IELTS academic international student bloggers

Want to study abroad and need to take the IELTS Academic? Here are some tips on how to prepare yourself on your own and for free.

If you want to pursue a postgraduate course at an English-speaking country, you must have heard about the IELTS.

In a nutshell, the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is one of the world’s most popular proficiency exams. It is widely accepted in countries such as Australia, Canada and the UK. The test is divided into two categories: the Academic Module, for those who want to study abroad, and General Training, which is mostly used for immigration process. It has 4 parts: Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing, and the scoring system is based on “Bands”, which range from 1 (non-user) to 9 (expert user).

In 2014, as I applied to the Marketing Communications MA at the University of Westminster in the UK, I had to take the IELTS Academic for the first time. As someone who’s never done any proficiency exam before, I rushed to prepare myself within one month and half prior to the test. I was, literally, like this:

IELTS academic international student bloggers

To make it more thrilling, there were few available dates ahead and I needed the IELTS certificate as soon as possible. I felt extra pressure to succeed on the first attempt, if also to avoid paying more to redo the test.

It was quite intense and hectic, but I can tell you that all the efforts were worth it: I was able to get the overall grade higher than 7, thus surpassing the required minimum grade of 6.5 for the course. It was quite a relief.

In this post, I would like to tell you what it was like to study on my own and give you some great free sources for training.

Before I start, I have to tell you that it is more than possible to study alone, if you already have a good knowledge of English. Bear in mind though, that you’ll need a lot of focus, discipline and dedication to keep up and not feel discouraged. Trust me: it is easier than you imagine!

IELTS academic international student bloggers

My preparation

As soon as I set my IELTS exam date, I went looking for preparatory courses. In the end I decided to study on my own – not only due to the cost (one of the courses, for example, cost the triple of the exam fee!), but their timing didn’t match the limited time I had before the exam. Looking back now I am 100% sure that it was the best decision made.

So at night, after coming back from work, I would get my laptop and search for mock exams, tips and tutorial videos at home. It was tiring sometimes, especially when I left the office in the late hours. The positive part of it though, was that I had full control of my study process, which helped me tremendously.

For example, I ended up not studying every day, but alternately to keep track of my learning progress without wearing myself out – i.e., Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Also, I tried not to overdo my study hours on weekdays – two hours per day, tops. It didn’t make sense to force myself to carry on if I started to lack energy.

But, of course, each person has their own study and learning style. Certainly, my study method wouldn’t be the most appropriate one for those who enjoy or need preparatory classes.

Moreover, I can say that the key factor that helped me achieve a satisfactory grade was that I practiced English on daily basis. As I worked with global clients at an international PR agency at the time, it was customary to speak in English every day. That led me to improve my grammar and acquire a more sophisticated vocabulary.

Now, even if you don’t (or don’t have to) speak the language every day, seize each and every opportunity to express yourself in English. It is always a valid way to hone your fluency. Listen to songs, read, watch movies and series (without subtitles!) and keep on practicing, even if you are on your own, with someone from your family or a friend. Don’t be shy!

Where can you find good and free content to practice

The more you practice and get familiarised with the exam format, the more prepared and confident you will become. Luckily I found several websites, blogs and videos with incredibly useful tips, advice and samples. Oh, and all of it for free! I didn’t even need to buy a book or sign-up for paid premium IELTS content on the internet.

So where did I find those precious sources?

Well, first, I would recommend the British Council’s website, which offers a full and free mock exam. It is worth checking the “Free practice tests” section on the IELTS Essentials website too.

Other sites which helped me a lot were the IELTS Buddy and IELTS-Mentor, especially because both of them offer several sample tests. For Writing, I suggest the IELTS-Blog as it presents corrected essays and the given Band for each one.

There are also excellent videos on YouTube with tips for each part of the exam. Amongst them, I suggest Emma and Liz videos. For Speaking, check the AcademicEnglishHelp video, which shows a mock exam with a Canadian candidate (below).

More importantly, do as many mock exams as possible.

There are many interesting and free on-line materials, but don’t stick only to reading. The most important part is to practice constantly and train through IELTS mock exams as much as you can.

In my case, I spent around 70% of my time training and 30% researching and reading supporting content. Since the IELTS is not based on pure memorization, the act of practicing arguably helps you to gain confidence and become less nervous towards the exam.

IELTS academic international student bloggers

On the other hand, if you want a more professionally-driven evaluation, look for schools which might promote mock exams. In Sao Paulo (Brazil), I found an English language school that offered an authentic representation of the exam. There, I did the test alongside other students in a room and got the result very quickly. For me, it was really worth it.

Well, that was a glance into my study journey for the IELTS. If you want to share your preparation process, or even recommend other sites, videos and materials as well, feel free to comment!

See you soon!  😀

Follow me on my HuffPost Brazil blog*, LinkedIn and Twitter

*Content in Portuguese

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