Some time ago I wrote about Vy Bui who took home Band 8.0. Since Vy was very kind and emailed a detailed story of her preparation, I am happy to share it here, with the hope that more people will be able to use the same techniques to achieve their target score.
“When I took the IELTS test, I didn’t expect to get an 8.0. I have to say I thought I would get a 6.0 at least and was hoping for a 6.5. After trying several sample tests, I knew I could get a 7 on average so I was aiming for Band 7. So I suggest trying out some tests first to see what levels you are at.
The first part is always easy. You know for sure the answers will be exactly in the order that the record goes. So I took a quick look to see what the topic was about and I knew when they mention the key word, the answer will come shortly in a second, that way I could never miss it. While I still had time, I checked out as many questions as I could in the next pages and continued to do the same thing, as you don’t really need time to check your answers once each part finishes.
The hard part for me was the multiple choice in Part 3. But through practice, I discovered if I underline the keywords I will not get confused with all the answers and it will take less time to get the main ideas of the answers. I remembered I missed two questions, so in the end I tried to make a guess. All three choices will always be mentioned so the best way was to deduct the wrong answers.
You would be amazed if I said I had more than 13 minutes left in the reading test. But this is true, and I got 8.5. The only thing I did was skimming. I would say I didn’t read through any passage. The first thing I did was going straight to question one and I went all the way through. I knew the order will either be from top to bottom, or from bottom to the top. So if I got the first answer I knew the second will come between the first and the third. I looked for the keywords in the questions and then looked for them in the passage.
I knew the answer choices will always be the distractions and just one will be right. So all the choices will surely be mentioned in the passage. They don’t make up the choices. So I knew exactly where the answer was. The only thing was to understand what the sentence that contains the answer actually means in order to choose the right answer.
I don’t have much experience with writing. 3 years ago I was marked at 6.5 -7.0 but now i am still at the same grade. The only thing I would say is try to learn the structure, try to integrate your great range of vocabulary, try to understand the rules (no short writing, no personal view and such things).
If you’ve got the structure, you’ve got 50% of the marks you want. If you’ve got the example, you got another 25%. The rest is checking your grammar (and try to get the main ideas of the graphic if you are doing part 1). I was so confident at writing but it turned out to be the one I got the least mark at. So, practice, practice and practice you will get better.
I was not good at speaking. Not because of my accent or vocabulary, just because I never have anything to say. Part 1 was easy, I tried to answer everything I know about me and it’s easy to practice. But I’m bad at making up answers. So I got stuck at part 2. The examiner kept signaling me to talk more because she couldn’t mark if I didn’t say much. OK, so, I would suggest you to show him/ her that you are willing to talk, just pull out anything you can from your head about the QUESTION (don’t get carried away she/he will think you have no idea what they ask or what you’re talking), speak loud and clearly, try to speak fluently but at a moderate speed so you won’t get much ‘uhm’, ‘ah’ in the way.
You don’t need to show how smart you are, just show how well you can speak English. Don’t try out new words, it’s not the time to. If you try to keep it normal when you don’t know what to say, just say “I have never thought about this, let me see” and try to brainstorm. Do not ever sit there and look at them. I would say I did not talk much but she gave me quite a good mark, probably because I spoke at a moderate speed and clearly.
Don’t get too scared or disappointed with your situation. I’m in the third year at uni and I work all the time. I didn’t go to any IELTS classes (my friends said “You CAN NEVER get a 6.5 without going to classes”). I only spent one week to practice and not much (my friends told me “You need at least 3 months to go from one level to another”). I only took IELTS once, this is the first time (my friends said “You got to do it again and again and at least 3 times to get the mark you want”). And I am not very good at English, trust me.
Just practice, practice and practice. You know what it’s like, you figure out what strategy works for you, you sit in the exam and do it your way. Don’t listen to anybody; don’t try to pressure yourself to follow one’s style. If you know what suits you and get you the highest marks in the practice, then do it that way.
After all, I must say that Simone’s blog has motivated me. I had looked at the writing examples. I had looked at the speaking questions. I found a lot of tips about exam’s marking and secrets of success here. Some of those I know I got to remember so I won’t get my marks deducted. I suggest looking out all these tips to know what you got to do to score best.”