. You can clearly see his genuine concern for his students, and I appreciate his ‘no BS’ approach. His YouTube videos are clear, logical and thoughtful. He doesn’t have a course but does provide excellent Writing error correction.
New and Upcoming
I keep discovering new IELTS people all the time. Please let me know if there’s anyone I’ve missed.
- NEWLY Published! ‘IELTS Writing: Grammar and Vocabulary’ by Erica L. Meltzer of ‘The Critical Reader’.
Whenever I chat to Erica about IELTS, she makes TOTAL SENSE. She is highly-regarded in the field of SAT Tests, having published several books, and her new IELTS book is a joy to read.
This book covers everything you need to develop your grammar and vocabulary for IELTS. It’s well-organised and easy to follow with very relevant examples, common mistakes and very useful checklists.
- Will from EnglishTrainers.org is growing a huge fanbase on his website packed full of IELTS-related materials. It’s free but you need to register for an account. If you tell Will that Fiona sent you, you’ll get one week of FREE Speaking classes with Will! (Will’s daily Speaking classes are included when you join the Members Academy).
Do you need motivation, high-quality materials, a roadmap, feedback, guidance and an IELTS specialist teacher?
Upgrade to the Members Academy today.
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