The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is an international standardised test designed with the aim to evaluate a candidate's English proficiency in listening, reading, writing and speaking.
The test can either be taken on paper or on a computer.
There are two types of IELTS test: general training and academic examination, with four separate sections - reading, writing, listening and speaking.
While most students find the reading section to be daunting, it is possible to obtain the desired score by following some simple steps.
The first step will be to research the various kinds of questions you are likely to face.
Arin Rahman, an IELTS instructor at GRIT who recently took the test and received an overall band score of 8, particularly stressed on the need for familiarising with the reading.
"This will not only increase the candidate's confidence while preparing for the test, but they will also be less concerned about the best strategy to use to answer the questions during the exam, saving a lot of valuable time," Arin suggested.
According to Arin, the majority of her students struggle the most to manage time during the reading test. So making proper use of every minute is important.
Mohammad Daulat-Al-Rashid, an IELTS trainer from Mentors', informed the correspondent that many candidates score low not because their English proficiency is insufficient, but because they do not bother to read the instructions thoroughly.
"For instance, a question may require the candidate to answer in one word, but if he/she does not notice that, they may answer in two words - causing a loss of easy marks," he added.
In retrospect, Arin further suggested to avoid spending too much time on a single question. She added, "Keep in mind that the goal is not to answer them all correctly, but to answer enough of them to get the desired band score."
"Along with making oneself acquainted with the type of questions he/she may get, the candidate should first understand that the marks for the second writing task is higher than the first task. No more than 20 minutes should be spent on the first task in order to have enough time to properly answer the second."
Justifying her suggestion, Arin said, "To score a 7.5, one should typically get 32 to 34 out of 40, and thus wasting more time than necessary to find the answer to one question may mean that he/she will leave less time for the other questions that carry more marks. This may cause them to panic during the last moment and hamper their chances of securing a decent score."
Mohammad also pointed out that with practice, one should be able to identify the questions a candidate frequently struggles to answer within the allotted time, and the ones that consume less time.
He continued, "This will enable a candidate to be confident about allocating more time for some questions without panicking."
"Furthermore, it is fairly common for certain questions to use particular keywords from the passages which don't carry the answer. To avoid this, it is essential to understand the context of the entire paragraph," he added.
Mohammad asserted that candidates will benefit greatly from developing the skill to skim and scan the essay.
"The most effective way to develop these abilities is to put them to use on a regular basis," he said.
This section's goal is to evaluate a candidate's ability to write proper responses, arrange ideas, and use lexical resources and grammar properly.
Sadia Afroz, who received an overall score of 8 and is a trainer with years of experience in the field, said, "Along with making oneself acquainted with the type of questions he/she may get, the candidate should first understand that the marks for the second writing task is higher than the first task. No more than 20 minutes should be spent on the first task in order to have enough time to properly answer the second."
She brought up another important point, "Most candidates are seen writing irrelevant details to increase the length of their answers, believing that writing more will get them more marks."
As per Sadia's expertise, it is more important to write only as much as required and to keep the writing to the point. Quantity will not take precedence over quality.
Mohammad further suggested avoiding writing everything in one paragraph. In addition to providing a clear introduction and conclusion, it is crucial to divide an answer into small paragraphs.
It is important to avoid spelling mistakes as it can cost valuable marks. Learning the proper spelling of widely misspelled words, playing word games and breaking the words down, among other things, can be beneficial.
A wide range of IELTS exercise books and past IELTS papers are available both online and in bookstores. Reading these books will not only give the candidates an understanding of a variety of topics, but will also improve their writing skills in general.
This section has 40 questions to be answered in 30 minutes with 10 more minutes to transfer the answers during the listening section.
The first two parts of listening focuses on everyday situations while parts three and four deal with training and educational scenarios.
Mohammad has observed that many candidates tend to lose marks by making spelling and grammatical errors, which is why it is important to be very careful while writing the answers. It is also very important to carefully read the instructions on top of the question paper.
According to Sadia, it is better to guess an answer rather than leaving any question unanswered as there is no negative marking in IELTS.
Arin suggested learning as many synonyms as possible while preparing for the exam because synonyms are used in many of the questions in the listening and reading sections. "It is also necessary to know the different meaning of the words in order to correctly write some of the answers," she said.
Mohammad recommended watching English programmes with or without subtitles and listening to English songs to learn unfamiliar words. This will aid a candidate to improve overall listening skills as well as their ability to write, read and speak English.
A candidate must speak fluently and spontaneously during the speaking interview to achieve the desired score. In case the candidate makes a mistake, there is no reason to panic.
Instead, the candidate should continue to speak as a few minor errors will not have as much of an adverse impact on the score as making serious mistakes while panicked, suggested Mohammad.
"A candidate should make every effort to speak in a structured manner. Thinking about the structure for a while before the interview begins will help the candidate prepare better. To buy some time, the candidate can cleverly rephrase the examiner's questions and add fillers such as 'this is an interesting question, I have never had the opportunity to think about it before'. But this should not be done frequently," Arin advised.
Mohammad noted that candidates should not shy away from expressing their emotions while speaking. The tone of a speech is what distinguishes a skilled speaker from an amateur. He said "The candidate should speak as if they are speaking their native tongue."
"The candidate's goal should be to extend the speech so that the response does not appear brief and uncooperative. If the examiner asks a single-sentenced question, the candidate's response should include multiple sentences," Arin concluded.