The IELTS test is comprised of four parts: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. Each of these parts represents a language skill. Your overall IELTS score is the average of your scores on the four parts of the test, so if you receive a low score on one part, it will lower your overall score. Many people feel that some of their English skills are weaker than others. For example, a student might feel like she can read and write English well, but she is nervous about speaking and listening. If you feel that one or two of your English skills are behind the others, this tip is for you!
For your first step, take a practice IELTS exam and note the part of the test that you score the lowest on. Don’t assume that you know the part you will score the lowest on without taking a practice test. Your scores may surprise you! If you notice that your scores on one or two parts are significantly lower than the others, and you agree that you generally struggle with those skills the most, you will likely benefit from focusing on those skills as you prepare.
How do you focus on a specific skill? The most important thing to remember is that in order to improve a skill, you have to practice it! Although it seems simple, many people don’t realize that they aren’t practicing English in a way that will improve their weaker skills. For example, if you need to improve your speaking skills, you must speak English. Reading or writing English will only help your ability to speak a small amount, and it likely won’t be enough to improve your score on the IETLS test. Or, if you need to improve your writing, then you need to write; speaking and listening will not be the best way to prepare.
Often, weak skills are weak for a particular reason that is related to a student’s environment or background in English. For example, if you are strong in speaking but weak in writing, maybe it is because you use English for work conversations, but you have never studied it in school. If you are strong in reading but weak in listening, maybe it is because you read English in school but never had many conversations with native speakers. So in order to practice your weak skills, you may need to change your environment or routines a little. Here are some suggestions of changes you can make to practice each language skill:
- Listen to the news in English online instead of in your native language
- Find in-person or online English conversation partners and practice listening to and responding to them regularly. Prepare questions to ask them so that you can listen to their answers. Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t understand and that you’d like your partner to repeat what they said.
- Watch films in English. First, you may want to watch movies with English subtitles. Then, repeat the movie and turn the subtitles off.
- Start a habit of reading something in English every day. Especially if you don’t enjoy reading in English, find a topic to read that is interesting to you so that you are motivated to read every day.
- Choose things to read that are at your reading level. There should be about 1-3 words per paragraph that you don’t understand. If you are reading something with many words you don’t know, you’ll have to start reading and start looking up works. Then you will be studying vocabulary instead of practicing reading!
- Find someone that you can regularly write to in English. Maybe it is another English student like you; this can be great practice for both of you! Decide together whether you will text, write e-mails, or write paper letters, and discuss how often you will communicate.
- Keep a daily written journal in English.
- Find in-person or online English conversation partner sand practice speaking with them regularly. If your speaking skills are weak, explain carefully (maybe in writing) that you need to practice speaking English. Ask your conversation partner to be patient and allow you to think if you need time before you speak. Be honest with your partner if you feel you are not getting enough time to practice speaking during the conversation.
- Keep a daily audio journal in English. Record yourself speaking about your day, your feelings—anything that you would like to record and remember!
You might think that it would be great to practice all of the skills, and so you want to use all of the suggestions. Remember, though, that being consistent is key. Most people can’t start many new habits at once and continue doing all of them. For most people, it is better to pick just one or two suggestions for the skills that need the most improvement and start implementing them consistently. Then, when these suggestions are part of your normal routine, you can add others. As you continue, you’ll feel more confident and more well-rounded in your English abilities!