The IELTS (or International English Language Testing System) is an English proficiency test completed by millions of people each year. So should you be thinking about taking it? And how much time do you need to prepare? Our IELTS experts share their advice.
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Why take IELTS?
IELTS is one of the most widely recognised and respected language tests in the world, whether by employers, universities, or governments. It can be taken for academic or general purposes, usually to access higher education or to move to a country where English is the native language.
It’s a challenging test, but it can also be the key to an exciting life change for many people. Even if you are not planning to apply for university or relocate overseas in the near future, simply having the certificate under your belt will boost your prospects and give you the confidence to embrace new opportunities.
One of the most valuable outcomes of the standardised test is that it will give you an objective assessment of your English skills. Just by going through the process of preparing for the IELTS, you’ll see marked improvement in your English and gain a sound understanding of the level you’re at.
When should you start preparing?
You can take the IELTS test with little to no preparation if you’d like to gauge your current level of English, but bear in mind that the test is fast-paced and every candidate can benefit from some strategic practice.
You may already be aware that you will be tested on four areas of communication: listening, reading, writing and speaking. There is no break between the first three sections, so you will need to be feeling mentally sharp and familiar with the test format to perform at your best.
Everybody is different, but to cover all four skills areas sufficiently enough to do well under timed test conditions, it is a good idea to allow at least six to eight weeks for preparation. Within this time, you should make English practice a daily commitment, with a structured plan to get you to where you need to be. In addition, you will ideally immerse yourself in English through movies, books, podcasts and any other medium that will help you to build your vocabulary and reinforce your learning.
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Three common challenges with IELTS preparation
If, like many test-takers, you haven’t faced an exam in many years or you are generally anxious about being assessed under exam conditions, it’s possible that you will encounter a few challenges on your IELTS journey. Know that with consistent practice and a good support system, your goals are absolutely achievable. Here are three of the most common challenges students face in their IELTS preparation and how to overcome them.
Getting started. When you think about how much you need to master in the time you have, combined with the daunting prospect of facing an examiner, you might be tempted to put your preparation off for another day or two. The problem with this is that it only increases your nerves. Make a plan, start small, and quickly you’ll build the momentum to keep going.
Avoiding areas of weakness. It’s only human to want to focus on the skills we find easiest, but try to give additional attention to those areas that you find most challenging. Seek support from a friend or learning buddy who can offer encouragement and keep you motivated to improve.
Not timing yourself. The IELTS will require you to perform under pressure, so make timed practice a part of your preparation strategy.
How the British Council’s IELTS Coach Express course can help
If you have a limited amount of study time, get the help you need to make fast progress with our IELTS Coach Express course. A condensed version of our full IELTS preparation course, this intensive programme will help you to identify areas for improvement and gain expert support in reaching your goals. Lean on the experience of our highly qualified teachers and receive detailed, individual feedback so that you can feel as confident as possible on test day.
Find out more about our IELTS intensive course and discover our free MyClub language workshops for British Council students. You might also find our IELTS preparation how-to guide and IELTS writing samples helpful.