IELTS Exam Preparation Material: The Dos and Don’ts
So, you need to pass IELTS, maybe for university, maybe to show employers in a job interview, or just for your own personal satisfaction. How do you get the best IELTS exam preparation?
Well, it’s certainly possible to study by yourself, and there is lots of IELTS exam preparation material out there that you can use. For instance, the Cambridge books of exam preparation material (there are 11 versions so far) are good for looking at past papers, and contain reading, listening, speaking and writing past exams from real tests, so you can test your level, and see where you are. Especially for reading and listening, these books are great – when you’re doing any English exam preparation material, what you want is the real thing, and these tests are authentic past papers, which gives you an idea of what’s in the exam.
However, when it comes to speaking and writing, it’s hard to see beyond getting a teacher to help you out. To pass IELTS writing, for example, with a high score, not only do you need to learn English to a high level, but also you need to learn the strategies of writing, the different writing types, and what IELTS examiners are looking for. Many people who take the IELTS exam are not really aware of what the writing questions types are, and this can mean scoring badly in the exam, just because of a lack of exam preparation.
For task 1 writing, for example, there are a whole range of different types of questions, including graphs with a trend, graphs and charts and tables which ask you to compare data, maps, processes, and questions with a mix of question types (e.g. a line graph and a comparative pie chart in one question). Without having specific IELTS exam preparation by an experienced and knowledgeable IELTS teacher, it will be very difficult to know how to answer all these different types of question. Similarly, task 2 writing has very specific criteria – the examiner is looking for not only your level and range of grammar and vocabulary, but also how well your answer addresses the task, and how well your answer is constructed and organised. This requires either a really good self-study writing book, which goes through the writing step-by-step (one recommended book here is ‘IELTS Advantage Writing Skills’, published by DELTA, 2011), and/or a teacher.
Here, though, are a few general tips for IELTS exam preparation:
- Familiarise yourself with the different types of reading questions, and try to formulate strategies for each one. Is it a type of reading question which requires general understanding (e.g. paragraph headings)? If so, practice skimming and extracting the general meaning of the paragraph quickly. Is it a type of question which requires detailed analysis of certain small parts of the text (e.g. True/False/Not Given)? If so, you’ll need to focus on the details, and identify the key words in each question on which the answer can turn.
- Practice your listening as much as possible, and make sure you are familiar with how each section works. Think about, for example, the distractors in part 1 of the listening, and read tape scripts to see exactly how they work.
- For speaking, remember that examiners value risk-taking and range of language as much as they do accuracy. As part of your IELTS exam preparation, try to expand your range of grammar, and try to work on trying out new vocabulary when you practice the speaking.
- When you’re writing, remember it’s an academic test, so don’t write contractions, informal vocabulary, or spoken language. Look at model answers from IELTS books, and make a note of the key phrases and linkers used, and try to use them in your writing.
So, make your IELTS exam preparation efficient by making note of these tips, getting hold of good books to work with, and if you can, find an experienced teacher who can make your preparation work effectively.