If you are reading this blog, I congratulate you for doing a little research before attempting the IELTS exam. There are many useful and trustworthy sites, like this one, where you can find accurate information to prepare yourself for the experience.
As an IELTS tutor, people usually come to me AFTER attempting the exam and surprised that they did not achieve the results they had expected. Very often, the results were not related to their English level but instead to a misunderstanding they had about the exam. As a favour to you, I would like to dispel some of the top erroneous beliefs that I have heard and hopefully save you from the frustrations many native English speakers experienced.
1. “I speak and understand English well so I don’t need to prepare.”
The number one reason that people come to me after they attempt the exam is because they didn’t prepare well. You may use English every day, but when you open task one of the academic writing exam and have to write a 150 word report about a graph on energy consumption in Australia, you may begin to panic.
Many high level candidates who should have scored 7 or above on writing, for example, have lowered their rating by not addressing tasks correctly or not organizing their ideas clearly in the expected formats (report or letter for task 1, essay for task 2).
Take time to review your test taking skills by purchasing IELTS preparation books or borrowing them from the library. Take advantage of free resource tools and attend free seminars about the exam. Any of these steps will improve your chances for success.
2. “I didn’t have any experience with that subject so I had nothing to say.”
Honestly, there isn’t a topic on the speaking or writing exam that you don’t have some ideas about. Perhaps you have never been surprised with a gift you loved, but you may know someone who has, so use their experience or MAKE UP your own. If you say nothing or resist the topic, you lose chances to show off your speaking and writing abilities - which are what the tests are about.
3. “I will get a higher rating if I throw in some fancy academic words.”
This exam will test your knowledge and use of English words in every section, so vocabulary is very important. However, adding big words just for the sake of it can lead to errors and lower your rating. Be sure to check that you use the correct form, context and spelling. A simple rule is to choose words you are comfortable with and get your point across clearly.
4. “I don’t need to worry about making little mistakes as long as I am trying to use many different grammatical structures.”
If you are confident using a variety of structures accurately, then use them. However, if you haven’t mastered conditionals yet, or you just discovered adjective clauses, make sure you have time to go over your writing and correct errors. The mistakes you make will show in your rating.
5. “The number of words for the writing tasks is just a guideline - examiners don’t count them.”
Not true. Examiners count every word, and you are penalized for writing BELOW the specified number of words (Task one: 150, Task two: 250). Prepare for this by measuring the words you usually write in a line or two, then, during the exam, count your lines to make sure you have written more than enough.
6. “The reading section will be easy for me because I read every day.”
Although different, both the academic and general training reading exams are not just about reading. They will test a number of skills which might include your ability to identify a writer’s purpose and opinion, to complete diagrams and summaries or tables, and to find information in the text. It is also a test of your vocabulary because questions are synonyms or paraphrases for the answers you will find in the text. You can’t simply scan the article for a word in the question. Check out samples of the reading test and practice doing the questions that appear on the test BEFORE you take the exam.
7. “If the speaking examiner interrupts me, challenges my ideas or asks me to explain further, I am not performing well.”
The sections of the speaking test are strictly timed. If you are interrupted to move to a new section, this has nothing to do with your performance. As well, when examiners ask for further explanation in Part 3, it is simply their way of having a conversation and helping you use your language more. Listen to and read a typical conversation from Part 3 of the speaking exam so you know what to expect.
In summary, what you should BELIEVE is that if you invest some time in preparing with reliable resources and professionals, you can be confident that you will do your very best on the exam.