What do I mean? I will tell you. Every week I get lesson requests from potential students on italki and verbling. And every week I get at least one, sometimes more, students who have, to quote my somewhat tongue in cheek title, “Great (unrealistic) Expectations. That is to say, they have completely and utterly unrealistic and in some cases nonsensical ideas about their IELTS preparation. I don’t wish to be mean, rude, or to denigrate these people but they are a complete pain. I know I have written something along these lines before and you can read it here but it is something which happens all too regularly so I thought I would mention it again.
So, to explain what this means, the IELTS is a test of English, and with all exams, let alone a language exam, it requires a certain amount of preparation time. And if you do not prepare properly or at least adequately, then you will not get the score you are looking for. I have students writing and calling me on Skype and the conversation goes something like this:
“So when are you taking the test?”
“oh, next week, I need a 7.0, can you help me?”
“Maybe, what score did you get least time?”
So, let me explain and put this into some sort of context. Most teachers would agree with me that to increase your band score by 0.5 you would need around (depending on the individual) 1-200 hours of guided study. To move from 5.0 to 7.0 in a week is therefore quite unrealistic as no-one can learn all the things they need to learn in only seven days given the time available. I was talking to a nice lady from China the other day and that is what she said, she took the test a month ago, got 5.0, and will take it again in a week hoping for 7.0. Now, it was obvious from speaking to her that 5.0 was her level, so she was seriously asking me to help her go from B1 (pre-intermediate) to C1 (advanced) in a week. Upon further questioning it was apparent that she was doing little or no preparation and even if she were spending every waking hour studying it would have been extremely unlikely for her to get the score she was hoping for. Not surprisingly, she wasn’t too happy when I told her this and I never heard from her again.
Unfortunately this happens all too often, as I mentioned earlier. There are two things you need to think about when taking the IELTS or any language exam. First, is my level sufficient to get me the score I need? Is my English ability good enough to take the exam? For example, if your level of English is pretty good then all you need is to learn the exam structure, how it is assessed, the difference between the question types, the criteria for writing and speaking, and the techniques for answering all four sections and the variety of question types. This is not an easy matter, however, it is considerably easier than improving your general level of English to reach the same standards. As a matter of fact, I have sent several students away and told them to improve their general English level before they even consider taking IELTS, for the simple reason their language skills were not up to the task.
So if a week is insufficient, then what is the optimal time for preparation? The simple answer is, as long as it takes! That is to say, my ideal student would be one who prepares themselves sufficiently well in all aspects of the test, and only books a test date when they (and their teacher) are confident that their English ability is good enough, and that they have sufficient knowledge and practice in every question type and every technique. Suffice to say, such students are few and far between, although I do have one or two who are like this. So what would an ideal preparation schedule look like?
Well, ideally, the student should have a minimum of three months (as long as it takes is better, of course) to prepare, they should have a plan of study for every day. They could listen to podcasts, do some reading exercises focusing on the different question types, become familiar with the five essay types, all of which require a different approach and structure. They should develop their topic specific language focusing on the common themes of the IELTS (Education, Crime, Transport, etc), they should get as much speaking practice with language partners online or in person, in effect they should devote themselves completely to English. I know this sounds difficult, I have written about this “immersive” approach elsewhere and I think it can definitely pay off if a person has the willpower to see it through.
But, in most cases, my students have a deadline to meet for visas or university entrance and so they must take the test maybe before they are as prepared as I would like them to be. If that is the case then all I can do to help them is to work on technique (writing and speaking usually) and hope for the best, not ideal, but I do find that many students do get an increased score with my help. The reason for this is that many students have no real idea as to what the criteria for writing and speaking actually mean, nor do they have a strategy or technique to improve them. So when I show them my method it is quite often an eye-opener for them, but as I say it does work since it is based entirely on the official IELTS criteria, not some random theory of mine. If you read my earlier blog posts then you will see what I mean.
In summary then, what can I say? Well, the first thing you need to take away from this post is that if you are a serious student then you must prepare seriously. You need to be aware of the time you have and to use it wisely. Planning and preparation are key to IELTS success, you need to have a solid English foundation before thinking about taking IELTS. Then, when you start your preparations, find a suitable teacher who can guide you and show you what you need to do and learn. You need a study programme and a schedule which will give you plenty of time to become familiar with all parts and aspects of the test.
And above all, try to be realistic….
Ok, that’s enough on this subject, if you need any advice or help, or have any questions about anything then you can contact me here: firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on italki or verbling at the links above. Til next time…