As I decided to enroll into college in a foreign country, I needed to take the IELTS exam. At that point, I didn’t know anything about the exam, so I will explain a little what I have learned in the meantime, generally about what is the exam taken for and how does it look. In the second part, I will talk about my experiences from the exam and the preparation course.
IELTS or International English Language Testing System is one of the standardized language exams used in order to proof the proficiency in English. IELTS is needed when enrolling into college in most of Europe and parts of the U.S. and as a requirement for the immigration to Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and Canada.
The exam is designed to assess a person’s ability to speak English in the future study or work abroad. Four language skills are tested (Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking) and each is scored by the range from 0 to 9, where the final band presents the arithmetic average of all grades. It is not possible to fail the exam, but each band represents a certain level of skills acquired. Roughly, band 6.0 is equal to the B1 level and the results higher than 8.0 represent the C2 level.
There are two types of IELTS exam: first, is used for academic purposes (academic training) and the second one is taken for the immigration (general training). Academic and general exams differ in terms of Reading and Writing. While people who take academic exam need to read three academic texts and write the graph analysis, those who write general module need to read some more general texts and write a letter to a boss, a friend or someone else. Both modules have the equal rest of exam. In Croatia, the exam is taken once a month by the British Council and costs ~€200 (1540 kn). The exam lasts for three hours, the results are available on the 13th day after the exam and they are valid for two years.
Since I spend a whole summer in the USA and I was using the English language almost daily, it took a month of preparation before I felt ready for IELTS exam. The exam is approximately three hours long and in Zagreb, they are held more or less once a month. Listening, Reading and Writing sections of the exam are written the same day, in exact order without breaks, and Speaking part can be held up to seven days before or after the written part. In my case, it was held a day before the rest of exam and it was around 15 minutes long.
How to get an excellent score on IELTS exam
Listening is the first part of exam and it is 40 minutes long, of which 30 minutes is the testing and you have 10 minutes to transfer the answers onto appropriate answer sheet. It consists of listening to four sections of varying difficulty and 40 questions to be answered during the listening. Each section is heard only once and it can be a monolog or a dialogue. In my opinion, Listening is the second easiest part of the exam and to get a good result you only need to concentrate (and of course you need to know the language).
Almost always there is a question where you need to spell one’s name, registration number, postal code or phone number. I had a case when a woman said her last name and the other person asked her if it is spelled as “Hardy”. The spelling was not correct and the woman corrected it to “Hardie”. The Golden rule in those cases is to listen carefully and not get confused. Also, they can often count few things and eventually say something completely different which is an actual answer. The rule is the correct answer is whatever has been said last.
The academic reading module consists of three academic texts length one and a half page or two pages and 13 – 14 questions related to each text (with a total of 40 questions) to be answered within an hour. General training usually has shorter texts so there can be more than three texts. In my opinion, this is the easiest part of the exam. The key is to be well organized because there is no lots of time.
There are two ways how you can solve this part. If you are good and quick in reading, you can read the whole text and then answer the questions while checking the text again just to make sure the answer is correct. Keep in mind how much time do you have left! Texts are arranged by difficulty so you need to use roughly 15 minutes for the first text, 20 for the second and 25 minutes for the third. Another way, which I practiced, is to read the questions first and then “scan” the text for answers. This method is much faster because you do not need to read the whole text, but only the parts. Always read a sentence or two before and after to make sure that is really the answer.
Usually, they ask you to give an appropriate title to each paragraph or which part of text talks about something. Also, you often need to fill out the answers with the exact words from the text (do not use other words because the answer may not be correct) or to tell if a statement is correct, incorrect or the information was not given.
The golden rule to get a good result in Listening and Reading is practice and practice only. You need to get used to listening and reading texts and the result will come.
Writing is only part of the exam which is different for Academic and General module. Both have two assignments, but in General, you need to write a letter (to a friend, boss, mom, …) or explain a situation and write an essay on a particular topic. In Academic, you need to describe the chart, graph or table in 150 words and also write the essay. Writing part takes 60 minutes. On the first task, you should spend 20 minutes and 40 minutes on the essay.
Writing is the hardest part of the exam. There is (too) little time, you have to write quickly and at the same time think about grammar, that sentence has a meaning, remember to use academic vocabulary and have a valid claim to everything you write. For example, one of the tasks from the exam was the following, “Some people believe that there should be fixed punishments for each type of crime. Others, however, argue that the circumstances of an individual crime, and the motivation for committing it, should always be taken into account when deciding on the punishment. Discuss both these views and give your own opinion. “. So, you have to represent both views. Structurally, the essay should have five sections: an introduction, the first case, the second case, your personal opinion and conclusion (minimum 250 words). Count the words. The introduction and conclusion should be short, reduced to two or three sentences, and the task needs to be well written. When you have finished with the passage, count the words and write the number on the side. Do not over exceed the number of 250 words because you will only lose your time, but do not write less because they will reduce your points. Concentrate well and read the essay after you have finished writing. You might see some errors and increase your score up to 0.5!
Speaking is, in my opinion, the second hardest part. Basically, it is formed like a conversation with the examiner (a native speaker) which is recorded. Speaking part can be held up to 7 days before or after the written part of the exam. It lasts about 15 minutes. About the exact time when the speaking part is going to be held, you are going to be noticed by the e-mail.
Speaking is made of three sections. The first consists of few questions on a specific topic, such as hobbies, weather, leisure, computers, family, … A sample question is “Would you prefer to live in a cold place or a hot place and why?” and you need to answer in few sentences. If you have no opinion about the topic or do not know what to answer, do not think too much and make up an answer. If you do not have a dog and the examiner asks you what is the funniest thing your dog do, “I do not have a dog” is not a good answer. Think of someone’s dog or dogs in general and describe some situation. Make it up, just do not keep silent and do not answer anything or just with two or three words.
In the second section, you will get a particular topic about which you have to talk for two minutes. You have a minute to prepare what you want to say (you can also write). My topic was to describe your dream vacation, with who and where would I go, what would we do there and so on. Although it seems easy, two minutes last very long and candidates often end up with an answer much sooner than they should. In the third section, you examiner asks you some questions related to the topic you were talking about, for example, how often do you go on vacation, whether you prefer the beach or the mountains, if you love to travel, etc. Answer as much as you can and use a variety of vocabulary to get the best possible score.
Well, I hope my experience and examples from the exam will help at least someone to get a better score. If you get prepared and practice with similar tasks (you can find plenty of material all over the internet, such as books Cambridge IELTS), the exam will go great.
Here are few recommendations for books which can help you to nail the test:
Good luck and let me know how did you achieve an excellent score on IELTS exam!
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