Do you REALLY know what your problems are?

Some IELTS advice for the new year

Before we move on to the next lesson, I want to give you some advice. I hope this will get you thinking about how smart and effective your IELTS preparation is (or could be).

Please read the two points below, and let me know what you think.

1. Do you REALLY know what your problems are?

In my experience, many IELTS students have the wrong idea about what their problems are. They waste time studying the wrong things, and they miss the easy improvements that could be made.

Here are some typical examples to show you what I mean:

  • Many people ask me about grammar (articles, complex sentences, passives etc.), but almost nobody asks for help with overall essay coherence or progression.

  • Many students don’t realise that their ‘best’ vocabulary is problematic in some way e.g. unnatural, too formal, old-fashioned, or too colloquial. They don’t realise that the easiest route to a higher score would be to write in a more ‘normal’, simple and direct way.

  • Most students could easily improve their task response / task achievement scores, but they haven’t been shown how to do this.

  • Earlier today, a student asked me about the level of detail in a main body paragraph, but I noticed that the ‘topic sentence’ was unclear, and that this was the weak point of the paragraph (not the details).

I could give many more examples of this kind of thing. Here’s some advice:

When preparing for the IELTS test, keep an open mind.
Ask yourself: “What am I missing?”
Perhaps you’re worrying about the wrong thing.
Maybe there are easier ways to improve your score.

2. How to discover your real problems (and solve them)

If you’re working with a good one-to-one teacher, he or she should be able to identify your problems and find the fastest way to improve your score.

However, not everyone has access to a private teacher, and not all IELTS teachers are good at this ‘identifying and solving’ approach to teaching. Unfortunately, many teachers also have the wrong idea about what their students should focus on.

One of my strengths as an IELTS teacher is (I believe) that I often see what my students are not seeing. Perhaps you’ve witnessed this in the comments below lessons on the member site: A student asks me a question about one thing, and I notice a completely different problem. I give an unexpected answer with the aim of opening the student’s eyes or changing his or her focus.

Whenever you study one of my lessons or read my answers to students’ questions, look for ‘clues’ and insights that help you to see what was previously hidden.

I think many subscribers will understand what I mean. Many of you commented that my ‘band descriptors’ lessons changed your understanding of the scoring system. Perhaps you now understand what ‘cohesion’ is really about. Perhaps you have finally understood how to ‘expand and support’ your ideas, or how collocations can be used to show ‘range and flexibility’.

Remember: One little tip or insight that changes the way you approach the test might make all the difference. You might be just one step away from the band score improvement that you need.

So keep your eyes peeled!* Keep comparing your approach with mine, and try to uncover problems that you hadn’t previously seen. Look for new ways to improve, and discover areas that you had neglected.

I hope this makes sense - if it doesn’t, you’ve done some good reading practice at least! I’ll be interested to hear from you in the comments area below.

*Be ready / be vigilant / keep your eyes open