Some IELTS candidates help themselves

Most experienced English language teachers, both general and IELTS focussed, can quickly identify students that will succeed in their studies and progress as English language users. It only takes a few hours classroom contact before experienced teachers can make a judgement on how well an individual English language student is going to do. Very often we can identify which students are going to find it more difficult to reach their IELTS target grade.

I know that when I am faced with a new student, I make a decision as to whether they will progress quickly or not after teaching them for a couple of classes. On many occasions, my decision is right and it stays right. Students that follow some basic study rules and language learning strategies progress more quickly. I sometimes make mistakes though and most experienced English language teachers will admit this too. Some students start out doing all the things that make a “bad language student” but they quicky learn what is necessary for them to be a “good language student.” This can happen the other way round too : a student that starts off well might start to do things in the classroom which slow down their progress.

So, what are these things that help English language teachers to identify students that they think will progress quickly and often achieve their IELTS target grade? What are these basic study rules and language learning strategies that help some students quicly achieve their target IELTS grade? This list was compiled after a series of informal discussions between classes with some of my teaching colleagues. It contains the study skills and English language learning strategies that we felt were most common in students that we identified as students that would quickly achieve their IELTS goals.

1 Use what you learn
It’s amazing how many times I have corrected a student’s pronunciation in the classroom and then heard them make the exact same pronunciation error in their very next sentence. Students that do this are failing to make the necessary effort in the classroom – it is their responsibility to put what they learn into practice. Good IELTS students will make every effort possible to not make the same mistake twice. As a teacher, I soon pick out the students that attempt to reinforce what they have learned by actually “doing it.” How many times do you make the same written errors in your IELTS writing? Do you apply what you have learned from the mistakes you made in last week’s piece of writing to your latest piece of writing? Good IELTS student will always ask themselves whether they are making the same mistake again and they will check. IELTS students should learn to edit their work.

2 Ask questions but keep them relevant
Good IELTS students are not afraid to ask questions when they don’t understand something. They also ask questions because they are interested in the answers. They do not ask random questions that are not related to the subject under discussion – especially when they are in a shared classroom environment.

3 Listen to the answers – even if you haven’t asked the question
Good IELTS students listen to the answers to questions even if they aren’t the person who asked the question. A good IELTS student knows that they might just learn something that might mean the difference between an IELTS grade of 5.5 and their IELTS target grade of 6. Every piece of information, every new item of vocabulary and every step towards fully understanding the structure of English grammar is a potential grade increase in the IELTS exam.

4 Make organised notes but don’t overdo it
In my experience, good English language students note down things that they learn in an organised fashion but, more importantly, they know where to find the information when they need it. English language students that struggle spend time simply copying out what is already in the dictionary. Do you keep your own organised list of vocabulary? Is it organised by topic areas eg the enviroment? education? work? If you don’t, now is the time to start doing so.

5 Experiment with language
Language learning is something that needs practice. Don’t just “learn” something and then forget about it. Good IELTS students try to use what they learn as much as they can. If you learn a new word, try to use it in conversation. You’ll be much more likely to remember the word when it matters if you do this. It might matter in the IELTS exam. If you learn a new way of expressing an idea in your writing, use it in your writing. IELTS students that succeed are able to remember language they need in the exam because they have used it before. It’s important to add that a good IELTS student is not afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes don’t matter if you learn from them, do they? It’s better to make mistakes before your IELTS exam, isn’t it?

6 Mix in English
Good IELTS students spend time with other students and they communicate in English. They also mix with native speakers where possible. It’s amazing how many IELTS students who are lucky enough to be able to spend time studying here in England can be heard at breaktimes and lunchtimes speaking with people from their own country in their own language. This is such a wasted opprtunity. If you have an opportunity to use English, use it.

7 Don’t translate
This should seem obvious but many students fall into the trap of translating everything into their own language. This really doesn’t help. If you learn a new word in English, learn it fully in English. Don’t write down a translation in your notebook! You should always try to use an English:English dictionary. Electronic translators are fantastic and very useful when you are in a desperate rush or in a situation where you need a word now but they don’t help you to build your English vocabulary in English.

8 Pace yourself
Good IELTS students understand their limitations and don’t expect too much too quickly. Don’t try to learn 500 new items of vocabulary every night. You won’t rememeber anything. Learn a handful of new words everyday and make sure that you go back and look at these words again. Try to use new words in conversation every day. Remember that learning English is like running a marathon.

9 Use the environment
Seek out different ways of practising your English. Read a novel in English or buy yourself a graded reader. If you are wacthing a DVD, is it possible for you to watch it in English? Try doing this without any subtitles in your language – after all, you can go back and watch the film again. This is part of your self-study program. Try to do some listening on the Internet once or twice a week. Good IELTS students make good use of all learning resources that are available.

10 Enjoy learning English
Sometimes, learning English might seem like a chore but always try to remember why you are studying. Perhaps you want to do a MSc at a British university? Maybe you ultimately want to work in an English speaking country? Your studies will feel easier if you remember that you are doing them because you want to and that they are helping you to reach your goals. Everything is easier if you enjoy it.

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