Normally before we set out to work on any project in life (not just academic), we establish their end goals, that is to say, what it is that we want to achieve with the endeavor. However, other than deciding what it is that you want to reach, you also need to think carefully about your resources, concretely the three ‘magic’ components of the resource triangle: time, money, energy, and the tools that you will need to achieve success. To help you organize your preparation process for IELTS as well, it is recommended that you do the following:
1, Make sure you have precise information about the type of IELTS exam that you will be taking (general or academic training), the required overall band score and that of the various skills (listening, reading, writing, speaking) expected of you. For example the university that you are applying to might require a minimum 7.0 academic overall score and 7.0 in each skill; or just a 7.0 academic overall score. The latter might be easier to achieve, as in this case not all your skills would have to be of the same strength. Typically, though, they might require a certain minimum overall band score, as well as the same minimum band in each skill, so that they can be sure that all your skills are up to a certain standard so that these will help you cope with your studies in your field in English. Either way, you need to know what exactly is expected of you before you begin your preparation as well as choose the date of the exam.
2, After this, you need to find out the current level of your skills. With listening and reading you have a relatively easy task, as these two skills can be objectively marked. This means that with the help of, for example, a past papers book issued by Cambridge (e.g http://www.amazon.com/Cambridge-IELTS-Students-Book-Answers)
you can assess your current level, as these come with an answer key and on the internet you can find a so-called ‘raw points calculator’ (e.g http://www.examenglish.com/IELTS/IELTS_Band_Scores.html ) that can tell you approximately what band score the amount of points you got equals to in the skills of either the general or academic training (–they are a bit different). With your productive skills (speaking and writing) level testing yourself is a bit harder, as these need expert assessment. Even before you start working and fully commit to preparing for the exam on a concrete date in the future you might decide to use our Written feedback service and Skype tutorials to get a clear idea of your level at present. To help you gauge your writing it is better if you send us a few sample answers to various Task 1 and 2 questions (maybe minimum 2-2), not just one for each. This is because until you become proficient in IELTS writing your results might be quite different within the genre, depending on how well you understood the question or how engaging you found the topic. This usually changes later, as you get trained up to be able to clearly identity what is expected in a task, how to brainstorm for it and generate relevant ideas irrespective of how engaging you find the topic.
3, Once you know the date of your exam and your current level(s), it is worth asking yourself these questions:
I, Which genre of the two (e.g descriptive report and academic essay in the academic exam, or letter and academic essay in the general) do I especially need help with?
II, How many band scores do I want to improve?
III, If it is only a half band improvement that I urgently need, what are my exact weaknesses? To find these out you will need to do some honest reflective thinking and read the feedback you received on earlier writings of yours. If you discover that your writing is already quite coherent and close to your dream band score, you may choose to focus on the relevant modules in that genre to help you improve these subskills in particular.
IV, How much time do I have until the date of the exam and how will I organize it? As a rule of thumb, people normally need minimum one month of hard work to improve a genre with half a band. If you need to improve with a whole band, it is useful to plan the intensity of your studies in advance. This will depend on a number of factors: which courses you will be taking, which genres you will be needing help with, how many of your writings you are planning to submit for feedback and how many Skype tutorials you plan to have. (NB on average you will need 2.5 hours to complete a Module in our Courses.)
4, If you have established your current level, your exact needs and the amount of time you have available until the date of the exam, you can start taking your courses, sending in your writings according to your own, structured, pre-determined amount of daily studying time based on the above. For example, if you have two months until the exam and you determined that you need significant help with both genres in it, you could
a, either do 3-3-3 modules of genre #1 in the first month, then do the last one and revise the material on the last week of the month while sending in 2-2-2-2 pieces of writing of the same genre throughout the month to track your development; then do the same with the other genre in the second month, or
b, spend the mornings doing the modules of genre #1 and writing sample answers to be checked for you as you progress through the material and the afternoons focusing on genre #2 in a similar fashion; over the course of the two months.
5, After you have set up your Study Plan, it is important that you stay organized and committed to the micro-stages of your preparation. Be realistic though: there will be days when, due to unexpected life events, you will not be able to accomplish the amount of studying you originally planned for that day. Do not panic if this happens, just try to do more the next day or two, to catch up with your schedule. Alternatively, if you know about an upcoming commitment in your social calendar, you might decide to work ahead to stay on track. Scheduling the exact days on which you will study (and what and for how long) into your calendar by blocking out time for what you planned for that day and then sticking to it might also help. Of course it is better to sit down to study as frequently as you can, but in case bigger lapses of time seem inevitable between two study sessions, make sure you help yourself get back into business on the next occasion by leaving ‘work threads‘ from one day to another. For example, if on Monday you did module 1 of a new course, you might want to start your study session on Tuesday by revising the exercises you did in module 1 before moving on with the new content in module 2. This will help you warm up as well as consolidate earlier material.
So, what and how will you be learning in 2016?