I asked Alan De Maria to write this piece for the site. He doesn’t mention it below but he scored a sensational band score 9 reading and an almost equally impressive 8.0 in listening. For me, that means he is worth listening to. If you read on, you will find
- advice on how to approach learning for the exam in general
- tips on each of the papers
- some resources he found useful
How can I excel in IELTS?
No doubt this is one of many questions that pop out in one’s mind when studying for the test. Despite the fact that there is a huge amount of information about IELTS on the internet – its tricky details, subtle traps and how to tackle every question that might show up – it is hard to put every piece of advice on a coherent basis to support your learning process. This happens with every subject available on the world-wide-web and that is why books still are a reliable source: they concentrate what is sparsely and even chaotically distributed over the internet.
Suppose that you are a student like me and you can’t afford to buy books or to pay for a teacher to help you through teaching, what can you do to get the band score you want and, why not, excel in the IELTS test?
I will start by stressing out factors that are extremely obvious but controversially goes unnoticed by students. Then I will go for more test oriented advices.
1. Face the truth: you can’t get any desired score if you don’t know English.
As absurd as this might sound, it is quite common to hear people (at least in my country) saying they know how to speak English just by watching movies without subtitles. However, in front of a native speaker they use more their hands rather than their mouths and, when needed to write, they use Google translate instead of their hands and brains. Maybe one can understand a word or another in a TV show, but this is not what makes an English speaker. This is the type of candidate that will blame the test in any way: by the lack of time to write, by the bad audio quality of the room, etc. In short, you have to be HONEST with yourself to recognise, if so, that you don’t know the language or what you know is not enough to get the band you want. If you accept your position, then you are ready to go further.
2. Work smart and hard as much as you can.
This is no secret at all but perhaps it is what makes most people fail to the test. If you followed the first advice and you know what is your real ability with the language and what level of proficiency you want to achieve, then you must proceed just like an Olympic athlete, i.e., you have to work every single day in order to achieve your goal. Even more, you must do it smartly, which means you have to work on your weaknesses and your strengths. Get a mock, do it in real time and see what happens. It will be easy to spot those silly mistakes, in what part of the test you will likely get lost, and by that you can aim your efforts. The sooner you catch the errors, the more you will be able to focus on your worst skills and improve them.
You must also get away from what deviates you from attaining your goals. For example, many people today have problems in concentrating and this might be due to the “internet pace” they are used to. Hence, you should study somewhere else rather than on the computer. It might be difficult in the beginning, but after some time you will naturally adapt to the new rhythm. If you claim that you use DCIELTS a lot – which is likely to be the case as you’re reading this right now – and you need to be connected to do so, then why don’t you select and print out some posts from time to time, in order to get rid of the internet?
Well, it takes a long time and effort to learn any language or to win a gold medal, if you are an athlete. But what separates the successful from the unsuccessful one is the continuously amount of patience and effort the first puts in his trainings. Take your time, but remember to work smart and hard whenever you can.
3. Never get satisfied with your doings.
As I was saying, being honest with yourself means that you must hardly be satisfied with the achievements you have had. No matter how hard you have strived, there is always more space in your “knowledge room” to be fulfilled. Think about it: if it is difficult to master the language even for the native speaker, then how it is for the non-native speaker? Not impossible, though it should take more time and perseverance to reach higher levels.
Just to illustrate: I try to keep my mind up by reading or listening anything I can in English every day. Although I have achieved the score I wanted on IELTS, I visit Dominic’s blog on a regular basis. By doing this I don’t forget what I have learned and I also get new stuff every now and then.
If you bear these three philosophical advices in mind like I did, then there is a great chance you will end up having a better score on the IELTS test and, in fact, in any other thing you might do in your life. I can say this because after following these obvious tips I have started naturally to give my best in any activity, thus having more success than before.
As to some more practical tips for the test, I would say “learn the test”, but apart from getting used to time management, writing schemes and speaking patterns, I must add:
1. For the reading section: read as much as you can. There is no such a thing like “I don’t like to read”. Maybe you didn’t find the right kind of reading that suits you best. For instance, if you can’t take your eyes off the videogame, search for the history of videogames. My reading skills rocketed when my bookshelf started to grow. In the last three years I read more than 60 titles of various themes and not by coincidence I managed to get a 9 band on the reading section. Also, I used and I have still been using the great Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary (CALD) on the computer since then to support me with grammar, spelling and learning new words.
2. For the listening section: once again, practice with what suits you best. I would not go for watching TV, as it didn’t work for me when I was studying. Rather I listened to a lot of audios from BBC Learning English, and I also used YouTube to watch random videos of native speakers, interviews, etc. Don’t forget to practice this section of the test with the Cambridge IELTS books (borrow from library or from friends, like I did), as it gives you a fair example of what you should expect.
3. For the writing section: my main source of tips and tricks for the writing section was Dominic’s blog. There are astonishingly many nice posts about various aspects of this section on the blog and it is up to you to put the information into practice. I must have done as many as 6 texts from each part of the writing section in 2 weeks that I have had to practice, and I have got a 7 on the test, which was quite ok for me (remember, never be satisfied!!).
4. For the speaking section: In this section I can’t say much because it was my worst band (6.5) and I didn’t manage to practice it well enough. Besides watching some interviews on YouTube and practicing some pronunciation with the help from the CALD, I tried to formulate some answers before the test in order to avoid surprises, but it was in vain. Speaking still is my worst skill and I think I will only get over it going abroad. If you can afford to pay a teacher to teach you and talk to you, definitely go for it!
I wish this text can be as helpful as Dominic’s writings were for me when I was studying specifically for IELTS. I hope you guys enjoy it and best of luck to all of you who are striving to get through and excel in this tough, yet important, test.
Let me know your tips
A big thank you to Alan for sharing this advice and if you have tips, resources or ideas that you want to share, please drop me a line either here on the site, by email or on the FB page.