Hi! So, you want to know how to pass IELTS exam? Great!
Good news – it’s actually not that difficult. Bad news – you have to practice a lot.
Recently I passed IELTS (General) with an overall band score of 7.5.
Listening – 8
Reading – 7
Writing – 6.5
Speaking – 7.5
It’s not the best result, but it was enough for me. So, now after I share my experience with all of you I can finally forget about it! Just kidding, I don’t think that it’s possible to forget such an exciting experience.
Anyway, let’s talk about the exam, shall we?
The IELTS test consists of four parts: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking.
- Listening takes about 30 minutes, 20 minutes to listen a tape and to answer questions, and 10 minutes to transfer your answers to an answer sheet. There are about 40 questions.
- Reading takes one hour. You need to read passages and answer questions according to what you have read. Academic and General reading tests are different, academic usually has 3 large articles from the scientific field, and general has 4 smaller articles from newspapers and magazines.
- Writing also takes one hour and is divided into two parts: a letter and an essay for the general test and a description for a diagram and an essay for the academic. The first part should be about 150 words long and the essay should at least 250 words.
- Speaking is the shortest one, it only takes about 15 minutes and consists of three parts: simple questions about yourself, your family and job; a speech about the given topic (which should take about 2 minutes); discussion related to the topic.
Today I want share with you my tips about the first part of the test, which was the easiest for me – Listening.
Well, to become a good listener you need to listen a lot, obviously. But it’s also important what you are listening to and how well you understand it. It won’t help if you listen to the radio every day and all you actually hear is blahblahblah. Listening is a skill and you can train to improve it.
I started to watch my favorite tv shows in English a long time ago and it wasn’t because of the test, I just wanted to hear the actual actor’s voices and understand local jokes (which usually fade in the translations). And this desire to listen the original sound of your favorite shows and movies should guide you through development of this skill of listening. You can use subtitles (in English) if you have difficulty understanding speech.
So this is my first tip: find a very interesting show or a movie and watch it in English. It’s better to actually watch something rather than just listen because it wouldn’t be so easy to be distracted. My favorite TV shows that were (and still are): The Simpsons, South Park, Adventure Time, Friends, The Big Bang theory, The Office, Breaking Bad, and many more.
Of course we don’t always have a chance to watch something, so in this case radio, podcasts and audiobooks will be a huge help. You should listen to them all the time: while you’re going somewhere, cooking, working, driving, and maybe even sleeping! I’m joking about the sleeping part, but the rest of It is true. Do you like music? I’m sorry, but no more music for you while you’re preparing for IELTS, if you listen something, it should be useful. And in this part it’s also very important to listen to something interesting, so that you stay focused and understand everything people are saying.
Tip number two is: always listen to something interesting when you have a chance. Good thing with modern technology, it’s not a problem. My favorite things to listen to are:: BBC radio 4 (you can listen to it on their website), podcasts (Answer me this, Night vale), audiobooks (Stephen King, Terry Pratchett, etc).
An very important thing to remember for the test is to be able to separate and understand actual words and phrases. For example, while listening to the news you will hear something like “Yesterday blahblahblah the fire blahblahblah pies didn’t survive” and you should be good enough to turn these blahblahblahs into words. I recorded some news and put it into my phone, and on my way to work I would listen to these recordings and tried to understand every word. You must play them as many times as you need to understand everything. It’s a good idea to write down what you’ve understood them to say (it will also help you with writing).
And the tip number three is: find some recordings of English news and listen to them for several times until you understand every word (you should listen to separated parts, one or two sentences at a time), every time you listen repeat the phrase in your head and when you have a chance, write down what you’ve heard and understand.
Spelling is also important, in the test you will most likely hear how people spell their names or numbers by saying one letter at a time: “My name is Maria, M.A.R.I.A.”. They also will try to trick you by reading 00 in numbers like “double o” or something like that, so you should be ready for that.
Tip four: ask someone to spell random names of cities, streets and numbers letter by letter. They should do it pretty fast and you have to get all the letters right. On the test you will only have one chance to hear them.
When it comes to the test you should be very careful about instructions. If it says “Write three words” you should do that, write EXACTLY 3 words. And articles count as words!
Tip five: read in instructions quickly but carefully, underline the main part, in my example it would be “THREE WORDS”.
The most important part in the preparation is to do actual IELTS mock up test. You have to do them as often as possible. I did at least 4 mock up listening tests a week. And you should do them as you will do it on the actual test, don’t cheat and pause or replay recordings. You can do that while you’re checking your answers. If you made a mistake it’s a good idea to go back, listen to this part and understand why you made this mistake. You can find a lot of mock up test in the internet and I will provide several resources that I used.
Tip six: do as much mock up tests as you can. If you don’t have enough time for the whole test you can do separated parts, for example: two before work and two after. Don’t cheat! Keep records of your progress, every time mark how many questions you get right.
Train yourself to react fast. You will have about 30 seconds before each section, use it wisely! Read as much questions as you can and underline the key words. Try to think which answers are most correct. You should answer questions as you listen, you won’t hear these sentences again so write down the answers immediately after you hear them.
Tip seven: Use the time before each section to read as many questions as you can, you have to understand what these questions are about and predict the type of answers. Be careful and write answers quickly.
On the test there will be people who will probably make noises. Someone will sniff and cough, someone will scratch constantly, someone will probably cry. When I was taking the test there were about 150 people in the room! I’m saying that because I want you to be ready for distractions. If you always practice in complete silence you need to be prepared for the possible distractions during the actual test. Try to practice in public places: coffee shops, libraries, parks. You can use your headphones, but you will train yourself not to be distracted by anything!
The tip eight is: Do your mock up test in public places, use headphones, try to be as focused as you can be, no matter what.
The worst scenario when taking the test is when you’re listening for an answer, but there’s no answer, so you continue to listen and then realize that the recording is already three questions ahead of you and you missed all of them because were listening for that specific one. If you realize that you missed an answer for the question, forget about it, move forward!
Tip nine: If you missed an answer don’t panic and move forward, otherwise you will miss the next one too. Always look one or two questions ahead, you have to know that they are about.
And the final tip: if you missed an answer – guess! There’s still a chance that you can get it right and the test doesn’t have penalties for wrong answers.
In every textbook about IELTS you will find a lot of exercises about each type of question in the test, do them. But what’s the most important – to mock up test, just listen carefully to something interesting when you have a chance, and you’ll be fine!
Useful links for free materials:
- http://www.ieltsbuddy.com/ielts-listening-test.html - mock up Listening tests and exercises
- http://elc.polyu.edu.hk/IELTS/main.htm#li#01 – some practice tests as well
- http://www.listen-to-english.com/ - good material for repeating and listen until you understand all of it. Every audio has transcription so you can check how well did you do.
- http://www.loyalbooks.com/ - audio books
- http://answermethispodcast.com/ - the funniest podcast out there. The hosts are British and it can be difficult to understand them, but when you do, you will be laughing very hard and also will probably understand everything in the test.
- https://www.coursera.org/ - my favorite site of all times (after globalenglishgroup.com of course), you can not only listen and read about courses, but also learn so much!
So these were my tips, they helped me a lot and I hope they will help you as well!