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IELTS exam and experience

Though this is technically a tech blog where I usually put my thoughts and learnings regarding technologies, I still would like to share some of my experience with taking the IELTS exam which is about a month ago.

Please note that the author is in no way affiliate with the websites and/or services mentioned below, use of these software and/or services is at the sole discretion of the reader

Why I choose to take IELTS

To be honest, my current status does not require me to take the IELTS exam. Though after some consideration, I have decided to take the exam and see if I can benefit from extra immigration points by taking the IELTS exam. My goal is reaching 8 in listening and 7 in all other sections. I made the decision to take the exam on the night of May 22nd, 2021. I took the exam on June 13th, 2021. The preparation time is around 21 days.

Preparation

I have a day job, so my preparation time on working days was quite limited. I usually get home at around 6pm. My dinner and routine exercise finishes at 8pm. So my preparation for IELTS starts at 8:15pm to 8:30pm.

The list of tools and/or books I used are listed below:

  • Road to IELTS
    This is an comprehensive tool that can be used to prepare for both the academic and the general training version of the exam. It was offered for free at my local public library. I’m very greatful to my local library for offering such an invaluable service, it helped me quite a lot.
    As for using this tool, different people may have different ideas. I used this mainly as a training tool to familiarize myself with the listening and reading part on computer-based IELTS exam. In this system, there are 10 mock exams for each part of the IELTS exam which is what I used most for listening and reading. I alternate between Reading and Listening on each working day, spending around 1 to 1.5 hours on this.
    There are mini practice sections for each parts as well, this was mainly to educate test takers on different kind of formats for the listening and speaking test. As this is not my first time taking the IELTS exam, I skip most of them. But I can see how they are helpful for those who are taking IELTS for the first time.
    The difficulty level on the mock exams are actually a bit higher than the actual exam, it could be because the mocked test delivery system is not smart enough and misses out correct answer sometimes. As a reference, I usually get around 33 correct in the Listening section, which translates to about 6.5. I got 9 in the actual IELTS exam for the listening. For the reading part, I usually get around 32 correct which is also 6.5, while in my actual IELTS test, I got 8.5.
    For writing and speaking, it is also practical to use the mocked exams, the only caveate is that no one will grade thsoe. I would suggest at least read through the sample exam essays provided, and try to follow the structure and learn some good words from the essay. For speaking, I don’t feel like you can improve your speaking skills in a short time, but the mock exams offered is still helpful.

  • Writing 9
    This is a paid service that’s offered at 12 USD per month. I found it quite helpful, cause you can actually mock a writing exam with it. I did around 3 to 4 essays on it and get around 6.5 each. The thing I like about this tool is that it can spot your spelling mistakes among other things.

  • Simon’s writing course
    This is one of the courses that I definitely recommend watching. This course had helped me a lot in achieving the score of 7 on writing. To summarize on what I had learnt from this course: IELTS writing is not only about good use of words, but also about organizing the structure of the essay logically. I do think the latter what I used to ignore. In my first IELTS exam taken at 2011 (at that time, I took the Acacdemic version) I only got 5.5 in IELTS writing, and 10 years later, I got 7 for the general training version.

  • IELTS Band 9 Vocab Secrets by Caambridge Consultants
    This book contains loads of good examples about usage of good words in either reading and writing. I highly recommend reading through the whole book at least once and practice using the word examples given in the book.

Exam tips

For me, this is my first time taking the computer-based IELTS exam. I would like to share some tips that I think other candidates may find useful:

  • Listening
    • From my experience on taking both the mocked and the actual exam, Computer-based listening test is a bit more difficult than paper-based ones. There are several reasons for this:
      • In computer based exam, you will not be given time to transfer your answers from the exam paper to the answer sheet. Instead, you will only be given 2 minutes to check for all the answers at the end of the listening test. This means that you may not have enough time to check for some easily identifiable mistakes like typos, singular/plural forms or tense problems. So when you practice, keep this in mind, and try to avoid them as much as possible.
      • You will have to type and listen and the same time in computer based exam. I guess this is quite obvious, it might not be a big problem but keep in mind that in the IELTS exam, you are under considerable stress, for non-native speakers, it may be a bit difficult.
    • Highlighting is important in listening test. For me, this is how I achieved Band 9 in listening – I highlight things I think are important. In computer based exams, highlighting will help you focus on the keywords and in my experience, I feel more confident when I highlight things.
  • Reading:
    • Highlighting, again. Highlighting is also important in reading. I’m glad that the testing system provides a way to highlight in reading, it is really helpful and mimics the paper exam well.
    • Try to use the color settings to avoid eye strain. The computer delivered IELTS exam have settings to change the background color of the exam. To me, this is really helpful. I changed the background color from white to a bit more yellowish. This causes less eye strain and helped me focus on the exam better.