A common question from my higher-level students is “How will I know when I am ready to take the IELTS exam?” The answer really depends on the band score you hope to get. Whilst it is worth seeking the advice of an experienced teacher who can give you an objective and informed opinion of your proficiency, a good potential candidate will also reflect carefully on their specific strengths and weaknesses. They may come to the conclusion that they are confident they can achieve the band score that they want already or they may come to realise that they are under-prepared and need to gain IELTS-specific exam skills and strategies from an IELTS preparation course in order to be successful in the exam.
In the absence of an experienced teacher, you can use the following checklists to help you decide if you are ready.
You will be asked to read three different passages (Academic module) or multiple texts (General Training module) and respond to related questions in your IELTS Reading test. You have one hour to answer 40 questions. The IELTS Reading test is designed to assess a wide range of reading skills, including how well you
- read for the general sense of a passage
- read for the main ideas
- read for detail
- understand inferences and implied meaning
- recognise a writer’s opinions, attitudes and purpose
- follow the development of an argument
To assess this, you will be presented with a variety of different question formats including
- fill gaps in a passage of written text or in a table
- match headings to written text to diagrams or charts
- complete sentences
- give short answers to open questions
- answer multiple choice questions
So, you should ask yourself:
Do you read exam texts in the same way you would normally read a novel?
Do you think it is important to understand everything you read?
Are you unfamiliar with any of these types of questions listed above?
If you answered ‘yes’ to either of these questions then you really should undertake an IELTS preparation course because you will definitely benefit from learning some reading skills and preparing your exam strategy.
There are several tricky aspects about the IELTS Writing paper. One is the strict time limit of 1 hour. Another is the different style of texts you could be asked to write. You may consider writing to be one of your strengths but are you capable of producing accurate work and relevant ideas under exam conditions? The following questions may give you an indication:
Do you know how to describe and explain data on a graph (Academic module)?
Can you describe the stages of a process or how something works (Academic module)?
Can you distinguish between a formal and an informal tone?
Are you familiar with the different styles of academic essays?
Do you know how to structure your response accordingly?
Are you experienced in developing your ideas into full paragraphs?
Are you confident that you can edit your work efficiently?
If your answer to any of these questions was ‘no’, then taking an IELTS preparation course is a very sensible idea since these are all important skills needed to achieve a high score in the Writing paper.
Often when we listen in real life, we listen passively. There is nothing passive about the IELTS Listening paper! This paper involves you doing a lot of multi-tasking. You will have to read questions and write answers all while following a conversation and selecting which information is redundant and which is relevant. Wow! The audio is played only once so it is easy to get distracted and lose your place, which causes some people to panic. You will need to recover quickly in order not to lose further marks. So, think about the following:
Are you confident that you can follow a conversation?
Can you distinguish between ‘distractors’ and correct information? (eg. someone giving an opinion then changing their mind later in the conversation?)
Are you familiar with the different question formats?
Do you know what to do if you lose your place or miss an answer?
Are you aware of how you can use the pauses in the audio to prepare ahead?
Answering ‘no’ to any of these questions means that you are under-prepared for the Listening exam. A preparation course will give you plenty of practice in listening and answering questions under exam conditions as well as equipping with you with vital strategies for effective listening, including bottom up/top down listening skills.
The Speaking paper always makes everyone nervous and even the most fluent and confident candidates admit to feeling a flutter of nerves before entering the exam room. It is only natural – after all, you are about to engage in a conversation in a foreign language with a stranger who is assessing you! And you don’t know what questions you will be asked! Some questions to ask yourself to find out whether you are ready to perform well in that situation are:
Do you get nervous speaking English to strangers?
Do your nerves affect your ability to engage in conversation?
Do you waffle (talk excessively without giving a clear answer)?
Do you hesitate when you don’t know the word for something?
Do you panic when someone asks you a question you are not expecting?
Does your accent cause people to misunderstand what you are trying to say?
Or do people often ask you to repeat yourself?
Did you answer ‘yes’ to more than one question here? Then an IELTS course will help you address these issues and get used to the pressure of exam conditions. You will get practice responding to questions quickly without pausing unnaturally, even when you don’t know the answer. You will learn conversation skills such as using discourse markers to stall for time while you mentally prepare your answer. All these things will improve your overall fluency and help you feel more confident on the day of your exam.
In conclusion, a good, accredited IELTS preparation course will
- provide you with access to highly qualified teachers with IELTS experience
- help you learn about the test format and different question types using the latest IELTS preparation materials
- improve your listening, speaking, reading and writing skills
- help you develop effective exam strategies
- provide you with lots of exam practice, like doing sample IELTS tasks and
- give you feedback on your performance
In order to be fully prepared for the IELTS exam and to raise the chances of your success, most EFL and ESL teachers would recommend a preparation course in most cases. Put it this way, it certainly won’t hurt! And it could mean the difference between several band scores.
Why not check out our own accredited Oxford IELTS online programme as a starting point?