Tips to Help Ensure Improved IELTS Scores

Oct 30, 2019

If you are a bilingual international student whose first language is not English, then IELTS is one of the most important tests that you will take. Not only is it necessary to show your level of English proficiency, but for many, it will also serve as a stepping stone towards improving overall communication skills. There are four components in the test, and getting individual high scores in each of those will allow a combined high overall band score. Although the test might sound intimidating at first, with the proper tips and tricks to guide you; you can easily score high if you work smartly enough. Here are some suggestions for use when you are preparing to take the test:

1. Gauge Your Current Skill Level

Whether you come from the city or a small town/village, it is crucial for you to determine where your current skill level can take you. If possible, take a few practice mock tests—you can self-test using past question papers, or enroll into an IELTS preparatory class to sit for the mock tests only. When you know what your scores are, you will be able to understand how to best employ your efforts to ensure optimal test scores.

2. Be Time-Efficient and Remain Calm

Two of the biggest issues that first time test-takers face are managing time effectively/ efficiently; and calmly dealing with each component of the test. Test yourself at home with lesser time than you will be given for the actual test. This will prove frustrating at first, but once you get the hang of it—you will see that during mock tests and the real one, you will be able to finish answering everything with time to spare. Try not to get anxious if a question appears to be more difficult than you had, perhaps, anticipated. If it seems like a question has stumped you, move on to the next question. Come back to your problem with a clear mind after tackling some of the other questions with time on your hands. It should be infinitely easier to deal with the question now that you have more time and a clearer mind with you. Whatever you do, do not waste time dawdling, because every second counts!

3. Listen Carefully and Highlight Keywords

Since you will be provided with separate answer sheets to jot down all of your answers in, it is advisable for you to note down keywords or buzz words that will help jog your memory when you are listening to the test component to answer your paper. Keep in mind that British English sounds quite different than American English (which we mostly encounter on TV shows, movies, songs etc. unless it is specifically British in its origin). Nowadays, the listening portion may contain a mixture of different accents, some of which may be much more difficult to grasp than the rest. In the time that is given for you to look at a particular section and the questions in it, use it wisely. Skim through the question and underline a few keywords. It will make it easier to place answers when you listen to the tape; any facts present in the dialogue/ conversation will pop out at you.

4. Skim, Scan, Annotate and Outline 

If you would like to be able to finish your paper and have time on your hands to revise, there are some basic skills you will need to master beforehand. One of these is speed reading. Instead of reading every single word and taking your own sweet time with it, you must learn how to read through passages very quickly, while simultaneously underlining keywords or phrases. This will help when you tackle comprehension passages in particular because you will not have to look for an answer every time you answer a question in the passage—you will be able to simply refer to the parts that you annotated at the beginning. Similarly, when tackling your writing tasks, keep in mind that whole the graphs/ charts will need to use specific buzz words to showcase your knowledge of the topic (for example, if an inflation/salary graph is given, “trend analysis” might be one of the keywords that sets you apart from the others). On the other hand, brainstorming for ideas for your essay, arranging them into distinct ideas that flow smoothly from one part to the next are some of the key ingredients to a great score. Remember to keep sentences short, use unusual words ONLY if they apply (and you know their meaning and proper usage) and the occasional idiom, proverb, simile or metaphor. Above all, make sure to arrange your essay into three sections: an introduction, a body and a conclusion. If there is a word limit, try to stay within a 5 word range above or below whatever is stated.

5. Present Opinions and Ideas with Clarity of Vision and Confidence

Even if you may have very strong writing skills, it is imperative that you prepare well in order to get a great test score. When completing the writing module, you have to make sure to check that if the examiners ask you to give your opinion/ comment on it; your comments are clear instead of being vague. This may not necessarily mean that you will have to agree with what the information is telling you. As long as your writing is politely persuasive with a definite direction, you should be fine. In case of an essay, however, it is advisable to present both sides to a comment before choosing one and then explaining why it is your choice. For example, say you have to write an essay which asks you to present your opinion regarding life in the age of social media (whether you deem it a blessing or a curse, and why). Ideally, the body of your essay should have three sections:

  1. reasons why living in  the age of SM (social media) could be a blessing
  2. reasons why it could be a curse
  3. which side you choose, and why

Using a gentle tone that is somewhat persuasive but shows that you have a distinct voice and the vision to carry your ideas forward will also help you earn brownie points.

6. Speaking Can be Your Best Friend 

For most people who do not speak English as their first language, undertaking any test that may have spoken segments in it can be quite a daunting challenge. However, with the correct tactics and sufficient preparation, you should be well-equipped to ace any English oral examinations. Usually this particular module is pretty straightforward, and the goal is to get through with amazing English. In order to keep a steady pace during your conversation, you can practice talking with a small mint in your mouth (under your tongue). This will help prevent your throat from drying up, and will allow you to space out your words more evenly. The test has three parts. First, general questions and answers about yourself. Second, you will be provided a topic to prepare a short speech on. You will have one minute for preparation and two minutes for speaking. Finally, for four to five minutes you will answer questions about what you just spoke on. The only way to be thoroughly prepared to handle this part of the test would be to practice day and night. You can find various IELTS Speaking test/ Speaking Module videos on Youtube to help you develop a basic idea about the exam. Another great resource is the Cambridge IELTS 1-13 series of books, which are often past papers or previous years’ questions of the IELTS exams. Pick out the Speaking exam questions from there and practice with a friend. I’ll also suggest sitting for some simulated mock tests which are available with the British Council, IDP and various English language training centers all across the country. When you’re sitting for a speaking mock, treat it as a real exam. After the exam, listen to the mock examiner for some pointers on how to develop your skills in spoken English. When practicing for you IELTS at home, do not shy away from using the multitude of online resources that can now help you to improve your scores in each of the IELTS testing modules. Additionally, you might want to scan local bookshops for special guidebooks that talk about almost all aspects of IELTS. Most importantly, confidence is vital to your success. When you are confident in what you can achieve, a simple English language test need not feel like a life-altering event.

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