I’ve been teaching IELTS for over 20 years, and although I think it’s a very good test, I find that many students struggle with the mindset that is required to do well in it.
The main issue I see is that students underestimate how challenging it is and how long it will take them to improve their score. (Students often ask if they can join the Academy for just a month).
IELTS is not a test of knowledge – it is a test of skill.
You can improve your knowledge of a subject quite quickly by studying facts, but you cannot improve a skill quickly (think about how long it might take you to learn how to drive a car the first time, or do a back flip).
I often compare the preparation to preparing for a marathon (26 miles/44 km). You could might be able to do it without any training, but it would be long and painful and you probably wouldn’t be happy with the result.
Follow my tips and I’m sure you’ll do a lot better.
My top 10 tips for IELTS preparation
1. Start early
‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint’.
Being able to run a marathon in a reasonable time (4-5 hours) takes time and preparation, and so does a Band 7+. It can take at least 6 months to increase your IELTS band score by 0.5.
So be realistic about how much time it takes to develop your language skills. Don’t leave your preparation until last-minute.
Action point: Start NOW.
2. Plan your journey
‘Look where you’re going and not where you’ve been’ .
Make sure you know where you’re going and check out the route so that you don’t take a wrong turn and get lost.
There is a LOT of information available online. Make sure you’ve covered everything and tick things off a to-do list.
Action point: Download and print off my free 28-Day Planner.
3. Do daily exercise
‘Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out’.
It’s better to do a daily 10 minutes HIT (High Intensity Training) than 1 hour now and then.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone: if your heartbeat doesn’t increase, you’re not exercising. Do things that are NOT easy.
Action point: Fix a daily time to focus on IELTS prep.
4. Stay active
‘Don’t be disappointed by the results you didn’t get from the work you didn’t put in.’
Language learning does not happen passively or ‘by osmosis’. You have to put your learning into practice.
Action point: Stop reading about IELTS. Take action. Take part. Do challenges. Post comments. Ask questions. Use pen and paper. Write. Draw. Underline. Highlight. Make MindMaps and Flashcards. Keep lists. Use colour-coding. Take notes. Revise. Test yourself. Make mistakes.
5. Use the right tools and equipment
Explore all the FREE technological learning tools and resources that you have at your disposal e.g. Google Docs, Word Immersive Readers, grammar and spell checkers, apps, Quizlets, Anki, Memrise, Vocab Victor etc.
Take action: Find one app that works for you and use it.
6. Monitor your progress
‘You don’t lose weight by weighing yourself’.
Practice Tests are important to get used to the time limits but they don’t develop your language. Do TIMED practice tests no more than once a week, and keep scores. Do smaller tests for language development and revision regularly. Get writing feedback.
Take Action: Do the timed Practice Test in my 28-Day Planner. Get your starting score and aim to increase it.
7. Do more of everything
‘If you want to be the best, you have to be a little obsessed.’
Immerse yourself in all aspects of English. Become obsessed. I used to walk to work with sandbags in my rucksack so I could build my muscles at every opportunity!
Reading is a good way of covering all the bases: it builds your vocab, grammar, ideas, collocation, linking words, paragraphing, spelling, supporting arguments, text structure, organisation, formal and academic tone. Analyse them in detail. Extract the language and use it.
Reading, Listening, Writing and Speaking are all integrated. On the days when runners are not running, they cycle, lift weights, go swimming, get physio, do yoga etc to exercise the muscles that don’t get exercised when they just run!
If you limit yourself to just one skill (lots of my customers say ‘I just want a writing course’) you will limit your progress – get input from Listening, Reading, Speaking, Vocabulary and Grammar sources to work every muscle in your language brain.
Take action: How can you fit more English into your daily life? How about listening to an IELTS-specific podcast)
8. Train with other people
‘You always run faster when people are watching’.
It’s a very long and lonely road if you’re training alone. You need other people to keep you motivated, keep you company and hold you accountable, like a running group or ideally a personal trainer who knows what you need to do to improve – paying someone to help you is a huge motivator, as you are not likely to skip a class that you’ve paid for.
A bit of healthy competition also works for some people. Seeing what others are doing might prompt you to do more to ‘stay in the game’.
Take action: Find someone to work with and hold you accountable.
9. Set realistic goals
‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’.
Be aware of how long it could take to reach your desired score. There will be highs and lows. You may get injured and not be able to train. You will go backwards as well as forwards.
No marathon is one straight road. You might do well in one test then badly in another. No two tests are the same.There will be uphills, downhills and obstacles.
Take Action: Keep going and don’t lose heart. All my students get there in the end.
10. Forget the test
‘Just do it’.
Constantly obsessing about IELTS tips or asking for Writing Scores, distracts you from your goal. IELTS is a language test, so focus on developing your language.
‘If you spent less time worrying about people saying ‘Hello’, and more time on your running, you would run much faster’.
This advice came from a runner who posted on Facebook. While they were sitting there complaining, he was out training and getting faster!
Try to enjoy the journey. People who train for a marathon start to feel healthier, look better, get more energy and realise the benefits of regular exercise.
If you try to enjoy your learning, you will realise how much more you can do and understand.
‘Make progress, not excuses’
Sadly, I stopped training for a marathon when I achieved my goal. Then I lost interest, immediately got slower and fatter, less mobile and now I just sit on the computer all day.
‘It does not matter how slow you’re going as long as you do not stop’.
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