Less than two weeks ago, I took IELTS, partly because I had always wondered what the big deal is with so many people ‘failing’ and also because I think I might need it soon. On a whim, I went to the website, registered to take it on one of those public holidays, and pretty much forgot about it. Two days before the exam, I got an email reminder and I was startled. Apparently, they had sent me multiple emails that went to spam. The email prompted me to go and prepare on their site. I couldn’t that day because the end of the month comes with a huge rush of pressure. But my mind was not at rest 24 hours before the exam. So I dumped all I was doing the night before the exam and watched the videos for the writing and speaking and then did a full exercise for the listening and reading.
Less than 4 days after the exam, I got notified of my results via the British Council portal. Yesterday afternoon, I got a call that the physical delivery of my result was underway. I wondered if the result I saw on the portal would have changed because I felt disappointed. I should have scored higher, because…well, why not? The result remained as:
Listening – 8.5
Reading – 7.5
Writing – 8.0
Speaking – 7.5
Overall – 8.0
I was most disappointed with Writing because I thought I deserved the full mark of 9. Then the examiner for the Speaking seem a bit of a jerk with that score. She was all smiles and was even grateful that I corrected one of her follow-up questions. To see her score me 7.5 is upsetting. To be frank, I thought I did best in Reading. I had a lot of time to go over my answers. Listening was a bit of a pleasant surprise. My practice showed it was my weak point and I had resigned to an 8. If I score 8.5 there, then the least I should have gotten in the others is 8.5.
Life is such a mystery.
I showed my result to one of my friends in Canada and he said it is a very good result. He said he would send someone my way for some tips. Then I thought, why not share it with as many people as may benefit from this.
I would start by saying that IELTS is an easy exam and just with a little practice you can score 7.5. With a lot of practice, I don’t see why you can’t score an 8.5 or the highest mark – 9. Yet, I can see the reason IELTS is considered important for citizens of countries like Nigeria. Look, if you want to study or migrate abroad, you are not a regular person. You are one of the best in your country by virtue of privilege, education, and/or exposure. So you will be gauged against the best in their country. The least you could do is prove them wrong. Where I don’t agree is the 2-year expiry. It’s silly. Do I suddenly lose my English communication ability in 2 years?
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Don’t cram anything going to the exam. While we were waiting at Workforce, I was surprised to see a few people cramming. What is there to cram? You won’t be asked the same questions. Your best bet is to understand how to answer the question. I saw people cramming Speaking questions. No, please. They won’t ask you what you are cramming.
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This was difficult for me. I realized it was difficult when I saw I didn’t score 40/40 on my test. My mind kept drifting. Thinking about it, it must be because I never watch movies without subtitles. So actually listening to what they are saying is not something I deliberately do. In this exam, there is no subtitle. They will play the audio once and expect you to answer the questions as you listen. You have to pay attention to every detail of the conversation. Most times, at least for me, it is not that you didn’t hear what they are saying or the accent confused you, it’s simply that you were not focused. Train your mind to snap back to reality. I would probably have scored low if I didn’t take that practice test the night before. It helped me to be intentionally focused. So, take as many practice questions as possible.
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You have 60 minutes for this. There will be two tasks – one for 20 minutes and the other for 40 minutes. Attempt Task 2 first. It takes twice as many marks as Task 1. Task 2 will be a bit formal – in my case, they asked what I thought about leaving driving a car for only people older than 18 (at least 250 words). Task 1 told me to write a letter to a friend who gave me a book that helped me in my presentation at work (at least 150 words).
For Task 1, I ended up writing 300 words, and about 450 for Task 2. I couldn’t stop writing. It was after I finished that I realized I had written so much. When I tried cutting back the words, I kept seeing that they left mismatched words and I had to start correcting tenses and all. It was frustrating, so I left it as is. Thinking back now, it occurred to me that the typos and incorrect tenses could be the reason for the 8 I got. Such a shame.
I advise that you limit your Task 1 to a maximum of 200 words and Task 2 to 300.
I worked on a formula before I went in: Task 1 should be 3/4/4/3 – 3 short sentences for paragraph 1, 4 for paragraph 2, 4 for 3, and the last 3 sentences for the last paragraph. For Task 2, I planned 3/7/7/3. To be honest, I didn’t really follow my plan. The tasks were too enticing and I just kept writing. If I had practiced more, I would have trained myself to stick to my plan. Remember short sentences.
Don’t write down every detail. Always use linking words. Use words like To Begin, Also, Moreover, In Addition, Furthermore, In closing – words like that. Your sentences need to flow into one another.
Read what you have written aloud. Aloud. It’s important because that is how you catch errors. Errors are punished in this exam.
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Read the questions first. Don’t worry about time. You will have a lot of time for this section. So, read the questions first, then read the passage. If a question troubles you, don’t worry about it, go on to the next. You can come back later. Don’t put your words in the passage. Read the passage. Answer only to what the passage says. They are testing you for that. The Not Given/False questions are especially tricky. If it is not in the passage, it is not false, it is Not Given. If you can’t figure out why the statement is right or wrong, almost always, the answer is Not Given.
Seriously, there is so much time for this section that I am beating myself up for not scoring 9. Don’t play First to Finish. It would not matter if you flunk this section. Go over it again and again. If you score at least C6 in WAEC’s English, you should not score below 7.5 here.
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For this one, I don’t understand why the woman scored me 7.5. My answers were prim and proper. This section is subjective, so your best bet is to practice. I did not practice. If you practice, you should score at least 8.
Practice by recording yourself and then listening to yourself. You will catch errors and inconsistencies. Then graduate to videoing yourself. Practice till you are as fluent and understandable as possible.
When you go to see the examiner who will ask you questions, go in confidently and with a smile. Don’t correct his/her questions like me. Just answer what they ask.
In the speaking test, they are testing for your fluency and coherence, lexical resource, grammatical range and accuracy, and pronunciation. They are not testing for the truth. You don’t have to say the truth. You simply have to make sure your English ability is on point.
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I only used the exercise on this link – www.ieltsregistration.britishcouncil.org. I realized that only a few are free, you have to pay for the rest. I didn’t even have time to finish the free ones. I only did one full exercise for the Reading and Listening, watched a video each for Writing and Speaking, and went to bed. You should finish all the free exercises and watch the free videos.
I don’t advise paying for the other ones. There are free practice exercises all over the internet. A few are:
– IELTS Buddy
– IELTS Online Tests
– IELTS LIZ
Though I didn’t use any of them, I have been reliably informed that they are great. Practice and practice.
You know what, I could make myself available on Zoom if you ever need someone to take a last-minute practice with. Just buzz me and I will let you know of my availability.
I wish you the best. And remember, IELTS is easy to pass.
Book a session with our IELTS smasher on Whatsapp here.