International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is one of the most prominent tools to evaluate a person's English language skills.
Contrary to the popular belief that IELTS is only needed for higher studies and going abroad, it can also be helpful to secure jobs.
For instance, a good band score in IELTS could give you an edge in getting selected or employed in various multinational corporations and international NGOs in Bangladesh.
Besides, some private universities like BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University, and Asian University for Women in Chattogram require an IELTS certificate.
So, what is IELTS and why is it so important?
IELTS comprises four sections - listening, reading, writing, and speaking. It is a high stake English proficiency test required for study, migration or work which is recognised by more than 10,000 organisations in 140 countries around the world.
More than three million tests were taken last year only.
IELTS offers two tests. IELTS Academic is mostly needed when one wants to apply to universities for higher studies to prove your English language proficiency.
Universities provide scholarships based on a student's band score. A high band score in IELTS will boost a student's chances of getting accepted at respectable universities.
IELTS General Training is required as a prerequisite for permanent residency and jobs by governments in more countries than any other English language exam.
The IELTS General Training test, unlike other providers, is the only non-academic test available for migration to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK and the US.
An international team of experts designs the exam content for IELTS and undergoes rigorous testing to ensure that the test remains equal and impartial for any applicant - regardless nationality, background, gender, lifestyle, or region.
IELTS exam comes in two formats - computer and paper based.
Both the formats require you to sit for four sections of the exam on listening, reading, writing, and speaking.
While the examinee is required to sit for listening, reading, and writing on the same day one after the other, speaking is tested in a separate slot.
The difference in these two formats is not vast but as the name suggests, the computer-based test is taken on a computer while the paper-based is taken on paper.
There are no advantages and disadvantages in any of the formats. The mediums are different for the examinee's suitability.
There are four sections with 10 questions per segment in the IELTS listening exam.
Examinees will have to listen to four recordings of English native speakers and answer the questions.
The duration for this section of the exam is 30 minutes.
The four recordings will test the examinees grasp on the speakers' concepts, facts, attitudes, and viewpoints, the intent of the recording, and how well they follow the creation of ideas.
The reading test differs a bit based on the formats.
For both IELTS Academic and General Training, the examinees are required to answer 40 questions in 60 minutes.
However, IELTS Academic paper has three long texts which can be descriptive, factual, and analytical; tailored for students applying for higher studies.
For General Training, there are excerpts from magazines, books, newspapers, advertisements tailored for general mass.
The reading test is designed to test the examinee's ability to pick key ideas, information, rational arguments, skimming and how they assess the attitudes, opinions, and intentions of the authors.
The writing test consists of two tasks and the duration is 60 minutes for both Academic and General Training modules.
For the Writing Task 2, examinees will have to write an essay as a response to an argument, problem or opinion, while Writing Task 1 will differ based on the module.
Examinees of the Academic module will be given a table, chart, graph or diagram which they will have to describe, explain or summarise in their own words.
However, for the General Training module, they will have to write a letter to request information on or explain a given situation.
Unlike the previous three sectors, the speaking test only takes 15 minutes.
The speaking test assesses a person's proficiency and fluency in English speaking.
However, examinees usually have a hard time with the speaking test as most do not talk in English on a regular basis.
Examinees will converse with an examiner, where they will ask questions in three parts.
For part one, the examinee will be asked introductory questions about themselves and other generic questions about family, home, jobs, interests and studies. This part usually takes four to five minutes.
In part two, the examiner will provide a cue card with a topic written on it.
Examinees will have one minute to prepare and speak on that topic for two minutes.
Part three will be a round of follow-up questions related to that topic for the remainder of the time.
How to prepare for IELTS
As preparation, examinees should have a plan tailored to one's skills and weaknesses.
One of the most significant issues everyone faces in these exams is time management. The allocated time for each section might seem enough but in reality, it's quite the opposite.
So, to manage time, examinees should prepare a planned schedule and adhere to it.
To get a good band score, "Examinees need to be mindful, which helps a lot during the test as they will know what to look for and which keywords to choose, especially in the listening and reading tests," said, Nafisa Ferdous, a recent IELTS examinee who scored an overall band score of 8.5.
"Time management is a key factor. Especially in listening, utilising every second is important," added Nafisa.
Isa Ibn Saleheen, another examinee who scored an overall band score of 8.5 said, "The key to a good score in listening is to not let your mind wander because the recording will not be played again and you might lose vital information."
Another way to prepare for IELTS is to surround yourself with English.
Find a medium that works best for you. Listen to English native recordings, watch movies without subtitles and find a partner who is skilled in spoken English to practice your fluency.
"I found that YouTube has been more helpful than any book or study guide. The videos can help break down exactly what it is the examiners want from you," said Isa.
One of the myths regarding IELTS is that the better the vocabulary, the higher the band score.
While that statement is true to some extent, it is more important to incorporate vocabulary with proper connectors and knowledge on when and where to use them.
This will make a rigid write-up transition more smoothly during the writing test.
Examinees should practice for at least 20 minutes a day to get accustomed to the formal writing format for the academic module and build a better scale of fundamentals.
Along with that, learn how to multitask, which will be an essential skill for the listening and reading test.
When asked, an IELTS expert seeking anonymity said, "Instead of focusing on the interaction and engagement during speaking, most examinees answer in a robotic way as if they have been memorizing the answers. This leads to failure to keep the conversation flowing and the examinee misses out the key points of the questions."
"Imagine you are at a party and the person you are talking to asked you, 'Have you been to Cox's Bazar?' and you answered, 'Yes, I have journeyed to Cox's Bazar.' Nobody in real life would answer the question that way. So why would you do that in the exam?" the expert said, adding, "The speaking test is all about keeping up with the questions and answering them while just simply making conversation."
There are IELTS practice samples that can be found on various websites such as https://ieltsonlinetests.com/ where examinees can practice for free.
"E2 IELTS" is a YouTube channel that has dedicated videos for each task of the four tests.
Besides, if candidates feel like they should start from scratch, various test preparation centres take mock tests and crash courses for students to prepare better.
"What I did was sit for a mock test without any preparation to understand what level I was at then," Nafisa said. This is a good way to know where your weaknesses are and work on it.
Registration centers for IELTS
Examinees can register for IELTS at any branch of the British Council or IDP for both computer and paper-based IELTS.
The registration fee is Tk17,500.
While the results for the paper-based exam is published within 12 to 15 days, the results for the computer-based tests are published within three to five days.