Last updated on May 22nd, 2019
This is going to be a long post, so please stay with me till the end. After going through a dizzying array of exercises, assignments, mock tests, interviews, blogs, YouTube videos and basically anything related to IELTS, my tutor finally gave his nod of approval to go ahead and book an exam slot.
That’s right! I didn’t book it in the first place like many others. First of all, I didn’t want to waste my time and money on something I was not prepared for. I wanted to give it my best shot as I was sure I won’t be able to maintain the same level of energy and confidence the next time. So it was not until I started scoring consistently high in all the mock exams that my tutor felt that I will do well in the real exam.
British Council Vs IDP
Next big question was – which provider I should book an exam with, IDP or British Council?
Technically speaking, both are authorised bodies known for maintaining high standards and professional examination environment. Choosing one over the other does not and should not make any difference. However, you will find that people in the online forums divided over IDP vs BC. Frankly, there is no point going over which one is better as experiences differ from person to person.
I went ahead with the British Council mainly because my tutor convinced me that it was more consistent in its timelines meaning more exam slot availability and fewer delays in handing out results. Plus, with BC I was getting the test date which was suitable for me. So without much thought, I went ahead and booked the date with BC. I am happy I didn’t regret my decision.
A Week Before The Exam
I envy people who can draw up a schedule to study and stick to it. I never did that in my life, regardless of how difficult or important the exam is. With IELTS though, I was pretty serious from early on. Having read all the scary stories, I decided not to add mine to the list. I had opted for one week leave just prior the exam.
A couple of weeks before the exam, I practised mock tests for four hours every morning of the weekend, which included mock interviews as well. They proved quite useful to correct minor mistakes, understand pain points and gain confidence. Apparently, I used the phrase – “much more” a lot. Similarly, I learned that “Me and my friends went to a party” is a grammatically incorrect version of “My friends and I went to a party”. These are the small things which matter a lot in IELTS.
My tutor also provided me with a mini voice recorder and a list of topics to prepare. I often got funny stares from my maid not knowing what the hell I was doing and with whom was I speaking. But the benefit was immediately apparent. First I gained the confidence to speak well and grammatically correct English. Secondly, I was able to understand my voice clarity, volume level, voice modulations, diction and body language. Voice recorder also mimicked the fact that in the actual exam too, my conversation would be recorded and used by the evaluator for speaking assessment.
The Unexpected Surprise
While I was preparing hard for the exam and praying for it to be over soon, something totally unrelated caught me off guard. My wife’s employer asked her to travel to Finland for a month, immediately. As if that was not enough, her travel date and time collided with my exam time just an hour apart. Can you believe my luck?
All of a sudden, IELTS took a back seat and we started to think about how to deal with this new problem. Postponing the travel date was not an option as all the bookings were already done. Postponing IELTS was not an option either as getting another slot would have taken another month. We had no option but to go ahead with the current situation and deal with it as best as we can. While my wife was busy packing bags and getting all things in order, I was juggling time between babysitting and studying as best as I can.
It was a beautiful Saturday morning in June, a one which I would otherwise have happily spent lying in the bed, but not this one. The first part of my exam was going to happen today. This part consisted of Listening, Reading and Writing modules. Speaking test was on the next day. Thankfully, today’s exam was just a stone’s throw distance from my home, so I didn’t have to worry about travelling.
On the day of an exam, I usually don’t do any last minute revision. I just calm myself by watching funny movies, animation films or listening to favourite music. With the English language being a vast subject, last minute revision didn’t make sense either. I took a nice warm shower, had my breakfast and got ready for the test.
I went to the centre for half an hour earlier. I carried my passport and photocopy of the personal information page of the passport. I carried a set of 7-8 quality Apsara extra dark pencils, fully sharpened, an eraser and a sharpener. There was a long queue of candidates at the centre, many doing last minute revision. Everybody had a nervous look as if they were going to be sacrificed.
Once in, I presented my documents for registration. A friendly lady asked me to sit in a chair and took my photo and fingerprints. I went to my desk which was near the front row. On the desk was a single thing – headphone. The air conditioner was kept at freezing low there as if someone thought that we were in the middle of a desert. There were approximately 30 people taking the exam in that room. Everyone was busy with their own thoughts. If I had to guess, they would be something like
- Damn! I am not good at reading, what am I gonna do now?
- These Australian accents give me scares, hope I do better today.
- Will I score enough to satisfy points for the visa? If not then what will I do?
- I already failed at past 2 attempts, will I pass today?
- O Lord, please pass me this time, I will offer you sweets and donate 1001 rupees 😛
The War Begins
Soon the main invigilator announced that the exam is about to begin. She gave us instructions about the exam. Rules were pretty normal as most of them I already knew such as total time for each module, format of the test, how to write answers etc. All of us were asked to test our headphones. Answer sheets were distributed and examiner wrote start and end time on the big whiteboard at the front of the room. Shortly, music started playing and I knew the war had begun.
Difficulty Level: Easy
Listening section is divided into four sections each increasing in difficulty as you progress. I didn’t face many issues during listening, however, at one or two places, I missed answers. I kept my focus intact, ignored my errors and continued to listen to the rest of the module. I filled in those answers later based on my best guess. Going forward and not getting stuck is important.
Reading the questions before listening really worked wonders for me as I was more focused to find keywords, names, dates etc. relevant to the questions quickly. Due to practice, I was trained to ignore traps to follow wrong leads. 30 minutes passed by very quickly. By the end, I felt pretty good and I was confident to face the Reading test next.
Difficulty Level: Moderately Difficult
Reading is a different ball game altogether. While listening wants you to focus on one line at a time, reading needs you to understand a passage as a whole. It is not just about keywords, you have to go through a passage quickly, understand the context and then answer questions accordingly.
I went sequentially to tackle each passage. Before reading any passage, I read the questions quickly. Speed reading is what you must learn to finish everything in time here. After finishing each passage, I did a quick time check. I quickly finished a couple of short passages in less than 25 minutes. That gave me more time later on for the complex passages ahead. Thankfully, as I practised trickier questions than these, I didn’t feel stumped at any of the questions.
While I was dealing with this, something else was distracting me all along. Due to high air con, my bladder already started giving me warnings during the listening test. Now those warnings started turning into full-blown emergency alarms. Though I knew time is important in reading test, I knew it would even more crucial in writing. So I excused and relieved myself. When I came back to my seat, I already lost at least 5 minutes in the process. But you got to do what you got to do. Thankfully, I quickly gained my pace and finished everything on time. Moral of the story, satisfy all your physical needs well before the exam.
Tasks: 2 (one essay, one letter)
Difficulty Level: Very Difficult
Writing has never been my weak point, in fact, I could write better than I could talk. With IELTS though, as is the case with everyone else, I was scared of the writing module. Not because I can’t write, but because I can’t write fast enough with a pen and paper.
When I looked at both the tasks, I decided to go for the essay first, even though it was the second task. The sole reason was that it carried more marks and took more time. I knew I could finish the letter pretty quickly even if I am not left with enough time. Just so you know, there are two different answer sheets for two different tasks, colour coded for easy identification. Since I was going out of sequence, I made sure I was using the right answer sheet for the essay.
Race to the finish line
As I read both the questions, I quickly noted down points that came to my mind on the question paper. I followed the general structure of introduction, facts para, supporting arguments and conclusion. I tried hard to make as little mistakes as I can because crossing wrong words, again and again, looks bad and using eraser wastes invaluable time. But sometimes you just can’t help. I am so used to typing with a word processor that I can’t compose something sequentially. Often when writing a blog post, for example, I write something, then go back and add something or delete something. In IELTS however, I had to force myself to think sequentially to write an answer.
Essay writing took almost 45 minutes, leaving me just 15 minutes to write the letter. Thankfully, as I had all the bullet points ready, I just formulated sentences around them and put them in a structure. I was even able to squeeze a couple of minutes in the end to review my essay. As I was reviewing I found one mistake in using tense and just when I was about to correct it, BANG! The examiner asked everyone to stop writing. My mistake stared at me but I couldn’t do much about it now. I just hoped that examiner will be lenient enough to ignore it.
Phew! Finally the sigh of relief. It felt as if someone had taken off a heavy bag off my head. Even though the speaking test was pending the next day, I felt good. I believe that the initial feeling in the first five minutes of the exam is very important. It tells you what your gut feeling is about the exam. I felt good and confident about the exam and was ready to take on the speaking test by its horns.
My speaking exam was scheduled the next day at about 10:40 in the morning. After taking a shower and having my breakfast, I headed to the test centre. It was half an hour ride, thanks to being Sunday, traffic was at a minimum. I reached quite early and completed my registration formalities. I was escorted to a hall and asked to wait there.
Tasks: Introduce yourself, a couple of random questions, speech and follow up questions
Difficulty Level: Moderately Difficult
When my number came, I was escorted to a room for the speaking test. I was welcomed by a middle-aged man who looked like he could be a father in the church. He gave me a few instructions about how the test was going to proceed and told me that the test was going to be voice-recorded for evaluation. Test started with easy questions such as tell me something about yourself, what was my job, where I reside and so on.
Slowly questions started to become more interesting. Some questions were really unexpected such as how would you like the job to create an encyclopaedia. You cannot prepare for such questions, no matter how much you read. I tried my best to come up with a good answer. Thankfully, my examiner was very supportive which built up my confidence.
This first part of the interview went on for about 5 minutes. Examiner then gave me a topic along with pen and paper and gave me one minute to prepare. The topic was – What was the most memorable event in your life. Piece of cake! Being the father of a newborn child, I didn’t take much time to come up with a lot of different points to talk about that event and noted them on paper.
I started talking about my topic confidently but just over a minute into the speech, I was out of content. I became blank, nothing more came to my mind. I was racking my brain to come up with more, but panic set in and I couldn’t find anything to talk. Thankfully, the examiner gave me visual cues to help me come up with ideas and my speech started to flow again.
At that moment, I remembered the words of my coach. He once told me that in the speaking session, don’t be afraid, know that examiner genuinely wants you to succeed. That’s exactly what happened. I can’t thank enough to my examiner for being kind to me and helping me speak even when I was stuck. It is these moments that remind me that I am extremely lucky to have come this far.
Anyway, after my speech, my examiner asked me a question or two about my topic which I was able to answer quite easily. He thanked me and told me that my test is over. I thanked him for his time, wished him a good day and left. Phew! Relief again. Finally, the long ordeal was over. I could again sleep peacefully at night, though my thoughts would still be filled with worries.
Results….Wait, Did I?
As per the original appointment mail by the British Council, I had to wait for 12 days for my result. It felt like ages, thankfully work and my daughter kept me busy. It was a usual work day for me on the day of result. I was very nervous, constantly checking the British Council site since the morning. Nothing felt more important than that.
After anxiously waiting for half a day and biting all my nails to almost half, when I was having lunch, I got an SMS from my coach congratulating me for clearing IELTS. I couldn’t believe it! Did I…succeed? Really? In the first attempt? Apparently, he too was checking my scores since the morning. I hurriedly finished my lunch and ran upstairs to check the score.
This is what I scored:
Whew! Except for writing, I hit 8 bands in all the modules. In writing though, as expected, I narrowly escaped. I still have a feeling that few corrections which I made in the last couple of minutes kept me from failing. The speaking score was a real surprise. I didn’t expect to score so well given that I blanked at one point but I was lucky to have a kind examiner.
That concludes my story of IELTS, with a happy ending. Within a few days, I got another good news. My ACS assessment turned out to be positive. That meant I was all set to file EOI immediately as soon as I got a physical copy of IELTS report which took another week or so. Two major roadblocks were cleared, all the good omens guiding me to the doorsteps of Australia and slowly the dream was turning into reality. Coming up next, filing the EOI, anxious wait for an invite and my preparations to lodge the visa application.
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