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English speakers and the IELTS test

The IELTS test is a high-stakes scenario. There are many reasons why people take the test, but those reasons are rarely recreational. Education opportunities, immigration status and working in your profession often hinge on an IELTS score. If you speak English as a first language, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the expectations of the IELTS test. Or perhaps you have not prepared for the IELTS test at all, thinking that as a native speaker you are fluent and do not need help. That high band score is virtually guaranteed, right?

The reality

The IELTS test is demanding and requires significant preparation, even for native English speakers. The four modules of the test – Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking – have questions specifically designed to challenge you. These questions are not merely comprehension checking; they are designed to elicit a wide range of thinking skills and expression on a wide variety of topics. This is the reality of the IELTS test.

Once you have decided to sit the IELTS test, you will need to prepare seriously for the challenges it will present. Here are some tips to consider.

  • Get comfortable with the material. Prepare for the test with official IELTS test prep materials. These are available online at www.ielts.org and at book stores.
  • Join the IELTS community. Online and in-class courses will familiarise you with the structure and timing of the test – both crucial to your success. Courses give you the opportunity to receive feedback from experienced IELTS instructors and learn the nuances and expectations of the test.  A community of people is out there waiting to support you on your IELTS journey.
  • Slow and steady. Start preparing for the IELTS test several months before your test date and practice in a test-taking environment.  Find a quiet place and use a timer to create the conditions of the IELTS test.  Eventually, you should prepare for the test in a public space (a library or coffee shop) with more activity to ready yourself for the inevitable distractions you will encounter on test day.

The Speaking test

Perhaps the most challenging part of IELTS is the Speaking test. Examiners meet enthusiastic people from every corner of the globe during the test, but often find native English speakers are the least willing to engage with them.

There are many very competent native English speakers who perform poorly during the Speaking test.  Examiners may think the candidate is highly fluent, but without evidence to satisfy the band descriptors the examiner is unable to award the desired band score.

The Writing test

The IELTS-trained marker is looking for very specific elements in your Writing test responses.  These include your ability to fully answer a prompt and develop a well-considered response; your use of cohesive devices and coherence in the response; and the flexibility and range of vocabulary and grammar. Again, familiarising yourself with the band descriptors and the structure of the test beforehand will save you valuable time during the test so that you can focus on writing a strong response.

In daily conversation and written expression, you may rely on prescriptive language and jargon related to your field of work or study. Taking some time to familiarise yourself with the test structure and completing practice tests will encourage you to think outside of your field and engage in a wider range of topics. An ability to communicate on a variety of subjects is paramount to IELTS success in both the Academic and General Training tests.

The native English speaker has an advantage in many ways when taking the IELTS test and perhaps you view taking the test as a formality. However, a good attitude is imperative, so use the test as a chance to brush up on your language and communication skills so you can show your full capabilities.

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