By Teacher Jon
A good IELTS study plan can do a lot to prepare you for the test. These steps will help you organize an ideal study plan.
- Useful resources
- Ideal study space
- Understanding the test format
- Immersion – not over-study
- Taking mock tests
It’s always a good idea to purchase at least one standard Cambridge guidebook, but it’s important to understand which are most suitable for your needs.
- Cambridge IELTS Trainer (2011): A general introduction to the test, containing an explanation of question types and test sections, along with training exercises for specific skills, and providing six real tests. Useful for beginners, but beware that it doesn’t provide a lot of detail and some parts are outdated.
- Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS (2014): A much more detailed introduction to the test, explaining question types and test sections, training exercises for specific skills, video samples of speaking responses at different bands, and providing eight real tests. Much more detailed than the IELTS Trainer, though it’s also getting a little old, with some parts becoming outdated.
- Cambridge IELTS Trainer 2 (2019): Available in either general or academic format, this is a much better version of the original IELTS Trainer, and is the most up to date Cambridge IELTS guide. Like the original IELTS Trainer, it contains a good introduction to the test format, question types, and test sections. It also provides six real tests. This is currently the best book for intermediate and advanced students; beginners might want to start with the Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS, since it provides far more introductory information and skill building material.
There are many other books by other publishers and authors, but most of them just provide test material, and many of them don’t provide the same kind of detail about the test that the Cambridge books do. There are a few exceptions, but not many.
One exception is “IELTS Speaking” by Mat Clark, a former IELTS examiner. Written in both English and Chinese, it’s the best book I’ve ever found for understanding and training for the IELTS speaking test. It’s ideal for beginners and very helpful for advanced learners, providing a thorough understanding of the test itself, in far more detail than the Cambridge books, and helping you build a study plan for the test. I strongly recommend it, regardless of your English level.
Test resources & advice
Ideal study space
At this stage of your life you’ll already have a good understanding of the kind of environment in which you find you’re able to study best, so I won’t go into too much detail about this. However, you will definitely need large blocks of time in which you can focus on specific tasks without interruption.
For example, the Writing Task 1 takes 20 minutes to complete, and Task 2 takes another 40. That’s 60 minutes already. Even if you just practice Task 1, it will take you a few minutes to read the question and prepare yourself, another 20 to write, and a further 15-20 for review and revision. That’s nearly an hour just on a single writing task.
At the start, it’s best to focus on practicing specific skills rather than doing entire sections or tasks in the test. Take your time working through the skill building exercises in your IELTS study guide, and the freely available exercises you find online.
Understanding the test format
This is absolutely critical. Many students do not understand that IELTS is not simply a memory test, nor is it only testing your vocabulary, grammar, and spelling. The key to IELTS is that it is testing your ability to use your English knowledge and skills at a native English level.
This requires more than simply knowing lots of vocabulary and grammar. Your speaking style is being tested, your writing style is being tested, and your ability to comprehend information in English and make logical connections is being tested.The test is examining your ability to use these skills at native English level.
Immersion, not over-study
It’s a good idea to study regularly. It’s a bad idea to over-study. Break down your study plan into manageable sections. Focus on a small number of skills each day, with a small number of exercises. Don’t try to write three Task 1 exercises, or record more than one speaking test. Decide which skills you’re going to focus on each day, and practice those skills with a small number of exercises.
It’s a good idea to train related skills on the same day; reading and writing together, speaking and listening together. Figure out which skills you need to practice more, and which exercises will help you train those skills. Do a couple of exercises for each skill.
You need time to immerse yourself in the language and in the test environment, so give yourself enough time to prepare for the exercises, complete the exercises, review the exercises, and revise your work. This will take a lot more time than you think (see the previous explanation of how long writing tasks take to complete), so plan carefully.
Taking mock tests
A complete mock test is an ideal way to assess your skills in a test environment, placing you under the mental pressure you will experience in the real test. One mock test in a single day is enough; remember, just completing the test will take a lot of time, and you still need additional time to review and revise.
You can use the mock tests in your standard Cambridge IELTS study book, or the tests you can find freely available online. Alternatively, you might want to contact Englist to arrange for a more life-like mock test with detailed feedback and a generally accurate (though not official), test score.
It’s easy enough to practice listening and reading parts of the IELTS test by yourself. However, if you want to really improve your speaking and writing skills, you’re going to need some reliable feedback from a tutor.
People approach this issue in different ways. Yes, you could find a local native English speaker for language exchange. Yes, you could find a local Taiwanese friend with good English. They’ll be useful for general conversation practice. However, if you really want to train specifically for IELTS, you’re best finding someone who is actually experienced and knowledgeable with the IELTS tests.