To anyone reading this post: I apologize if this post will seem unorganized to you. It’s 12 in the morning, and I still have to study for my exams in Chemistry and Physics (and I have Math homework to do, my goodness). If you are taking your IELTS soon, I do hope this post somehow relaxes you or boosts your confidence.
That being said, it wasn’t easy for me to review for the IELTS.
Preparation for the IELTS (or lack thereof)
I only took the IELTS because the university (The University of British Columbia, or UBC) I’m applying to requires me to do so (and to score at least a 6.0 in all parts of the exam with an overall band score of 6.5). If it weren’t for this sole reason, I probably wouldn’t have taken the exam simply to gauge my proficiency in English, as this is a very expensive exam to pay for (at one point, I thought of all the things you could buy with the exam fee. It kind of hurt). I had to take my exam as soon as I could so I could submit my results to the university, and because school is keeping me awake in the wee hours of the morning, I really wouldn’t have time to take the exam at a later date. Being a very expensive exam crucial to my admission to UBC, the IELTS was an exam I felt needed extensive preparation, despite growing up with the English language.
Basically, I took the Academic Module of the IELTS as a student who hasn’t graduated from college yet. In fact, I looked like one of the youngest, if not the youngest, exam taker on the day of my IELTS exam. I couldn’t review for the IELTS as much as I wanted to, but I did find the time to attend review sessions for three days. Three days. I only had three weeks to review, but I barely got the chance to, with all the academic work I had to do during those three weeks. Listening sample exercises were available online, so I answered those despite not having much free time. I never practiced for Reading and the second writing task. Of course, on the day of the exam, I was freaking out.
The Speaking Exam
Despite my lack of preparation, I took the exam anyway. The IELTS has two main parts, namely the Written exam, which tests your abilities in Listening, Reading and Writing, and the Speaking exam. My Speaking exam was scheduled to take place at 4:40 pm two days before my Written Exam, but I had to be there an hour before the exam. On that day, I slept for about 4 hours and attended 8:00 am to 2:30 pm with no breaks in between. With only Clover Chips and siopao to fill my stomach, a friend and I rode a taxi going to my exam venue right after I finished my last class. By the time I arrived at the exam venue, I registered my name and was told to wait for my name to be called for the test later on. While waiting, I fell asleep, which was fine because I had a friend with me.
I was called at around 4:00 pm for my exam, but I was first asked if it was alright for me to take the exam at a time earlier than my scheduled time. I agreed so I could get things over with already. My examiner probably noticed I was pretty young for an IELTS taker, so she first asked if I was a student or a worker. She asked me why I found my major interesting, and then suddenly shifted to questions about my family and History. That was the first part of my exam. For the second speaking task, I was given a minute to ponder on this: “Describe a person you like to spend time with.” I was then given a minute or two to discuss this without the speaker interfering. The third portion of my exam was barely related to the first two, since she asked for my opinion on matters that centered around time with the family and an individual’s personality development within the family and among peers.
Overall, I think the speaking exam was alright. It didn’t go smoothly in my opinion, since I stuttered here and there, but I left the exam venue confident I would pass (all I really wanted to do was pass).
The Written Exam
The Written Exam was something I dreaded the moment I learned I was required to take the IELTS. The exam venue was a ballroom of a fancy hotel. I registered, surrendered my belongings keeping only my pencils and an eraser, and searched for my name in the seat plan posted on a board. More than half of the test takers were taking the General Training module.
The Listening Exam came first. This was the easiest portion of the IELTS. All we had to do was listen for specific details in conversations and seminars, though everything would be played only once. There was a speaker positioned on the ceiling above me, so I had no problem with this subtest. I was honestly nervous about the exam because I developed slightly minor hearing problems due to a surgery I underwent when I was 12 (side story: there were abnormally large bumps in my nose called adenoids, and these bumps somehow caused my eardrum to almost burst. I had a surgery before this could happen, but my hearing isn’t as good as it once was, and my sense of balance worsened a bit). During this test, I spent so much time erasing one of my answers that I didn’t hear the answer I needed for the next question! This was a fill-in-the-blanks question, so I panicked a bit. I didn’t leave the item blank, of course. I used context clues to guess the word and moved on to the next question.
The Listening Exam for the Academic module was the same as the one taken for the General Training module.
The Reading Exam was more difficult than the previous subtest. The readings in the Academic module were different from those in the General Training module, as these focused more on academic topics. There were some questions I answered with difficulty, particularly the “True-False-Not Given” questions. The readings were long and supposedly boring, but I took this as a learning experience instead so I could enjoy the reading test. I learned about communication among members of particular tribes, Japanese pottery, and human behaviors when working with others.
The final part of the test was the Writing Exam. This was the exam I feared the most. Although most people say my English is good and the IELTS isn’t something that should scare me, I knew my English wasn’t perfect. Writing would have to be my weakest skill among the four tested in the IELTS.
And sure enough, I faced some difficulty during this subtest. In the Academic module, we had two written tasks. The first task was to describe a line graph about programs taken in college. The second task was annoyingly difficult for me to answer, as I never entered the job market prior to this exam (I am a non-working student as of this writing). The question asked for our opinions regarding the happiness of the society if the incomes of all individuals were equalized. I knew my basic economics, but I couldn’t say anything from experience, which didn’t help me much when I had to think about how to go about this question.
Given exactly 60 minutes to finish both tasks, I was foolish enough to spend 30 minutes on the first task, which weighed at only one third of the Writing Exam compared to the second tasks’s two thirds. I could only indicate two or three points in my essay, one of which served as a counter argument to a point that could be used opposing my answer. I tried to use different words as often as I could without trying too hard, so I could bring up my grade in vocabulary. I knew I wasn’t getting much points for coherence, so the least I could do was try to perform well in the other criteria.
Naturally, I was exhausted and hungry after the entire exam. The test takers around me after the exam were conversing with each other. “Grabe, ang hirap ng exam! (Wow, the exam was so hard!)” “Sa writing ako nahirapan (I found the writing part difficult).” You get the drift.
Several test takers were coughing and sniffling during the exam. Later that afternoon, I felt a little sick but I thought I simply lacked sleep. I developed a fever late that evening, which lasted for about three days. I attended my classes, including my PE class, with a fever. I clearly have bad health habits.
Two weeks later (yesterday), I checked my results online. I was fresh from my Math class when I borrowed my friend’s phone which can access the internet anywhere (unlike mine which needed a wi-fi spot to access the internet). I received rather surprising results:
Listening – 9.0
Reading – 8.5
Writing – 7.5
Speaking – 8.0
Overall band score – 8.5
That 8.5 was unexpected. I barely prepared for the exam and only needed a 6.5, but I garnered a band score of 8.5. I jumped around the canteen when I saw the results (I’m a naturally hyper person). I’m glad the IELTS is over and I proved myself to be proficient in English (Would I have gotten a 9.0 if I took the exam in better mental and physical conditions? I’d rather not find out).
I know there are tons online, but I might as well list a few here.
1. EAT AND GET ENOUGH REST BEFORE THE EXAM. I didn’t get enough sleep before both my Speaking and Writing exams, so I probably wasn’t in my best state.
2. Don’t show your speaking examiner you’re nervous. Wear a smile on your face and answer as if the examiner is a close friend of yours. Answer formally and try not to make the examiner uncomfortable by minimizing extravagant hand gestures without being too stiff.
3. Listen, listen, listen. Read the questions you’ll need to answer in the listening subtest. Some time will be given before each listening task to read the questions before answering them, though less time is given for the last listening task.
4. Try to make the Reading Subtest interesting. Most of the time, the readings in this part of the IELTS are boring. Try to make them interesting for you so that you can understand them more. You could, for example, do what I did: Consider reading them as a learning experience.
5. Manage your time during the Writing Subtest! Seriously, 60 minutes to finish a diagram description and an essay is not enough. I suggest answering the portion with a heavier weight (in the Academic module, the essay). You could also read the essay question, ponder on it while finishing the first task, and proceed to writing the essay right after. Ideally, you should spend a maximum of 20 minutes on the first task, and 40 minutes for the second. Time management is the key to this subtest.
That’s pretty much it. Good luck to all future IELTS test takers!