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Successfully Preparing & Passing the IELTS Test

Whether you are coming to Canada to study or applying for permanent residence, you may be required to complete an IELTS test. IELTS or, The International English Language Testing System is the world’s leading English language assessment with over 3 million tests taken a year. 

There are two tests that you can take: the IELTS Academic or the IELTS General test. It is important to know which test is necessary for your needs. The IELTS Academic is the requirement for those looking to get accepted into an English-speaking school in Canada or for professional purposes such as working in medicine or accounting. The IELTS General can be used for immigration to Canada for certain permanent residence programs or for training or work programs. Whichever test you must take, here are some tips to you help you pass your IELTS and get that score you want.

Preparing for the Test

Study, study, study! I know what you’re thinking, “I already speak and know English! Why do I need to study” Well, just because you are a native or fluent English speaker does not necessarily mean you will do well on a formal, structured test assessing your English skills.

Some native speakers know English by heart and communicate it naturally, without even thinking about it, but for an English test like this, you will be judged on proper grammar, comprehension and communication. There can be a difference in the fluency level between the test taker and the standards of the IELTS examiner. Many people overestimate their knowledge in using proper English, which can lead to a lower score than they expected.

I can tell you after my many years teaching English overseas and watching how people do on various tests, that some of the most surprising results are from native speakers who do not study for the test as they wrongly assume that they speak English and that they will be fine. Again, it cannot be stressed more that you are not studying English, but you are studying to understand what the test requires of you and how you will be graded, while understanding the various strategies that are evident to do well on any structured test.

If you have ever heard me speak about this, you will always hear me give the example of taking a driving test. While you may have been driving for 30 years, stepping into a testing situation where you do not know what you will be graded on or if you have developed some habits that may have eroded your skills as they are required for the test could cause you to fail. A standardized English test is no different.

There are many tips and tricks while preparing for the IELTS test. It is recommended to review the test format, look at various online resources, such as YouTube videos, and do the preparation material on the IELTS website. Practicing the tasks required every day up until your test will ensure you are prepared and familiar with the material.

Knowing the content and structure of the test beforehand can make a big difference. We would also suggest studying as it helps you to know yourself, by finding out your strengths and weaknesses. Some people can speak English fluently but struggle in writing. The IELTS test can be done on paper or on the computer so you can select which method is better for you. We would also suggest researching online and picking a test day that will give you enough time to study properly. Don’t pick a day that is too early so that you will need to rush and don’t pick a day that is too far in the future so that you forget the information you learned. This really boils down to a very personalized strategy for everyone, no matter who you are.

Some Tips for Test Day & During the Test

During the test, there are four different categories that you will be tested on:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Listening
  • Speaking

Each section will be done in different time lengths. While the sections for the Academic and General tests are done at the same time, there is a difference in the content for the Reading and Writing sections. Below is a brief breakdown of what to expect for each section.

For the Academic test, there will be three readings in the section, which may include diagrams, graphs and can be descriptive and analytical. For the General test, there will be three sections which will comprise of two or three short texts in the first section, two short texts related to the workplace in the next section and a long general interest topic in the final section. The Reading section tests your reading ability for gist, main ideas, detail, skimming, understanding logical argument and recognizing writers' opinions, attitudes and purpose.

You will be asked to write about two tasks. The topics of the writing section are of general interest. For the Academic test, you will be asked to write about a table, graph, chart or diagram in Task 1 while Task 2 will require you to write an essay. For the General test, you will be asked to write a letter while Task 2 will be an essay. The tasks are:

  1. Presented with a situation and asked to write a letter requesting information or explaining the situation – the letter may be personal, semi-formal or formal in style.
  2. Asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument, or problem – the essay can be personal in style.

You will be assessed on achievement of the given task, coherence and cohesion, lexical resource, and grammatical accuracy.

You will be required to listen to different recordings and conversations, with some speakers having different accents such as North American, British, Australian, or New Zealand. This section might be somewhat tricky for you if you are not familiar with some of the accents and you might want to consider taking another test for immigration which is the CELPIP.

This section has four parts: Parts 1 and 2 which are about social situations and Parts 3 and 4 which will be about educational and training situations. The examples of these are as follows:

  1. A conversation between two people set in an everyday social context.
  2. A monologue set in an everyday social context.
  3. A conversation between up to four people set in an educational or training context.
  4. A monologue on an academic subject.

You are tested on your ability to understand main ideas and detailed information, the opinions and attitudes of speakers, the purpose of utterance and ability to follow the development of ideas. You should be aware that this is an area some people will struggle with and when understanding what is required in this respect for immigration purposes, this section requires a very high mark for immigration if you are coming through an economic pathway.

This section will be a face-to-face interview between you and the IELTS examiner. Your speech will be assessed based on the following criteria:

  • Fluency and coherence
  • Lexical resource
  • Grammatical range and accuracy
  • Pronunciation

 You are tested on three tasks on your use of Spoken English. The tasks include:

  1. Introduction and Interview – the examiner will ask you general questions about yourself and a range of familiar topics, such as home, family, work, studies, and interests.
  2. Long turn – you will be given a card which asks you to talk about a particular topic. You will have one minute to prepare before speaking for up to two minutes.
  3. Discussion – you will be asked further questions about the topic in Part 2. This will give you the opportunity to discuss more abstract ideas and issues. 

Depending on how you feel, a lot of people consider this as one of the most nerve-wracking portions of the test, but there is no need for it to be. This can be overcome by yes, you guessed it preparation. There are several strategies with this and some of them can be as simple as replying, then recording it and reviewing your answer to see how you did against the set criteria for the speaking portion of the IELTS test.

On the Day of The Test:

Some people get nervous during tests and are unable to answer as well as they could have. Others can be slower to process information and the time limit can hinder their performance. Sometimes there can be freak accidents on the day of the test that distract you so much you do poorly. While these may apply and could certainly happen to you, it is important to be prepared so you can do your best on the test.

Some basic tips to remember on the day: 

  • Get enough hours of sleep so you are not tired.
  • Eat properly and stay hydrated so you can focus.
  • Make sure that you are in the correct test location and be sure to be there on time.
  • Make sure you have the correct information and documents for the test. Should you need to, be sure to bring any ID, letters, pencils, or erasers. Please know the test time and location of the test centre, so you are not late and will not miss it.
  • Please be sure to answer every question and do not leave any questions blank. If you leave it blank, then you get no marks at all but even if you guess, you may be correct.
  • Lastly, follow the instructions. Listen to what the examiners are asking of you during the test and really understand what is needed for the question. 

A Final Word

While this is just a test and you can certainly retake it if need be, following these tips before and during your IELTS can help make it easier for you to pass and get the score you need. I would not suggest going into the test and giving yourself a cushion that you can retake it, as this will just serve to waste your time and certainly your money, as this test can be expensive. Go into this test with the mindset that this is your One Chance to come/immigrate to Canada (and for some people this might be the exact case) and that you need to ensure that you “leave it all on the field” as they say with your best effort that you can give. If you think of it this way and properly prepare, you are going to do fine.

Should you have any questions about the IELTS test or are ready to dive into getting a Second Passport to Canada, feel free to reach out to us and we will surely get you started to understand the options that are available to you!

Ready to get started? Here are three ways we can help: 
1. Join our Facebook Community to connect with an amazing group of Second Passporters... This is a space where the community can share information, updates, and connect as a group of people all the same goals!
2. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel to help you prepare for your new journey of immigrating and settling in Canada!
3. Ready to begin your journey? Join our 5-Day Immigration Blueprint ChallengeBy the end of the 5 days, you will have an Immigration Blueprint™ outlining your pathway to Canada.


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