If you have been preparing for your IELTS exam by attempting past tests or practising specific IELTS exam tasks, you have possibly encountered a few difficulties by now. Don’t despair! Many students have the same issues as you and there are plenty of suggestions and advice to help you overcome these problem areas.
Below is a troubleshooting guide based on the most common issues that IELTS candidates all over the world say they face when attempting the 4 papers of the IELTS exam. Search the list for your particular problems and think about the suggested solutions. Could they help you? Can you think how to adapt them to suit you in particular?
Read the blog posts and articles in the links provided for further advice about exam strategies and remember to practise them intensively before the exam so that on the day, they are automatic.
It’s difficult for me to write in the style of the IELTS academic essays.
- Read lots of model answers and study the style carefully. Focus on the differences between formal and informal language.
- Focus on linking words and phrases and study how to use them to organise your ideas. See this blog post on Coherence and Cohesion for more advice.
- Look at the common topics that come up in the IELTS exam so you can increase your topic vocabulary, including phrases and collocations.
- Practise paraphrasing.
- Study and practise the Task 2 different essay types and structures.
I run out of time.
- Familiarise yourself with the particular structures of Task 1 reports and Task 2 essays.
- Use a formula for organising your ideas into paragraphs and your paragraphs into an essay/report.
- Practise, practise, practise using this formula to answer old exam questions before the real exam.
I find it hard to think of ideas to write about.
- Brainstorm and write down words and phrases that come to mind when you think about the topic.
- Think about your opinions and views about the subject and your own experience.
- Select the ideas which you can develop as main ideas for the body paragraphs.
- Extend and support your answers by asking yourself then answering questions like Why? Such as? So what? This will help you to develop your ideas, give examples and explain consequences and results. This blog post and this one will give you more ideas.
I get so nervous and my mind goes blank.
- The only thing that really helps overcome nerves about speaking is to practise as much as you can. So find opportunities on a daily basis to practise speaking with people. These blog posts will give you lots of ideas: 5 ways to have fun in English and Boost your language practice with social media.
- If you are well prepared for the exam, there is no reason to be nervous. If you have practised mock speaking tests, you will know what is expected of you and this will give you confidence.
- Arrive for the exam in plenty of time and spend the minutes before entering the exam room using calming relaxation techniques like deep breathing.
- Don’t feel rushed. The examiner won’t mind if you take your time to think about what you want to say. Remember to speak at a clear volume and slow down if you are nervous.
I run out of things to say in Part 2.
- Research the most common topics for IELTS Speaking Part 2 – they are all available online.
- Brainstorm questions for these topics then practise writing/speaking possible answers.
- Extend and support your answers in the same way as for your writing by asking yourself Who? What? Where? When? Why? questions.
- Always use the 1 minute preparation time effectively; write some notes or key words.
I’m embarrassed about my accent.
- You should not be worried about your accent. Everyone has an accent of some kind! What is important is correct pronunciation so that the examiner can follow what you are saying and will not struggle to understand you.
- Listen to lots of natural English (podcasts, radio, Youtube, etc) and focus on sentence stress and intonation. Practise by listening and repeating.
Sometimes I don’t understand the text.
- You don’t need to understand the text, you only need to answer the questions. Even if the topic of the text is something you know nothing about, everything you need to answer the questions is provided in the text.
I don’t have enough time to read all the texts.
- Use your reading strategies so that you are reading efficiently (read the questions first, gist reading, underline topic sentences, skim, scan, etc). Read this blog post and this article for more ideas.
- Don’t panic about difficult or unfamiliar words and phrases – they may not be relevant or maybe you don’t actually need to understand them to know that they are the answer for a specific question.
I often run out of time.
- If you find a question too difficult, don’t waste time on it – move on. You may have time to go back to it later. Each question is worth one and a half minutes only.
I find matching paragraphs to headings very tricky.
- Practise summarising paragraphs in your own words.
- Read the text first before you read the headings.
- Pay attention to synonyms in the text and the headings. Often the words will not be exactly the same but the meaning will.
It’s difficult to locate answers in the text.
- Gist read the passage first (2 minutes maximum) for a general understanding.
- Think about how the text is divided into sections according to the main topic or theme and draw lines to divide it up. Linking words will help to you to follow the text.
- Look for and underline topic sentences in each paragraph.
- Underline key words in the questions and look for related synonyms in the text as you read.
I don’t always understand the difference between false and not given on the ‘true/false/not given’ tasks.
- Ask yourself: Is the statement specifically contradicted (disagreed with) in the text? Can you underline a particular sentence to show this? Yes? Then the answer is False. Is the answer neither agreed or disagreed with in the text? Can you not find a sentence to show agreement or disagreement? Then the answer is most likely Not given.
I keep getting lower marks than I think I should.
- Check that you are spelling words correctly.
- Make sure you are not using more than the given word limit.
- Copy answers from the text carefully.
It’s confusing trying to listen and read the questions at the same time.
- There is always time given at the beginning of each listening section to read the questions. Use this time wisely to do exactly this (do NOT use it to finish off the previous section!).
- Underline key words in the questions to help focus and direct your listening.
- Use prediction to think what kind of answers you need to listen for – numbers, names, spelling, etc.
- Remember that the recording will be in the same order as the questions so use the headings, diagrams and any other visual information to predict what you are going to hear.
- Keep up with the recording. If you miss an answer, guess and move on.
- Pay attention! If you get distracted, don’t focus on the questions you have missed. Look ahead to the next questions and try to catch up.
English speakers talk so quickly! I can’t understand or follow them.
- You must listen to as much ‘real’ English as possible. By that, I mean listening to English speakers talking to other English speakers, or listening to programmes designed for an English speaking audience. If you have access to the internet, watch Youtube videos and listen to podcasts. Watch movies in English, with or without subtitles.
- Use a daily formula to prepare for the exam which involves studying tapescripts along with listening to the audio.
- When listening, pay attention to ‘signposting’ words like linking words and phrases. These will help you follow along.
I think I’m OK at listening but I keep getting a lower score than I expect.
- Read and follow the instructions carefully.
- Take care with your spelling.
- Make sure you don’t exceed the word count.
- Remember to use plural or singular where necessary.
- Make sure you put the unit too, eg. $, kg. am/pm, etc
You will have noticed that some of these suggestions relate to your preparation and study, while others are for use in the real exam. The key to success in IELTS is preparation and practice. If you practise using the strategies suggested in this blog post and the links provided, you will have every reason to feel confident on the day of your exam.