Today we are going to share some very practical tips from Okata, a Nigerian student, who took the IELTS test for the first time and got Band 8 straight away. This score made him a winner in our May results competition. He emailed us and said:
“I’d like to thank you for all the wonderful tips I received from your site during my preparation for the exam. I’m sure I might have done even better if I had access to Target Band 7 book. Either way, I am very happy with the result I made and will like to specially thank you all at IELTS Blog. I am more than willing to share my experience with other readers of your site if you wish”.
How could we miss this opportunity?! Of course we got in touch with Okata to hear his story and get his advice.
Okata’s IELTS preparation tips
“This was my first attempt at the IELTS. I registered for the examination a month before my test date and had only that month to prepare. All my preparation was basically from tips on the IELTS Blog and Road to IELTS application. I read through numerous sample essays, test taker experiences as well as test tips and took various practice tests. I believe the IELTS blog ‘Creating a positive impression’ course by Donna Millen was the most helpful preparation tool for me the week before the exam. It really exposed brilliant tips in a concise, easy-to-understand-and-implement format.
For the Speaking section, it is very important that you speak in English as much as possible in the weeks leading up to the exam. As much as possible, avoid local dialect and slang when preparing. It’s also very important that one has a very good idea of the time frame and practices accordingly. Try speaking on as many sample topics as possible in preparation, it saves you thinking time in the actual test. Don’t just think about your answers, actually speak. Check your pronunciation too. It’s common for non native speakers to wrongly pronounce relatively common words due to mother tongue interference. Use idioms too. I scored a 7.5 here.
For the Writing section, you’ve got to read a lot and practice writing yourself. To make preparatory reading more enjoyable, try to read articles on topics you’re actually interested in. For instance, I like Football/Soccer, so every day I read all the new articles on the Football365 website and was able to have some fun while learning a significant amount of words and writing techniques.
Practice regularly. Try to know as many synonyms as you can for frequently used words to prevent repetition. Words like ‘rise’ and ‘fall’ are examples of commonly used words in Academic Task 1 so knowing at least three synonyms can make you interchange easily and write faster, more effectively and with less monotony. Words like ‘significant, large, small, rise, fall, better, worse, frequent, good, bad, healthy’ etc are words you’ll most likely use very often while writing so know their synonyms and use them. A thesaurus should help with that. The connecting words are also very important and one needs to get used to using them effortlessly. Proper structure and organization is also a necessity but PRACTICE is most pertinent here. I scored 7.5 on this section.
It is my opinion that the Reading section is the easiest of all four as the answers are always on the sheet of paper in front of you. I always check the questions before reading the essays or articles which are normally very long. This allows me to use my common sense to guess possible answers and find them easily while reading through the essay. Nevertheless, expect use of synonyms in the phrasing of the questions. The answers will rarely ever be taken word-for-word from the essay. Your reading stamina will be tested so it is important that you practice a lot with mock tests to enable you get a good picture of how long the essays normally are. I scored an 8.5 in it.
The Listening section is almost as straight forward as the Reading section except for the fact that it can be only heard once. This means you need maximum concentration and lots of practice. Watch movies (in English) without subtitles, listen to lectures, get familiar with the common English accents as an accent can make an answer to a question sound more confusing than it actually is. ALWAYS use the time breaks to read the questions on the next section. This way you can anticipate the possible conversation pattern and know when the conversation is about to reveal the required answers. This is of immense importance. Don’t spend too long thinking, just write the answer or conflicting answers beside the question and continue listening out for the answer to the next question. At the end of each section, check your answers in the context of the question and make final decisions on conflicting ones. Ensure it works grammatically in the sentence given in the question. Follow instructions, no use of synonyms or paraphrasing of answers heard. Write exactly what you hear, taking note of the instructions but make sure your answer fits seamlessly and correctly into the question. I scored a 9 in this section.
To sum up, I found out that speaking for two minutes on a relatively straight-forward experience isn’t as simple as I originally thought. Talk to people, talk in front of a mirror, talk to yourself and always make sure you say it out loud and not just think it. Concentrate as much as possible and read the coming questions while listening. Scan and skim through the reading texts but not before reading the questions. Read professional articles and opinion pieces as often as you can and practice writing regularly with time and word number criteria in mind. Get conversant with common synonyms and adequate connecting words. Organize properly. Most importantly, practice.
Generally, the Reading and Listening sections are judged objectively and as such are easier to score higher on. Nothing is more important than practice, however. No matter how many tips and experiences you read and hear, without practice you can never spot your weak points and work on them as a result. Practice as much as possible and practice with time. Take full tests (Listening, followed by Reading followed by Writing, all timed) if possible. Get very conversant with the exam format and time constraints and you’ll most likely score much higher than you will now.
I hope reading my experience will prove very helpful to you. Good luck!”