One of the first questions a student will ask when preparing for IELTS is ‘if I do this course will I get a band 6?’. It is impossible to respond to this question without first knowing the student’s level and second, knowing how much time they are able to devote to studying.
For example, if a student has a level of band 4.5 (pre-intermediate) research indicates that to increase his or her score by 1 band level, he or she will need to study for a minimum of 12 weeks. So if a student needs a 6.5 or higher, we’re talking about at least 6 months’ study.
However, this duration is for the most dedicated students and most people cannot devote entire days or weeks to studying English, especially if they work, have children and other time-consuming responsibilities.
The average student will need about 120 hours of study (CEFR) to go from pre-intermediate to intermediate and then a further 120 hours to advance to upper-intermediate.
And when we say 120 hours of study, this is not exposure to English, it is focused attention on grammar, vocabulary, reading and writing skills, not to mention speaking and comprehension. In this scenario, we're talking about a year or more and it is essential that English teachers are honest with students.
Students can achieve advanced language skills but it takes time and to tell prospective students otherwise is misleading and just gives language schools a bad name.
Clearly, no student can attend classes every day but regular and serious study is required to improve a person’s language skills, whatever the language.
Many students need IELTS for emigration purposes. Their dream is to emigrate to a country where they believe their children will have a more satisfying and secure future. This is a wonderful thing to do for your children but the governments of the countries that accept immigrants all require an advanced level in English.
The main reason for this is to ensure that people emigrating to the country integrate and contribute to society, both financially and morally. Other students need IELTS for university study and generally need a 6.5 or higher, depending on the institution.
Studying in an English-speaking country is a dream come true for so many but universities are obliged to ensure applicants can express themselves sufficiently well to meet their academic requirements, which are generally highly challenging.
Whatever your reason for studying IELTS, you are investing in your future and it is sensible and realistic to see this as a long-term project and not something that can be done in a couple of months.
Some students believe that there are certain strategies and tricks that can help them achieve the band they need and the right teacher will be able to provide this. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Whilst teachers can train a student to address the questions, complete the tasks, read the instructions and complete the exam to the requirements of IELTS examiners and markers, if a student has a level of band 4 or 5, they will not be able to achieve a band 6 or a 7 through test-taking strategies alone.
If these strategies did allow a student with a pre-intermediate student to achieve a band 7, the exam would be useless and governments, universities, and other organizations would stop using it.
Why is it so important for students to understand the format and requirements of the IELTS exam?
The IELTS exam is designed to assess a student’s language in all four skills, reading, writing, speaking and listening and the tasks are designed to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their language skills in these areas.
Therefore, if a student fully understands the format and requirements of the exam and has done sufficient practice they will be able to complete the tasks without worrying about these practical issues and focus on demonstrating that they have the language skills required to study at university or emigrate and integrate into their new country.
Different learners need different approaches
Imagine a student who is at band 4.5 but she or he needs a 6.5 in IELTS. Realistically, it is going to take such a student about a year to increase their language skills to obtain a 6.5; this student needs to study General English and then, once their English level has improved, an IELTS preparation course would be required.
It is pointless doing IELTS training over and over again as most IELTS courses focus on exam strategies. It is far more beneficial to study General English and achieve a deep understanding of the grammar, increase your vocabulary and get lots of speaking and comprehension practice.
Now imagine a student who has never studied for IELTS, has a 6.5 and needs a 7.5. This student may well be able to obtain a 7.5 in 6 months since she or he already is an advanced learner and has less to learn than a student at level 4.5. It is very simple really, the better your English, the higher the score you will get.
IELTS Preparation courses do just that, they prepare learners for the exam by explaining what is required of them on the day.
So how can we help students achieve the IELTS band they need?
The first step is to find out why students need IELTS.
1. What band score do they need?
2. What is their current band score?
3. Do they need support in some skills more than others
Once we have this information we can support students and help them to progress by explaining how the exam works, how it is scored, what they would score and explaining the most effective strategies for test-taking.
However, it also depends on the student; the more time and effort a student spends on improving their English and understanding the exam, the more likely they are to achieve their target score.
Teachers need to be honest with students and explain the effort involved in improving in a language whilst preparing for IELTS. It is incredibly challenging but it can be done and the hope of a better life for you and your children is the most powerful motivation of all.
Good luck to all our IELTS students.