Last updated on May 25th, 2019
You won’t appreciate the efforts one has to take to prepare for IELTS unless you have been through the ride yourself. It was a gruelling experience for me. Being the father of a newborn daughter, I was helping my wife during the post-maternity period, juggling between job and IELTS coaching, keeping up with ACS formalities and trying to keep sanity intact during all this. It was one hell of a ride. In this instalment, I am going to share some of the tips I found useful to successfully clear IELTS.
Once I went through a couple of lessons, it was clear that I had good ears. Listening was not a problem for me. Throughout the mock tests and assignments, I scored more than 34 out of 40 consistently. Few of the tricks about doing well in the Listening module are:
- Read the questions first – Before the start of every section, you get at least half a minute. During this time, quickly scan the questions. This will help you to quickly locate possible answers during the listening session
- Write down keywords – During the listening session, write down important keywords, dates, numbers that you hear. If you can find the answer immediately, that’s good but don’t rush. Sometimes, to trick you, the answer is hidden behind a lookalike. For example, if the question is – what tram route can take you to Victoria garden, the listening passage will contain a sentence like, “tram 23 takes you to all major attractions except Victoria garden“. If you don’t listen carefully, you are likely to make a mistake.
- Don’t get stuck on one sentence – This is the common error people make and lose marks in Listening. If you miss out one detail, forget it and focus on the next sentence. If you are trying to guess what the previous sentence was, you will probably miss next 3-4 sentences which might contain clues about other questions. So instead of losing just one mark, you may lose 3-4 marks. Don’t worry, this can be fixed with practice.
- Familiarize yourself with accents – If you want to be better prepared, listen to all kinds of news broadcasts from different sources such as BBC, Fox News, ABC News 24 etc. This will make you comfortable with different accents. Usually, in the test, the answer is just one or two words long and if you can’t understand it due to accent, it’s a real shame. Additionally, familiarize yourself with a variety of talking speeds. Watching Hollywood movies (without subs) can help in this regard.
Reading module too was not a problem for me, thanks to my love for novels. Reading in IELTS, though is very different from reading, let’s say, a novel. Firstly, you are time-bound meaning you have to be a really fast reader and still understand what the passage is all about. The questions can be quite tricky too, especially those true/false/not given type of questions. But again I have a few tips up my sleeve to help you score high in reading.
- Similar to the Listening module, read the questions even before looking at the passage. This way when you read the passage, you will only be looking for answers instead of trying to figure out which line contained answer later on. This is the single most trick which will save a lot of your time if practised well.
- Don’t read each line. Develop the habit of speed reading where you just skim over the passage quickly and understand the meaning. When you think that the answer for one of the questions lies in a specific part of the passage, go over that part more carefully to see if that is the case.
- Keyword matching won’t always work. Many people try to find keywords in the question and match them in the text. This is a huge mistake as a small variation in a sentence can change the meaning even though it contains the keyword. For example, Sachin is the greatest batsman in the world is totally different than Sachin is one of the greatest batsmen in the world.
- When it comes to True/False/Not given questions, understand the meaning of the sentence. Match it with the closest matching sentence in the passage. If the meaning is the same, the answer is true. If it is different, the answer is false. If you can’t find the closest matching sentence, the answer is not given. That was my strategy to tackle with T/F/NG questions. Simple and proven technique!
- Answers to the questions are usually in top-down order, though there may be rare exceptions. What this means is that if you found the answer to the first question in the first paragraph, answer to the next question is probably going to be after the first paragraph.
- Read each question carefully as a single word can change the meaning of the sentence.
- Another time saver tip is to understand what the first two statements in each paragraph mean. Usually, they describe what the paragraph is all about. Based on this, you can quickly identify if the answer to one of the questions lies there or not.
My second biggest fear when appearing for IELTS was speaking. In our day to day spoken communication, we make a lot of mistakes in terms of grammar, wordings, tones, speed and pronunciation, but we rarely notice it. With IELTS though, you have a very little scope for mistakes. First of all, you don’t know what topic you will be asked to speak about. Once you are given a topic, you will be given only one minute to prepare and then you have to talk about it for at least a couple of minutes. I am not afraid of speaking in general, but knowing that someone was intently looking for my mistakes while I spoke was the part that scared me.
Some of the tips I can share about speaking are:
- Speak slowly but clearly. Don’t rush as if you want to finish everything in two minutes. Keep it at normal speed, modulate your speech as needed and stay calm.
- Picture examiner as your friend when talking. Most of the time, examiner genuinely wants to help you and will give you some non-verbal clues if you are stuck. Understanding this will make you feel more comfortable and confident.
- Don’t use poetic language. Talk as if you are talking to an average person. Try to avoid repeating phrases or words, keep a good list of synonyms in your arsenal and use it as needed
- You will be judged by your English skills, not by your opinions. So, if you say Donald Trump can bring a lot of positive changes in the US, nobody is going to cut your marks. Say whatever you want to as long as it is relevant to the topic and grammatically correct. Opinions don’t matter.
- In the minute given to you to plan the topic, write down keywords as they come to mind. Usually, examiners supply a pen and paper. If they don’t, ask for it. The keywords will help you later on when speaking on the topic.
For me and many others, writing poses a unique and real threat in IELTS. It’s not that I cannot write as you can very well see on this blog, however writing one essay and one letter on a given topic in 60 minutes is altogether different than writing a blog post or an email.
First of all, I am not used to writing on paper since I left college, which means my writing speed is less than optimal. So you have to write on paper, so you don’t have the option to hit backspace if something is not right. You have to write fast, write what is asked, in legible handwriting, without making many grammatical or spelling errors. Man, it’s a tough task! The essay takes more time and carries more marks, compared to the letter. The essay should roughly be two pages long and should contain approximately 250-300 words, whereas a letter should contain 150-200 words which come to approximately one and a half page, depending on your handwriting.
Some of the handy tips:
- Read both the tasks first and immediately jot down points that come to your mind. These will help you later.
- I tried to attempt essay first as it carries more marks, but don’t give more than 35 minutes to it. Similarly, try to finish a letter in maximum 20 minutes. This will give you 5 minutes for review and correction.
- Divide essay and letter into meaningful paragraphs. Don’t write it as one big paragraph.
- Again, use simple English. Don’t go overboard with poetic phrases and sayings. You are not writing a novel. Focus on the topic at hand and write only what is required. Be short and to the point.
- Use the structured approach to writing essays. Always use the first paragraph as an introduction, second and third paragraph to list down features or points and provide facts. Write down the final paragraph as a summary or conclusion.
- Practice and practice. There is no shortcut here. Every day, write down at least one essay or letter to improve your writing. Bonus tip: read what you wrote after some time gap. You are guaranteed to find a few improvements or obvious mistakes in the second read.
- Keep a set of sharpened good quality pencils. I didn’t use mechanical pencils as I found that they hamper the handwriting speed.
- Write in your own language. Using online tutorials to structure your answer is fine, but don’t memorize the essay as it is. Every person has a different style of writing. Follow your own style.
- Unless you are absolutely sure about the meaning of a proverb or phrase will fit in the context, don’t use it. It is far better to use simple English than to use the dramatic but wrong phrase.
Note: If you are in Australia, IELTS Australia has plenty of free resources such as free practice tests, tips on various modules, IELTS preparation checklist and a lot of useful information about how to successfully pass IELTS exam. Check it out.
Those are just a few tips which I followed during my course of study. In the next instalment, I will write about my experience of appearing for the real IELTS exam and how I coped. Till then keep practising and if you have any unique tips, please share them in the comments.
Moving To Australia Series
- Moving To Australia – The Idea
- 10 Reasons Why I Chose Australia
- Which Work Visa Is Right For You?
- Should I Go With Migration Agent?
- Introduction To Skilled Visa Points System
- How To Prepare For Skills Assessment – Part 1
- How To Prepare For Skills Assessment – Part 2
- How To Clear IELTS In First Attempt – Part 1
- How To Clear IELTS In First Attempt – Part 2
- How To Clear IELTS In First Attempt – Part 3
- EOI – Express Your Desire To Migrate
- Getting Visa Invitation
- Lodging Visa Application And Making Visa Payment
- Getting Evidence of Functional English
- Undergoing Health Examination – The Whole Story
- Getting Indian PCC And The Road Ahead