How to Quantify Your IELTS Preparation

November 2, 2018 by Lauren McKenzie Lauren McKenzie

As you prepare for the IELTS test you will undoubtedly improve your facility in English.  You may feel that you are improving and hear from friends, co-workers or tutors, “wow your English is getting better” or “you’re really improving”.  Although this is very encouraging as you progress on your journey to prepare for the IELTS test, comments like this do not offer real concrete evidence of your improvement. Or more importantly, how you have yet to improve to achieve your desired band score.

The goal of this blog is to give you some tools that you can employ to better understand precisely how your language production has improved and where you must focus your efforts going forward.

Using the band scores descriptors to evaluate your language ability

IELTS examiners are trained to follow the band score descriptors with as little subjectivity as possible.  The descriptors are designed to assist the speaking examiners and writing test markers to avoid bias or rely on opinion to determine a candidate’s band score.  

In order to effectively prepare for the IELTS, you should become as familiar as possible with the band score descriptor, so try using them to analyse a few strong samples of language.  Print off a copy of the speaking descriptors and hit the internet.

When choosing a video look for those with the most views and read a few reviews.  Watch videos on channels such as Ted Talks on topics that interest you. Topics that you are familiar with is an excellent place to start, so watch videos about your field of work or study. These can be short; 5 minutes is enough to get a sense of the speaker.  Do you like watching the speaker? Are they captivating? If so, this exercise should give you some concrete evidence as to why this is a successful speaker.

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To make your approach to IELTS preparation more scientific, you should make notes, perhaps a spreadsheet, that allows you to capture specific features of the language. Focus on one of these features each time you listen.

Take, for example, the number of cohesive devices you hear during the talk.  How does the speaker begin each sentence? Is there variety in their choices?  Listen again, think about how cohesive devices are used in sentences to connect ideas and create logic and fluency.  Where does that fall on the band score descriptors?

In the next session, listen to the same sample and this time focus on the number of complex grammar structures the speaker uses.  Repeat this process with a specific target from each of the four categories within the band scores. You can often find both subtitles and transcripts of the talks.  You can use these tools to enrich your understanding of the topic, expand your vocabulary and further quantify the sample.

You can evaluate your writing in a similar way.  Look at official IELTS test material and quantify the language features according to the Task 1 and Task 2 descriptions.

Next, you might want to expand on the content you analyse to include globalization, education, technology and other IELTS appropriate topics.  Choose a few good quality samples and look at them in depth. This will take your IELTS preparation to a higher level of analysis.

So the next time someone tells you how much you’ve improved, you can show them the data to prove it!

Good Luck!



Lauren McKenzie

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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