Like any other temporary foreign worker, I wish to stay in Canada permanently and make this beautiful country my home. To achieve this, I have to apply for permanent residence to Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Most immigration programs, such as the Provincial Nominee Class, require proof of English or French language skills so I decided to take the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam. The cost of the test is 300 bucks, for crying out loud; that’s definitely a lot of loonies and toonies, eh! That fact is enough to make me want to score high (call me a perfectionist, or a cheapskate, or both). I had 2 months to prepare while I was working full-time, and fortunately, all the hard work paid off (L 8.5, R 9.0, W 7.5, S 7.5, OBS 8.0). Here’s what I suggest to IELTS test takers:
Work on your overall English language skills. Make the most of every opportunity to communicate in English. Be comfortable expressing yourself in the language (speaking and writing), as well as receiving and processing information (listening and reading). Hone your speaking and listening skills by observing and emulating native speakers with different accents, and by getting used to hearing the language via movies and music. When you speak or write, apply the English words and expressions you have encountered. By reading as much as you can, your eyes will get accustomed to seeing printed sentences and paragraphs, you enrich your vocabulary and grammatical range, and you gather valuable ideas about various topics. If you expose yourself to good reading materials, you also learn how excellent writing is accomplished.
After sharpening your English language ability, get familiar with the IELTS test format and question types. The exam may be designed to assess your language skills, but it is easy to receive a mark even lower than your actual English level if you do not know what to expect. To achieve a high band score, you have to acquire or approximate the way the test makers think. You cannot afford being unprepared for the test. You must train for it with commitment and perseverance. You need to develop strategies, some sort of game plan. It is a well-crafted advanced exam, which makes it the World Cup of English language proficiency tests.
Take advantage of the technology we have. The Internet helped me tremendously in getting ready for the test. If you have a smartphone, there are many IELTS preparation apps you can install. Numerous websites like www.ielts-blog.com and www.ielts-simon.com provide useful ideas on how to perform well during the exam. I also recommend www.ieltsielts.com and www.ieltsnetwork.com for more inputs. To set myself not only to English mode but also to IELTS mode, I maximized social media. Facebook has pages dedicated to IELTS preparation which you can like. YouTube is a rich source of tips and tricks. I created a playlist of videos I watched again and again to condition myself. The more websites and videos you check out, the better you understand the test and the more confident you will be taking it.
During my preparation, I printed copies of IELTS answer sheets and practiced with them while sticking to the time limit for each portion of the written exam. Be comfortable using pencil and paper. Read the instructions carefully. Circle or underline key words and identify the answer expected (is it a word, phrase, number, noun, verb, or adjective?). Questions give clues. Throughout the entire IELTS test, knowledge of paraphrasing and synonyms is a huge plus. In the listening and reading components, the answers are often skillfully disguised so expect an idea or message to be stated in different ways. In the speaking and writing subtests, you will be able to communicate yourself more effectively through a variety of terms and sentence structures.
In the listening subtest, make the most of the time given to read the questions. Once you are allowed to open the booklet, view quickly the more difficult sections first so that you can anticipate the topics. Multitasking is a must: while you listen, you read the questions and take note of the answers. Stay focused.
Bear in mind that the reading test has 40 questions whose answers are buried in overwhelming texts, and by the end of the hour these must be on the answer sheet. Highlight key words in the questions, then go to the passage. Be calm and do not waste time. Proceed to the next item if a question requires too much analysis.
I find the writing component the most challenging among the four. Producing two written outputs in an hour is just outrageous. IELTS writing is not your usual writing; it is necessary to study and practice for it. While preparing for the exam, I consulted the websites I mentioned earlier, for sample task responses. You must read as much as you can since you can be asked to write on any topic. By reading sample IELTS writing tasks and their corresponding essays, you should notice how the authors tackle specific topics. Doing so will help you equip yourself with strategies on how to develop concepts. You must have techniques or templates in mind when you take the test.
Remember that the speaking test lasts for less than 15 minutes, yet your performance within that short period of time will be the basis of your score. What if you are asked about something you are not interested in, or worse, a subject you know nothing about? It is crucial to have a database of ideas so that you can maximize every second you talk. I think it helps if you have experienced being interviewed several times. Organize your thoughts, speak clearly and audibly, and showcase your vocabulary and grammatical skills appropriately. Do not be shy and enjoy expressing yourself.
Once you understand how the entire exam is done and how you are scored, identify your weaknesses as well as the aspects of the test you find the hardest, and spend more time addressing them. Treat the exam as a mental marathon that requires stamina so make sure you rest properly at least a day before. Ultimately, IELTS is more than a language skills assessment: it tests quick thinking, imagination, creativity and common sense.
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