Friday, March 1, 2019

Passing the IELTS - Self Review


IELTS consists of 4 sections - ListeningReadingWriting and Speaking. The highest score is 9 and you need to hit at least on all sections to continue with your job/student application abroad. You already know the struggle here right? Aside from the expensive test fee, most of us would fail in the writing section. Some will need to do a retake for like 3,4 or 8 times just to pass. It's that scary. I would recommend everyone to enroll in a review center before taking the test, especially those who easily get distracted. For my part, I wanted to save money so I decided to do a self-review. I gave up all my hobbies just to focus and after 2 months of intensive review, with all my hard work and by the grace of God, I passed on my first take. With this, I want to share some techniques that helped me during the exam and this might help you as well. Take note that these strategies were effective for me and you always have the liberty to do it your own way.


This is for me the easiest section. At first you might think it's very difficult because of the accent and speed but after 1-2 weeks of doing listening exercises, you'll get used to it. I printed out the sample IELTS Listening questions and made sure to answer it while listening to the recordings. Take note that on the actual exam, after all recordings are played, you are given 10 minutes to transfer your answers from the questionnaire to the actual answer sheet so yes you can mess around with the questionnaire and write anything there. You need to be attentive and be focused with the recordings since they are only played once. However, the questions are presented in a way that it's in order and simultaneous with the flow of the recording so you will know which part of the question are you in already. There are just moments when the recording is too fast for you to miss the answer or you didn't realize that it's that question already so you have to keep on checking the next set of questions to make sure that you are still on track especially when you feel like it's taking too much time for one particular question.

There are four sections of the Listening test and each section differs from one another. There are multiple choice, matching type and fill-in-the-blank questions. The most challenging part for me was the multiple choice. Please see photos below for further explanation and the technique I used to effectively answer it.

This is the easy fill-in-the-blank questions. You just have to listen attentively and write the answers on the blank fields while listening to the audio clip.

This type of fill-in-the-blank questions sometimes confuse me so I used this method where I say "blank" in every blank space while reading the phrase/line. It makes it more easier for me. Try it!

Make it a habit to read and follow the instructions carefully in every section. Even if your answer is correct, but you didn't follow the instructions, it will still be tagged as incorrect. 

This is one of the most challenging set of Listening questions I have encountered. Before the start of the Listening proper, you'll be given 20 seconds to look at the questions first and if you see this, make sure to be familiar with the directions North, South, East and West. For this specific part, the recording goes like: "There's a lake in the Northwest of the park with the bird hide to the west of it at the end of the path", so that gives you the answer A for number 17. The method that I used here is to keep writing on the map, especially those with the letters, while listening and following the directions based on the recording. 

This is the less complicated type of multiple-choice questions where you just have to select the answer from the choices. For the last question which asks for 2 choices, I just focus on the question first and write the answers (based on the recording) at the side of it. You will be given 30 seconds after each set to check your answers. You can use this time to look at the choices.

Now, this is for me the most difficult set of listening questions because it needs multitasking. You have to listen attentively and understand the questions (and the answers) at the same time. The questions are actually just easy but the audio clip will not be waiting for you to finish analyzing before moving on to the next question. Note that sometimes, the words used in the recording are different with what's written on the questions. They would usually use synonyms on the questions for it to be a little bit challenging. The method I use is just to focus on the questions (and not really look at the choices) and keep writing the answers at the side while listening to the audio clip. Then later on, I'd compare the choices with my written answer and voila! There goes the correct answer.

My advice: Keep practicing. Download Cambridge IELTS practice tests (PDF with audio files) from torrent sites or you can also buy one. Make sure to print out the Listening (and Reading) practice questions. Be in a quiet room away from other responsibilities and imagine that you are already in the actual testing area. Listen to the recordings (without any pause) and write your answers on the printed copy. Remember, you are given 10 minutes to transfer your answers to an answer sheet after all recordings are played so you can also do that during practice. This part is worth 40 items and if you are constantly hitting a score of 35 and above, then you can move on with the next part. 1-2 weeks should be enough for you to master Listening.

Part Two - READING

Unlike the listening part, you will not be given 10 minutes extra to transfer your answers so make sure that you write your answers directly on the answer sheet. You are only given one hour to answer 40 questions out of 3 passages (with usually boring topics) and one hour could be inadequate to answer all these not-so-easy questions. Similar to Listening, it consists of different question types that can effectively be answered with different techniques. Before reading the passage, I make sure to check or read the questions first to make sure that I don't waste too much time using the wrong strategy. When I was taking the exam, I only had one minute left for the last question and wrote my answer within the last few seconds of that one hour time. It was like, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Boom, time's up! And after that, you are not allowed to write anything anymore. If they see you writing still, your test paper could be forfeited. Check out the screenshots below and the method I used to effectively answer it.

True, False or Not Given questions are commonly used in the Reading test. The tricky part here is our tendency to overthink. What I do is check one question first, then look for the keyword from the passage using skimming or scanning. Once I find the keyword, I read and analyze the whole paragraph so I can decide for an answer. Just answer True if it's giving the same information as with the passage; False if it's false or if it was mentioned on the passage but with the wrong information and Not Given if the subject was mentioned but no information was given. 

For question number 1, the answer is False because it was not Michael Faraday but Thomas Hall who was the first person to recognize Perkin's ability. Also, notice how they used synonyms 'recognize' and 'perceive' to gauge your English comprehension. There are a lot like this with the rest of the Reading test. For question number 2, the answer is Not Given because nobody suggested Perkin to enroll to the said college but Michael Faraday and Royal College of Chemistry were still mentioned which can cause confusion sometimes. 

If you see that the next set of questions looks like this, then it's better to read each paragraph by heart. Do it on the first paragraph first then look for the answer. Focus on it and use all your brain cells to understand what's really the actual message of this particular paragraph. Once you have an answer, proceed with the next paragraph and so on. 

For this set, all you have to do is look for the answer. Just look for keywords in the passage so you can get close to finding the answer.

My advice: Make sure to print the Reading test passages and questions to be able to read it properly. The Reading test is really draining. I felt like I'm using a lot of brain cells during my practice tests that sometimes it made me feel like throwing up. You have to be conscious with your time since the recommended allotted time for each passage is only 20 minutes. Read articles from professional writers and take note of the words that you're not familiar with. Look it up in the dictionary and write down the meaning of each word. This technique helped me tremendously because a lot of synonyms were used. For example on the passage, the word 'ramification' was used. But on the question, they used the phrase 'result of an action' instead of using ramification. These two have the same meaning but if I didn't know the meaning of ramification, I won't be able to know if the statement is true or false.

Part Three - WRITING

As mentioned above, writing is the most difficult part of the test. During my self-review, this is what I mostly spent my time with. There are only 2 parts: the first one is a 150-word essay explaining a map, illustration, chart, table or combination and second is a 250-word essay regarding a certain topic (usually a global issue). For you to pass this test, you need to be like a professional writer (kind of). However, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) in the UK has finally approved the 6.5 score for writing (hurray!) What I did was read articles from professional writers. The website was a big help for me (in the ISSUES section). I would usually save the articles on my googlechrome app so I can read it even when I'm offline and anywhere I go. From these articles, I collected phrases that sounded more formal and compared with how I would normally write it. For example:

Formal (from the article): The lack of drinking water created severe problems for local residents.
My version: Having not enough water to drink has caused very big problems for the people.

I collected as many phrases as I could and wrote it down on my notebook side by side (left side was the "Formal" section and the right side were "My Version" phrases). I would usually cover the "Formal" section  with my hand and just look at the "My Version" so I can recall and memorize the formal phrases. It helps when you're memorizing these because it can save you a great deal of time during the actual exam. Also in those articles, there were also graphs so I was also able to gather phrases for my Writing Test 1.

My advice: Don't try to impress the reader with your highfalutin words. I believe they are not impressed especially when you're inconsistent.  Be yourself! As you can see with the formal sentence above, it's just composed of simple words but we sometimes tend to miss those especially when we are not article writers. That's why I memorized those formal phrases and it really helped me a lot. Answer the Writing Test 2 first because it has a bigger impact with the total score of your Writing test.

Part Four - SPEAKING

A day before my Listening, Reading and Writing exam, I was scheduled for the Speaking test. Before arriving to the venue, I experienced a series of unfortunate events. There was a typhoon in our area at that time so the boat (from Ormoc to Cebu) was delayed. And to make it worst, the tires of the taxi went flat! Plus I didn't have dinner and breakfast, and wasn't able to take a bath, so basically I came to the venue feeling so haggard and "lutang". My schedule was at 11:45am but I arrived at 11:30am (you have to arrive 30 minutes before). I was late but good thing British Council understood my situation and entertained me still. They even called me at 11:015am. Anyway, I would advise you to watch videos in Youtube about the IELTS speaking test. Always smile and try to be confident. Don't speak too fast. Practice with a friend or record yourself while trying to answer the possible Speaking Test questions. You can find it online or in the Cambridge IELTS Practice Tests.

Soooo that is it! Practice will not make you perfect but it will help you improve so just keep on practising. Give up your hobbies for the meantime and devote all your time with your IELTS review. Always pray. Whoever your God is, just pray. Miracles do happen. 

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Passing the IELTS - Self Review

PASSING THE IELTS EXAM  (SELF REVIEW) IELTS  consists of 4 sections -  Listening ,  Reading ,  Writing  and  Speaking . The highest score ...