The IELTS Exam: Advice from a Successful Test-Taker | Top Universities

The IELTS Exam: Advice from a Successful Test-Taker

By Zain Nabi

Updated March 19, 2021 Updated March 19, 2021

Many international students who do not have English as their first language have to take an IELTS exam (short for International English Language Testing System) before they can apply to study abroad. Based on the course and institution they are choosing, the required IELTS test score varies. Generally speaking, a score band of 6 or above is sufficient for any undergraduate study and a minimum of 6.5 is required for postgraduate courses (however, some courses require as high as 8).

I have seen students literally trembling in uncertainty when asked to take an IELTS test. Doubting their abilities for no apparent reason, they believe that passing the IELTS exam is just not possible. Eventually, some of them end up taking extra preparation classes, sometimes carrying the fear with them into the test center and failing to concentrate, and in some cases taking an alternative route such as ELICOS, that costs them much more than the IELTS exam.

Students who are hesitant to believe they can pass the IELTS are often confused due to a lack of knowledge. In this series of blog posts, I will try to bust some myths about the IELTS exam with the help of some students who have taken the IELTS and successfully achieved the desired result. Let’s start with Karam Farooq Ali, who recently aced this test by securing a score of 9, and was friendly enough to give me some tips.

Understand the IELTS test format

I am sure you all know the IELTS test format, but if the format is unfamiliar to you here is a quick guide. Generally, it is divided into three sections and aimed at testing your ability to grasp the meaning of the text you are given to read. Keep that in mind. You are not there to memorize the text, so don’t let the length bother you. You have to answer 40 questions and for a person requiring a score of 7, 30 correct answers are enough.

Skim the text quickly

Since you are there to only understand the general meaning of the text, don’t attempt to understand the rationale behind any given argument. Stick to the goal, which is to get the answers correct. The best way to go about this is to read the questions first, instead of the text. If you read the questions once or twice and then start skimming the text, your brain will automatically try to find the possible answers to the questions. It’s practical, give it a try.

Here is a handy tip from Ali, who started by reading the first few lines of the text and then quickly turning to the first question: “If the answer of the first question is in the line three of the second paragraph, you should be clever enough to know that now you don’t have to read that part of the text again. The rest of the answers will come from the remainder of the text. So move on.”

Think about time management

You only get 60 minutes to answer 40 questions. It is essential to manage your time efficiently so you do not end up leaving out some of the questions. A single extra correct answer can potentially help you get the desired result.

The clock can be managed in two ways. One is to practice lots in advance. Set a clock in front of you when you are solving sample papers. The second is to live in the present moment on the test day. Again, be clever about how you approach it. If for some reason you are unable to find the answer to a question, don’t waste time. Move on to the next question immediately.

Ali’s methodology is quite effective here: “If you have answered questions one and three but can’t find the answer for question two, know that you have already narrowed down the text. You don’t have to read the entire text again to find that answer. You know it is somewhere between those two answers.”

Practice makes perfect

Practice is the key to your success. In the days leading up to your IELTS test, try to read as much as you can. Your favorite magazine could be a good start. While reading, try to identify the main points of the text and attempt to summarize it in your mind. The more you practice the efficient you get. Ali told me: “I finished 13 minutes before the time ended and still got a score of 9 bands. The point of telling this is that you have plenty of time, contrary to what many believe. Also, you just need to concentrate on practicing!”

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This article was originally published in March 2014 . It was last updated in March 2021

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