Top 10 Myths about taking the IELTS exam
- by Kristy Chase, English Outlook instructor
As a teacher, I hear many strange things about IELTS. Here is my top 10 list of IELTS myths. These myths are all false, so don’t let these ideas or stories about IELTS disrupt your practice and preparation for the test!
Non-native speakers can’t get a band 9 on IELTS
Many students have said this to me - that it’s impossible for a non-native speaker to get a band 9. Of course, this just isn’t true. The test is based on how good your English is, not where you come from. The band 9 rating is described by IELTS as ‘expert user’. It’s perfectly possible for people who are non-native speakers and who are excellent speakers of English to get a band 9. Not only that, but the opposite is true too. Not all native speakers can get a band 9, even on speaking!
I have to keep practising tests to improve my score
This is a big myth but a very common one. IELTS is a test of English, not a test to test how well you know the test! The only way to improve your score, once you are familiar with the test, is to improve your English in all 4 macro-skills: listening, reading, writing and speaking. Doing more and more tests doesn’t really help you to improve. It just fills your head with answers. I know students who know all the answers to certain listening tests and can get 39 out of 40 but this doesn’t help their listening and on the real test they may only score 24 or 25 out of 40. Listening intensively to a variety of things - conversations, radio, news or even songs is the answer to improving your listening. Practise your listening micro-skills by going to the free practice exercise links on this page .
I need to learn long lists of vocabulary to be successful
Of course vocabulary is important for IELTS to get a good score but you don’t need to learn long lists. You need to be familiar with words in all their forms and be able to use them accurately and appropriately. This is far more important than knowing a long list. Knowing a good variety of words and using them well and correctly will be enough for most people to get the score they need. Common topics in IELTS include education, environment and culture. Look at IELTS course books which will give you a good idea of what kind of words you need.
They make the IELTS test too hard so overseas students can’t get into university
The IELTS test is an independent test of English used by governments and educational institutions to get information about a person’s English level. The governments and colleges or universities set the level themselves independently so that is why different universities have different IELTS test score requirements. IELTS is not connected with them in any way and has no influence on what band scores are required for different tasks or institutions.
If I don’t understand the examiner in the speaking test, I will get a low band
The speaking test is only about your speaking proficiency and listening is tested in the listening test. If you don’t understand what the examiner says, ask them to repeat or ask the meaning of a word. The speaking test only measures speaking proficiency, not listening.
Grammar is not important in the IELTS
It is true that grammar does not have a separate test in IELTS but of course it is still very important. You will need grammar for all the skills and it is specifically part of the assessment in both writing and speaking (25%). In reading and listening your knowledge of grammar can help you write in the correct word form in an answer so it is necessary throughout the test.
If I take the test in my country, I will get a better score
You may get a better score in your country if you take the IELTS test there, but this will more likely be due to the fact that you may feel more comfortable in familiar surroundings in your home town, rather than the test itself. All tests on the same day are the same everywhere in the world so the test itself is not any easier and is the same one you would have taken if you had taken the test overseas. IELTS examiners are highly trained to be reliable markers, so your score should be the same. If you are feeling a little more relaxed in your home town, you could get a better score, but this is a factor which affects you and your performance in the test. The test is not easier.
The examiner is looking at the clock in the speaking test so I must be very boring
This cannot possibly be true! The examiner has to keep to strict times so is looking at the clock to make sure he or she is within those times. Please don’t worry about those things.
There will be certain question types at certain times of the year for the writing
I heard this myth recently, where students were saying that a certain task comes up in May or June! IELTS would not be so predictable as to have certain task types on a given month of the year. Just prepare all your task types for the writing as normal.
Examiners at some centres are stricter than others in another centre
All examiners go through careful training and retraining throughout their examiner life. If they are too strict someone will notice! It’s not the examiner, but more likely your performance on the day just wasn’t as good as on a previous occasion or in class, due to nerves or illness or something similar. It is hard, I’m sure you’ll agree, to tell how well you did in an exam! Sometimes you think you did a good job, but in fact it wasn’t so good.
The best thing is to forget all the rumours you hear about IELTS and the test and focus on your preparation. Go to www.ielts.org where you will find a wealth of information.