Preparing for the IELTS: A Mind and Body Approach

March 3, 2017 by Lauren McKenzie

Perhaps you have asked a friend, family member, co-worker or classmate for advice on how to best prepare yourself for the IELTS exam and maybe you have heard such pearls of wisdom as you should meditate, do yoga, eat lots of vegetables, sleep with your IELTS book under your pillow, live, breath and eat IELTS! Although any of these activities may (or may not) help you prepare, the best way to prepare for the exam is to see the process as a journey: a marathon, rather than a sprint.

The IELTS Exam is challenging for all candidates, even those who speak English as a first language. Most IETLS experts agree that it takes 3 - 6 months to move up half a band score. This is not meant to discourage candidates, but rather to establish realistic goals when preparing for the exam.

Once you have established a realistic time frame it is time to create a schedule that fits into your busy life of work, school, and family commitments. If you can spend 1 hour a day doing focused IELTS work, that's great. For some candidates, that may seem reasonable, while others cannot imagine where they would find the time.

To maximize your time and efforts when preparing for the IELTS exam think about how you can engage your body and mind simultaneously. The human brain functions better when there is a physical component to learning. So get ready to engage your body and mind in your IELTS preparation.

Working IELTS prep into your daily life

IELTS examiners follow strict criterion when assessing your speaking and writing proficiency. Public versions of the band scores can be found online and should be the constant companion of every candidate, regardless of their level or goal. The band descriptors include the subtle differences between each band score, and the more familiar candidates are with the vocabulary in the band descriptors, the better able they are to focus on those areas which require improvement.

Once candidates have familiarized themselves with the band descriptors it is time to integrate IELTS preparation into daily life. Those who reach their desired score on the IETLS exam will often say that they did so by using IELTS exam prep material in combination with active engagement in the English speaking community around them.

Finding local organizations that bring the community together will offer candidates the opportunity to have authentic interactions with native English speakers and to pick up on the nuances of the language and culture. For example, idioms vary from country to country. A Canadian and an Australian may commonly use different expressions. A British examiner will find certain idioms familiar, while an examiner from New Zealand may be less familiar with the same turn of phrase. 

Your job as a candidate is to find the subtle differences and learn to integrate them into your everyday communication. Don't be afraid to make mistakes and to ask those around you about the meaning of expressions. Most people are happy to engage and explain idioms, as it makes them question why these words are put together to create the desired meaning. This is one of the fun parts of language learning, and the added benefit is that expressions often tell you something more about the culture of the language:  it's like killing two birds with one stone.

The most efficient and fun way to prepare for the exam is to connect with the local culture if you are in an English speaking country. Look at your local library, community centre, volunteer and hobby groups or sports teams. Of course, the internet is a great place to do this but look at postings in coffee shops, grocery stores, and businesses for ideas. If you like to sing you can join a local choir. Do you play soccer? Join an intramural team. To practice reading, speaking, and listening, join or start a book club. The material does not need to be based on the IELTS exam to be valuable. These activities are usually very inexpensive or free and require a minimal time commitment.

Finally, think about how you can practice several skills at the same time in your daily life. For example, read out loud to yourself, your spouse or children with a focus on not just the content but the use of your voice, intonation, pronunciation and fluency. Write a daily journal about your activities, your feelings, successes, setbacks and opinions. Look up some vocabulary to better express yourself, but otherwise just let the words flow so that you get in the habit of writing. 

Lauren has been teaching English for close to fifteen years in universities and language schools in Halifax, NS. To meet the needs of her students, she began her own study of the IELTS exam nearly five years ago and has since taught preparation workshops. Lauren lives in Halifax, NS where she enjoys hiking and live music as well as travelling, studying languages and reading nonfiction.

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