Hi my name is Jo. I am from China. I just graduated in my Master degree last December (2008) in UTas. I took IELTS test twice. In 2005, I did IELTS test in China for postgrad study application in Utas and got score 6.5 (IELTS in Academic – listening 7, reading 7, writing 6, speaking 6). And then in 2008, I did it again in China for my visa application and got score 7.5 (IELTS in General – listening 8.5, reading 7, writing 6.5, speaking 8). I’d like to share some of my experience in taking IELTS test.
1. Only treat it as an exam.
Only treat it as an exam. Do not treat it as something that can raise your English to a higher level after getting through it. There is no magic in this IELTS thing. You won’t get to a very high level just because you get through it. However, you have to get through it to buy yourself a chance to improve your English to a higher level, which is studying in a western country. Thus, bear in mind, don’t you try to actually improve your English level to get through the test (unless you have a couple years to do this which you don’t have). What you should do is, finding another way to get through the test first, and then improving your actual English level when you are studying in a western country. “Another way” I am talking about here is not cheating, but strategy. Before developing good strategies, you need to get to know about the test and yourself first.
2. Knowing the test and yourself
First of all, you need to know how much you need to score totally and how much you have to get in each section to achieve the total score. There are only four sections in the test and you need to know what they are, how the score system is in each section, what types of exam questions are in each section, how much time you have to finish each section, which sections are your strengths and weaknesses, how much score you are expecting to get in your strong sections and weak sections to achieve your expected total score. Think about those questions and write down some notes. Now you know a little bit about your advantages and disadvantages in the test, as well as the question types, score system etc. But more importantly, now you have a goal – knowing how much you need to score and how to achieve it from each section. Now you can develop some good strategies for yourself.
3. Developing strategies fit for yourself.
Well lets say you are good at listening and reading but not doing well in writing and speaking (most Asian cases I guess). Assuming you need a 6.5 total score, by getting 7 in listening, 7 in reading, 6 in writing and 6 in speaking. Then you break down the strategy into four sections aiming at four test sections. Everyone has their own study method or pattern. There wont be an universal strategy. Therefore now I am only going to put down a rough strategy according to my own situation. I hope it will be helpful to your own one or you may modify mine in terms of your own situation.
First of all, check around the test schedule to see when you can do it. I would do it one month or 3 weeks before the school final exams (like in June if the school final exams are in July; In January if the school final exams are in February) because my “study mind” or “exam ability” is in a very good status before the school final exams (in June or January my whole body tells me it is time to concentrate and put time, effort into my study since the exams are coming!!!). So, knowing your study pattern, pick a time that you are regularly ready for exams, physically and mentally. However, make sure you book the test in advance minimum one month to give you time to study.
Secondly, knowing your English level, estimate how much time you need to study before the test accordingly. However, regardless of your level, DO NOT make your study plan over 2 months. You wont be able to hold on there for so long (well….I definitely cannot). So, let’s say you estimate you need 35 to 40 days.
Thirdly, think about your study plan in your head, and then put it down to paper.
Here is my own study plan.
a). Knowing your level and your strengths and weaknesses.
First 4 days, do 3 previous REAL IELTS test papers (From “Cambridge Ielts” series). Treat it like a real exam. Time yourself strictly. make sure nothing could interrupt you. Then mark yourself. Now you know where you are in this test.
b). Listening and Reading (we need 7 and 7 in these two sections)
From the 5th day on, start doing one hour listening and one hour reading excise in the morning (there wont be any break time between these two sections in the exam so don’t give yourself any break time). Excise I mean “simulated exam paper” from books or internet or whatever sources. Time yourself very strictly. Make sure no interruption. Mark yourself. Don’t worry about the score too much (unless you get less than 4. Could be something wrong with your English foundation). Make sure you go back to each wrong question, correct them very carefully, think about why you did it wrong (think about it is enough I reckon. But it is not that easy as it sounds. People tend to not face their mistakes). For listening, listen those sentences where you didn’t hear clearly again. One more thing, CIRCLE any words that you don’t know when you are doing the excises both reading and listening). Put all of them to a notebook, look then up. Create your own vocabulary. This is very vital because I reckon IELTS Reading section is all about vocabulary. Keep doing this for 10 days (flexible, but no less than 7 days).
c). Writing (we need 6)
Also from the 5th day on, start reading “good example articles” from books, internet or whatever sources. Read about 5 or 6 good example articles (both big and small sections). Copy down all the good vocabulary, good phases, good sentences, good ideas, good expression, good formats etc. to your notebook (good here I am talking about, other than “good” good, I also mean those you are able to use, remember. Regarding to those look good but too complicated to use or remember, either ignore them or convert them to something that u can remember and use). Keep doing this for about 5 days (you will get very bored if you continue doing it for too long), then you will have quite a lot of good writing materials. Spend some time to sort them out, categorise them, read them, think about them, imagine how you would use those phases, sentences in specific some scenarios. Then you can start doing the writing excised from the 6th or 7th day. Find a bunch of topics from books, internet. Pick 2 topics (one for small one for big section) randomly and write them up every afternoon (morning for listening and reading sections. Don’t try to do those 3 sections together in three hours. You would be very exhausted and could not focus on correcting, finding problems, copying new vocabulary). After finish the writing, try to ask your English teacher or classmates or friends to fix it for you and ask for any suggestions. But if nobody can fix for you, don’t worry about it. Fix it by yourself and think about how to improve it. Keep doing this excise for about 10 days.
Writing in English doesn’t come to us naturally. We need to read others’ writing first and then simulate them. However, the most important thing is, we don’t copy it, but learn it and use it. It is easy to “know” something from a book. But it is hard to actually “learn” that thing from a book, no mention to use it. Thus, writing is all about converting something that not belong to you, to your own knowledge, and then use it. Oh yes, never ever separate the small and big writing assignment when you are practising. Finish them in one hour.
After finishing 10 days listening and reading excises and 5 days writing excises, now you have quite a lot of new words in your vocabulary. Spend a couple days (3 or 4 or 5 depends how many words you got) on the new words in the morning (writing excise still on-going in the afternoon). Actually this vocabulary section is just a little break for you. There is no need to spend too much time on IELTS vocabulary specifically (unless your vocabulary is really really poor. I mean really).
e). Speaking (we need 6).
Pretty much like writing. From the 20th days on, spend about 5 days (1 to 2 hours a day) on finding most popular topics in the test, and then ask yourself the questions, write down the answers to those questions that could be asked by the examiner (You could also read about how other people answer to the questions as a reference. But do not try to copy others’ answers because it would be like you are reading when you answer the questions. Make the answers as easy as possible. Don’t use complicated sentences. Make the answers as real as possible). Keep practicing it by yourself in the first 5 days. Spend at least one hour every day. Imagine you are being asked all those kinds of questions about all different topics. Try to talk to yourself, not limiting in the practising time but anytime (like in the shower, toilet, whenever you are in a mood to do so). (writing practice ends in the 20th day so there will be nothing in the afternoon while you are doing speaking in the morning. This is flexible time you can plan whatever you feel you are still weak in into the afternoon schedule). After 5 days practice, now you need someone to help you to create a “conversation scenario”. It could be your friends or your family. Doesn’t really matter who they are. All they need to do is sitting here and looking at you (pretend to be listening if they don’t know English). You ask your friend to ask you the questions and then you answer them. One hour a day. Keep doing it for at least 5 days. Meanwhile, you need to go back to do 5 more days reading and listening practice in the afternoon.
Speaking is all about confidence, nature. When you are sitting in the speaking test, be confidence, convince yourself you are a native English speaker, talk as much as you can, doesn’t matter your answers are fake, boring, annoying, stupid, as along as you keep talking (of course don’t talk to far away from the topic), and make sure you are not talking too fast, make sure the examiner understands your accent. Be polite of course. Oh yes don’t ever try to be funny if you are not.
30 days are gone. If you stick to your plan for a month, oh yeah you are good now. Spend 3 days (no more than 5 days) to do 3 whole sets (or 5 sets if you are energetic) of previous exam papers (from Cambridge Ielts). Don’t panic if your score is still not as good as you want (just practice, plus at this point what else you can do, you already do your best so don’t worry about it too much). Now 2 days before the test, scan the “previous exam questions and answers” quickly. This “previous exam questions and answers” thing I am talking about is the Chinese ielts cadidates put the questions and their own answers online to share with other people after the test. The point of this is, other than sharing experience, because the test questions are rotated in some pattern in a period, there will be some chance we will see the exact questions in our own test. So it is still worth to have a look.
Good Luck guys!!