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2021-01-22 00:00:46

5 steps to prepare for IELTS and TOEFL exams

5 steps to prepare for IELTS and TOEFL exams

Are you planning to go to an English-speaking university ? Most require TOEFL / IELTS scores from international students. Can I prepare for testing myself? Yes, but you need a clear strategy, a large amount of time (optimally - a year), as well as perseverance and a healthy desire to win. Let's try to put together a step-by-step guide for effective TOEFL / IELTS preparation with detailed explanations of the test format.

Step 1. Set your target 

The TOEFL and IELTS tests are not pass or fail tests: they are standardized tests to measure the ability to use, understand English while reading, writing, listening, speaking in the classroom and in the real world.

First of all, assess the current level of English proficiency (basic, intermediate, understanding of academic text, the ability to communicate with native speakers, understand slang,) and then make a list of universities of interest, clarify the requirements for language proficiency, find out the minimum TOEFL score, IELTS.

Each TOEFL section is rated with scores ranging from "low" to "high":

  • Reading and listening: high (30-22), medium (21-15), low (14-0)
  • Speaking: good (30-26), fair (25-18), limited (17-10), weak (9-0)
  • Writing: good (30-24), satisfactory (23-17), limited (16-1).

IELTS grades range from 1 to 9, where each point corresponds to specific competencies in English:

  • 1 = Not a user
  • 5 = Modest user
  • 7 = Good user
  • 9 = Power user.

A good TOEFL / IELTS score depends on many factors. If you strive to enter top universities, receive scholarships, or your specialty requires active communication, you need to get the highest possible scores. For some universities and professions not related to communications, the GPA may be sufficient.

Step 2. Collect the required study materials

Good preparation is critical, and good preparation requires the right teaching materials.

Start with those created by the world's leading experts:

  1. Kaplan, "TOEFL iBT Premier 2016-2017 with 4 practice tests"
  2. The Official ETS Guide to the TOEFL Test, 4th Edition
  3. Kaplan, "Preparing vocabulary for TOEFL"
  4. Barron, TOEFL iBT with Audio CDs and CD-ROMs
  5. Barron, TOEFL iBT Superpack, 2nd Edition.

Many TOEFL and IELTS study materials are available online and can be used in conjunction with books. The 4tests, Exam English sites offer free practice tests. YouTube videos are a source of additional listening material and eyewitness reviews. If you plan to do self-study, you will need interactive study materials, audio samples, tests.

Step 3. Make a learning plan

There is no “right” or “one size fits all” learning plan - it is best to allocate time between mastering each skill and completing the practice assignments. Make a to-do list for the month and week, make notes on the planner, detail the subjects you want to study, the tasks you want to work on, and the time it takes to complete each task. A high-quality study guide will help you determine the sequence of classes and build a curriculum for the day of the exam.

Step 4. Familiarize yourself with the test format

After practicing basic skills - reading comprehension, academic vocabulary, standard grammar - familiarize yourself with the test format: test content, types of questions, tasks, rules, regulations. The best way to do this is to take practice tests regularly.

  • TOEFL lasts about four hours and is conducted in order: reading (36-70 questions, 60-100 minutes), listening (34-51 questions, 60-90 minutes), speaking (6 tasks, 20 minutes), writing (2 tasks , 50 minutes).
  • IELTS lasts approximately 2 hours 45 minutes. Listening consists of 40 questions (30 minutes), reading - 40 questions (60 minutes), written assignments - 60 minutes. These three tests are performed at once. The exam consists of three parts (11-14 minutes each): they can be tested on the same day or up to seven days before or after other tests.

Both tests test 4 language skills, but TOEFL covers academic topics and IELTS tests knowledge of the real world. Expect TOEFL predominantly multiple-choice questions, university lectures, campus-style conversations, analytical thinking skills. IELTS is focused on short essays, gap-filling tasks, understanding English with different accents, broader oral comprehension skills.

Step 5. Take practice tests

The more practice tests you take, the more accurately you can identify your weaknesses. Self-learners find it difficult to understand at what stage they are: whether progress has been made, whether unnoticed mistakes are made again, or are they already well prepared.

Additional steps to prepare for exams: 

  • Preparation for the reading test begins with collecting materials in English: academic books, novels, long reads, blog posts. Be open to texts with different storytelling styles, difficulty levels, and topics. The more varied your reading materials, the better you will become familiar with different grammatical structures and how they are used. In the process of learning, keep a dictionary at hand: when you come across words or phrases that you do not understand, do not skip - circle or write down, find their meaning.
  • To improve your listening experience, give up trying to understand every word you say. Listening is related to the ability to keep up with the conversation, to understand the main idea. You can practice with your favorite podcasts, documentaries, even TV shows, you can listen to the speech of the characters without reading the subtitles. Listening skills are related to the understanding of English vocabulary used in different pronunciation styles. To practice, listen to English-language audio recordings in several dialects. In the IELTS section, you will hear English with 10 accents: North British, South British, Scottish, Welsh, North, South, Canadian, Australian, Kiwi, South African.
  • During the written test, it is necessary to show the ability to interpret the main points of the text, to express a personal opinion on a specific subject with the correct use of written English. This includes the use of text characters, capital letters, spelling. The easiest way to improve your writing is to find sample text and copy them: as you rewrite sentence by sentence, you learn the structure and order of words, gradually getting used to them.
  • Speaking test requires spontaneous speech skill, and the only way to train it is to practice, practice, practice. Chat with native speakers, practice talking about your hobbies, interests, daily life, current events, dreams, aspirations. The most important thing in language learning is persistent practice.
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Egor Eremeev
Current material has been prepared by Egor Eremeev
Education: Westminster University (Business & Management), London.
Egor studied and lived in the UK for 8 years and graduated from the university of Westminster. He is currently the co-founder and the director of business development at Smapse Education and personally visits foreign schools and universities, interviews students studying in those institutions.
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