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Why IELTS Preparation – and What Do I Look for?

All British, Australian, Irish, and New Zealand universities specify the IELTS (International English language Testing System) Examination as the default English assessment for entry to both Undergraduate and Postgraduate courses. In addition, Canada, Australia and New Zealand specify it as the English test required for immigration purposes, and the American Nursing Council, and the BMA and British Nursing Council specify it as THE language qualification to practice professionally (band 6.5 or 7.0).

Usually a band 6.0 is required for Undergraduate (including Year 2 or Year 3 entry) and 6.5 for Post Graduate (7.0 for some programmes like law or journalism which are language-heavy).

The IELTS is the fastest-growing English test in the world, and is increasingly accepted by employers and indigenous universities as a better alternative to the standard Cambridge Examinations, or TOEIC or TOEFL.

Why choose a specialist IELTS preparation course rather than General English?

a) you should receive expert preparation in the technique and specific skills areas of the IELTS examination. It really helps to have a clear understanding of what the examiners are looking for, and this takes both practice and an understanding of the structure of the examination.

b) teaching is more focused and objective-oriented

c) courses are usually more intensive – typically around 22-25 hours per week, so you waste less time.

d) classes are often a bit smaller than the general English average, as many good schools recognise the need to offer more personal attention.

The result of all of this is that better results are obtainable in a shorter time.

Always make sure that any school you choose in UK is British Council Accredited and a member of EnglishUK – it’s not an absolute guarantee of quality, but it means at least you avoid the worst. In fact, if you are from a visa-required country, you will not have the choice, as you will not get a visa to attend a non-accredited school.

Look for a school that specialises in the IELTS Examination – these are often found in University cities. If you can get a place, choose a school that is also an IELTS Testing Centre – because at least some of their teachers will be IELTS Examiners, so they will have a real understanding of the Exam, and you will also usually be able to take your test in the same place where you learn – so it will be familiar, and the stress will be reduced.

Ensure you give yourself enough time – I normally recommend a minimum of 8 weeks, and 12 is better, if you can find the time and the budget. Less than 4 weeks will not really give you anything like an adequate preparation.

When it comes to your own preparation for the exam, remember that its primary purpose is to test your English level, so while the technique and an understanding of the structure is important, it is not a substitute for a good command of English! Another key thing to focus on is to concentrate your efforts on your areas of weakness – so if you’re a little shy about speaking, use every available opportunity to talk, if your grammar and/or writing are weak, do lots of additional structured reading – so that you’re noting new vocabulary and new contructions and writing them down. Finally, when you’re in the examination, a really important technical aspect is timing – make sure you manage your time so you answer ALL the questions – 50% of half the examination is still better than 80% of half of it!

By Allan Gray
Language Specialists International