Understanding IELTS Practice Tests
IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is mostly used for college, school, university, as well as visa applications. The test consists of four papers, and is designed to measure a candidate’s ability to use the language in an academic context. Many candidates prepare for the IELTS test by buying practice test books or by downloading sample tests from the official IELTS website. However, in our experience, a lot of students do not fully exploit the practice test material. One thing to remember is that on the whole: taking IELTS practice tests will not improve your IELTS score. IELTS Practice tests are used for checking your IELTS score. So here are 5 practical ways to use your use the test book you’ve just bought:
1. READING TEST: Backwards reading
Instead of just doing the questions and checking your answers, try to find the location of the answers, as well as the reason for the answer. This is especially useful in TRUE/FALSE/NOT GIVEN and YES/NO/NOT GIVEN questions, where they are always presented in the order of the text. Alternatively, simply turn to the answer page, and locate them in the text. This will better your understanding of how the test-writers set the questions, and improve your time management on the day of your test.
2. READING TEST: Predicting text structure
Have you ever tried the technique of ‘sampling’? This is done by reading the first paragraph of a text, then the first sentence of all the other paragraphs. In doing so, you gain awareness of the text structure, and in turn, you may be able to anticipate the location of the answers more quickly. Most reading texts follow one of the structures:
- Analytic: discuss problem and solution, cause and effect
- Discursive: express different opinions about an issue
- Narrative: present a chronological sequence of events
- Descriptive: outline situations, explain how something is done, categorise something
3. SPEAKING TEST: Analysing question type
In addition to doing speaking mock tests, annotate the tests to help you to structure your answers. For example, in the two-way discussion, identify the question type so you can better demonstrate your ideas at length. Does the question require you to compare or contrast? To agree and disagree? To discuss pros and cons? To speculate about the future? To make generalisations? Once you have identified the question, note down set phrases you can use to begin your answer. So if you need to generalise, you can say ‘on the whole’ or ‘generally speaking’. Or if you need to make a prediction, you can say ‘it’s quite likely that’. If you have this information beforehand, you will notice an improvement in your fluency and coherence.
4. LISTENING TEST: Answer dictation
One difficulty with the listening test is that they require you spell your answers accurately. You will not get any credit for the answer if there is a mistake on the answer sheet. If you have a lot of practice test books, find a patient friend and ask them to dictate the answers to the listening test as you write them down. I’m not talking about ‘A, B, C, D, E’ of course, but the ones which are tricky to spell. In section three, the test-writers generally require you to spell words in the context of education, such as ‘assessment, seminar, lecturer’. Thousands of marks have been lost because of misspelt answers!
5. WRITING TEST: Imitating dialogues
You don’t necessarily have to write a lot of essays to improve your score, but you should equip yourself with lots of ideas. If you allocate an hour a day to study for the essay, it may be more useful to plan four essays than to write one. Outline your ideas in note form, using topic vocabulary and collocations. Then, instead of writing the essay, have a conversation with someone based on the notes you have made.
Further information on IELTS Practice Tests
If you are studying for your IELTS test at an English language school, ask your teacher for more tips on how to use practice test papers and how to do extra self-study at home to maximise your chances of achieving the score you need.
Good luck with your test!