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— Anubhav Seth
A common English proficiency test taken around the globe, IELTS is a fundamental requirement for admissions to many institutions worldwide. It is, therefore, imperative that you understand the test and have a reliable strategy that works for you.
The test requires you to have a basic understanding of standard English conventions, common punctuations, diction, and a decent vocabulary. But, without a clear and easy-to-follow strategy, this can take a toll on any test taker.
Here is an eight-step approach to build a solid preparation strategy:
Understand the test
Avoid any surprises on the test day. Go through the IELTS pattern in detail.
Focus on the structure of the test, timing, and question types. Attempting a mock test before
beginning preparation will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses.
Improve your vocabulary
Vocabulary is a critical component of the test. Almost 25 per cent of your total marks, which are in the writing and speaking section, are dependent on your vocabulary.
A daily reading habit is a must in this regard. Identify words that you do not know and create a list of their antonyms and synonyms.
Try making short sentences using those antonyms and synonyms. This will help you understand the contextual usage of each word.
Improving your reading speed will help you identify essential passage parts quickly. It will also enable you to zero in on the important and right parts.
Read from the websites that mention the average reading time of the article. Time yourself and aim to finish the article within that specified time. Practice till you reach the reading speed of 400 words per minute.
Once you achieve the required rate, focus on tracing conjunctions. This will help you navigate the passage more accurately and efficiently. Remember, the author’s point of view is the main idea of the passage. So, pay attention to the lines where the author presents their opinion.
Create an idea bank
To improve your score in the writing and reading section, create your idea bank — a list of words that are new to you, topics that you like, news articles of interest, a list of ideas relevant to your field of work etc. Go through this idea bank before the test. It will provide variety to your sentences and improve your writing and speaking ability.
Record yourself while speaking
Ask your friends, family, siblings or batch-mates to feed questions and record your answers for the speaking task. Listening to your recordings will help you improve your speaking skills.
Immerse yourself in the English language
Surround yourself in an environment where you store English in your mind in active and passive ways. Watching movies or series, listening to songs, and talking or chatting with friends in English are fun ways to help you improve your command of the language while rejuvenating yourself.
Build a Study Plan
Divide your entire preparation into three phases and set a target score based on your admission requirements. In phase one, focus on understanding the fundamentals for your weak areas. Attempt topic-wise tests for your strong suits.
Once you have improved upon the weak areas, start trying topic-wise questions or tests. Track your speed and accuracy for each test or practice session. Revisit the errors made by you during the timed practice sessions for improvement.
Phase three of the preparation is all about practice. Test takers tend to practice mock tests intermittently. That is a common mistake and a big no!
Always make sure that you practice the complete test — start to finish — undistracted. Replicate a test-like environment at home and take the test exactly as per the instructions given. Record all the metrics for each test including accuracy, the time spent on each question, and your errors.
Practice every day. In fact, practice all sections every day. While reading and listening are passive skills, they require you to process the information given and answer the questions.
However, writing and speaking are active skills where you make content independently. Feedback from an expert on all sections is crucial so as to identify your mistakes and work on the relevant skill.
The IELTS exam becomes easy if you study using the following resources:
1. Road to IELTS: Road to IELTS is the British Council’s official online preparation course. It’s an excellent resource to start your preparation.
2. The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS: This book is suitable for both IELTS academic as well as general training.
3. Cambridge IELTS 17 Academic Student’s Book with Answers: This book gives access to authentic IELTS test papers. It also contains tips for each section and explains different question types.
4. Newspapers and magazines: Pick up national news daily for reading and speaking practice. Focus on the editorial section of the newspaper to cultivate a reading habit and improve vocabulary. You can also refer to magazines such as The National Geographic and Nature.
Lastly, writing the exam at the right time is extremely important. Begin with the end in mind and plan your IELTS test date in accordance with the university admissions deadline. Start preparing at least six months before the targeted score submission deadline to ensure that you have enough runway to prepare (30 to 60 days), practice (15 to 30 days), write the exam and repeat the entire process in case you don’t get the targeted IELTS score in the first attempt. And finally, the day before your exam, relax, sleep, and eat well.
(The writer is the vice president of international education at Career Launcher)