Taking the IELTS exam is a huge stepping stone to your future. It is scary and overwhelming. And that’s okay! It’s normal. Take a deep breath and work through the following list of effective preparation strategies. Having a plan of attack and following it systematically will not only improve your English skills but will reduce your anxiety and increase your confidence.
Step 1 - Understand the test
Start with understanding the test. How many sections does it have? How long are those sections? How much time will you have per section? Knowing the format of the test will ease your anxiety and help you focus your learning as you practice, practice, practice.
STEP 2 - TAKE THE TEST
Take Step 1 further by taking the IELTS. Experience how it feels to go through the process. Get a real understanding of how you will perform on the test - under pressure. If this is impossible, take a realistic, timed practice test. This is invaluable experience.
STEP 3 - CREATE REALISTIC GOALS
After reviewing (and hopefully taking) the test, determine your areas of weakness. Set attainable goals in these areas. Learning a new language takes time and patience, and setting unreachable expectations for yourself will only discourage you. By setting goals and benchmarks that you can achieve within a reasonable time frame, you will be able to recognize your improvement and stay motivated.
Step 4 - Seek out English material
What better way to acquaint yourself with another language than to surround yourself with it? Find podcasts, TED Talks, television shows and movies, blogs, and newspapers that are in English, and then dedicate a portion of your day, EVERY DAY, to reviewing these resources.
STEP 5 - TALK TO NATIVE SPEAKERS
If you want a Speaking band score of 8 or above, it is imperative that you talk with native speakers. This will greatly help your fluency and pronunciation. Find a buddy, line up Skype calls, or find a native speaking coach. Just keep in mind that simple conversation isn’t enough - you must practice IELTS-specific speaking strategies.
STEP 6 - MAKE ENGLISH A HABIT
Very simply, making something a habit (in this case English) will help you reach your personal goals more easily. Fit English into your life wherever possible. This means thinking in English, getting your news in English, writing your grocery lists in English, using new vocabulary in your day-to-day life, etc. This will ensure your English abilities come out in many different situations - even stressful ones like taking IELTS.
Step 7 - Enjoy yourself!
Make your English studying and practice enjoyable by incorporating interesting articles, songs, movies, and games into your schedule. Of course learning a new language is work, but it doesn’t have to be tiresome. Reward yourself every time you reach a personal benchmark and take pride in your success.
Feature image courtesy of Sean McGrath on Flickr